The Collections Trust is to retire Culture Grid this autumn as part of a move to develop a new and more sustainable national collections database.
Created more than a decade ago, Culture Grid was built as a proof-of-concept service assisting organisations in sharing their collections safely online. By 2015, however, project funding was pulled, and Culture Grid became a legacy system closed to new accessions.
Collections Trust chief executive Kevin Gosling said the database will remain online until plans for a new system are secured: “We will keep the service going as long as it is needed, and when there's a better replacement for it, at that point, we'll switch it off.”
Supported by the Open Data Institute’s (ODI) Stimulus Fund, the Collections Trust is in the process of reimagining the landscape of museum collections data. A summary of the plans to create a new database was published on the ODI website this week, and includes three key areas: connect and collect, use and enhance, and store and preserve.
Beginning with the connect and collect strategy, the new service will gather data from museums in any form provided, in order to make the unprocessed data available for use as a raw material.
For Gosling, the aim is to make the system “affordable and sustainable at its heart”. He said: “What other countries have done is to create very monolithic and inflexible aggregators that require data to be processed in a certain way for a particular end use. That's quite expensive to do, and requires a lot of ongoing costs. What we're proposing is a new way of thinking about the problem that, as far as we're aware, nobody else in the world is doing yet.”
The trust aims to collaborate with short term initiatives like Towards a National Collection (TaNC), an £18.9m programme for investing in a unified virtual national collection, in discussions about the future of a national database.
TaNC director Rebecca Bailey said the programme’s mission “is to support research that breaks down the barriers that exist between the UK’s outstanding cultural heritage collections, with the aim of opening them up to new research opportunities and encouraging the public to explore them in new ways”.
While the retirement of Culture Grid is viewed as a step in the right direction for those involved in the new research, Collections Trust came under criticism for its decision online. Following the announcement of the system’s retirement via an online newsletter, the Curatorial Research Centre tweeted that the move to take Culture Grid offline was “bizarre” and criticised the lack of “specific collaboration in this area” between research groups.
In response to the comments, Gosling said “it is not in any way a sad or bad thing that it's being shut down”.
Joined up thinking will be at the core of the new initiative, he added. “We've completely rethought the problem and come up with an answer which we think is suited to the way the UK works, and takes account of existing initiatives like TaNC, and goes entirely with the grain.”
The Collections Trust is in talks with potential partners, and Gosling said an announcement about the initiative could come as early as autumn.