Danny Birchall, Issue 117/01, p14, 01.01.2017
Limited availability
If you’re a 21st-century museum, you’re likely to have digitised some of your collections and made them available online.

The chances are also reasonably high that, beyond making them accessible for researchers, you won’t have a clear purpose driving your digital collections.

If you’re keen for people to use and reuse your digital objects, you will have CC-BY (Creative Commons) licensed them.

If you’re talking to aggregators like Europeana or the Digital Public Library of America, then you may have entered the world of linked open data. A Wikimedia Commons drop may be only weeks away.

But why do we put the past into the digital present? Is it for educational reasons? If so, why do so few digitised objects have context or narrative? To boost the impact of our organisations? How do we consistently measure that? For the greater cultural good? Then why do we so rarely collaborate?

Meanwhile, increasing copyright terms have locked the bulk of 20th-century collections away from this process, so museums become responsible for (and identified with) the “deep past”, rather than digital guardians of an evolving culture.

Museums have become increasingly responsive to our audiences and communities, but is there a disconnect with our digital practice? When we’re aware of the need for strategic purpose around our collections and educational activities, is it enough anymore just to make things “available online”?

Danny Birchall is the digital manager at the Wellcome Collection, London