Before the web came along, if you wanted to find out which museums had a certain kind of object, you did it one museum at a time. Ridiculously, that’s still the case. While many museums have online collections, far more don’t. Even if they did, who wants to slog through hundreds of standalone databases?
But, as Mapping Digitised Collections, our study for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, highlights, there are few technical barriers to bringing together data from every museum and making it accessible to everyone.
The study also recalls false starts such as Cornucopia (1998) and Culture Grid (2005). These proved it could be done, but faded once short-term project funding ran out.
The Museums Association’s Empowering Collections report emphasises why we need this infrastructure, but the UK apparently prefers to splash the cash creating digital assets that we can’t connect. Other countries manage to make the long-term policy commitment required to deliver this basic connectivity. Why can’t we?
Kevin Gosling is the chief executive of the Collections Trust