MUSM5321 Museology - information management


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Museum of Texas Tech Museology
Fall Semester 2013

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  • This class is just an introduction to information management in museums. Information science is a vast field, but I hope this class will give you some idea of what it covers, and why it is important to museums.So, here’s an overview of what we’ll be covering today: I hope that by the end of this class you will have some idea of what is meant by “information management”, you will have a more precise idea about some of the jargon used in information science - the meaning of terms such as data, information and knowledge. And we’ll be looking at some of the specific issues and problems relating to information management that concern museums and more generally the cultural heritage sector.
  • Let’s begin with some definitions: What does “information management” mean? Here’s a definition from that great source of contemporary wisdom, Wikipedia. Information management is the collection and management of information from one or more sources and the distribution of that information to one or more audiences. … Management means the organization of and control over the structure, processing and delivery of information.The italics are mine. I would like to draw your attention to in this definition to the idea that information management is about flow: from source to audience. Information is seen something that can be collected, stored and selectively Distributed - almost as a sort of merchandise. In other words, information is a resource, a valuable asset that needs to be managed. This diagram uses the metaphor of traffic flow to illustrate the same idea. On the input side, information is collected or created using a variety of sources and techniques, such as data entry, document processing, scanning, etc. It is then carefully stored, preserved and managed. Information management means deciding how information should be organised and structured, how and when it will be made available, to whom and in what form. On the output side, information is made available through various different channels or media: as paper documents, via the internet, on the web or as email, etc.Taken as a whole, this diagram represents an “information system”. This encompasses the whole process from the creation or capture of information, through storage and management, to its delivery. Information systems are not just about computers, though information technology certainly plays an important part.
  • Let us look in more detail at the different stages in information life cycle: what happens to information as it flows through the information system?1. The first step is to identify relevant information and sources of information. What counts as relevant, if you are working in a museum, will most probably be very different to what seems relevant for a bank or a hospital. 2. Once relevant information sources have been identified, the information needs to be created or collected. Collecting information may involved activities as diverse as audience surveys, research in library, or collating data from environmental sensors. Creating information is not about imagination or invention – it usually involved analysis and interpretation to derive interesting facts from existing observations or knowledge. 3. Information needs to be structured and organised in some way to make it useable. This is particularly important for retrieval. This is where filing systems and classification are important, to ensure that information can be found quickly and reliably. Indexing is also important – assigning keywords to documents. Entering data into a structured database is another way of organising information. How information is best organised and structured is a science in itself. When it is really successful, users of the information system will be unaware of the effort involved. When it is poorly done, they will be unable to find the information they need, become frustrated and look elsewhere.4. Information needs to be stored and maintained. Today this often involves computerised information technology, but this was not always the case. Card catalogues, registration ledgers, microfilm, books, photographs, vinyl disks and papyrus scrolls are all ways of storing information. Many of these pre-digital technologies remain relevant today. How many of you are currently taking notes on a sheet of paper? Information usually needs to be maintained to ensure that it remains relevant and accurate. The current location of an object in storage, its insurance value, the artistic attribution of a work of art, may all change over time. New information needs to be added to the record and existing data checked for accuracy.5. The information stored in the system would be of no use if it could not be used. In the past, distribution usually entailed the production of multiple copies from an original , followed by their physical distribution – an expensive process. The arrival of broadcasting technology reduced costs considerably by removing the need for physical distribution, but the cost of setting up a radio or television station remained outside the scope of most private individuals. Today, Internet has made distribution easy and affordable. However, traditional media still have a role to play. 6. Finally, as information becomes older, it may cease to be of immediate relevance for everyday affairs. At this point it can be archived or, in some cases, even disposed of entirely. The speed with which information loses its relevance varies greatly from one field to another. Yesterday’s gossip columns are quickly out of date, accounting documents used for tax returns need to be kept for several years, heritage information found in museums usually has remains relevant indefinitely, at least as a part of the historical record. The fact that, a painting, say, was attributed to Rembrandt when it was acquired, remains relevant even when if it is later recognised as a forgery; embarrassing and politically incorrect descriptions of ‘savages’ and ‘primitive peoples’ by nineteenth century explorers are revealing of historical attitudes – deleting then from the record would be a dishonest and misleading. The longevity of cultural heritage information is one of the ways in which is differs significantly from the information managed in other fields.
  • Terms such as data, information and knowledge are used in information science to describe different levels or forms of representation. Unfortunately, there is some overlap and fuzziness about these concepts and they are not always used with great precision – even my specialists in the field. However, it is possible to draw a pyramid, with different levels. Data – refers to low-level, machine-readable signs and symbols. (For purists, data is the plural of “datum” – an individual piece of data). A large collection of data will often be called a ‘data set’. Data will usually be difficult for humans to interpreted and understand directly, because it is represented in a form designed for automated processing. The bar codes used in stores to automate point of sale transactions are an good example of data. Information– Refer to the propositions (facts) that can be inferred from the interpretation of data – or simply from observation. Data has to be presented in a human-readable form, as words and images, so that can be easily understood and meaningful.Knowledge – A branch of philosophy, known as epistemology, is devoted the nature of knowledge: what knowledge is and how it can be acquired. The traditional answer to this question (originally given by Plato) is that knowledge consists of information that is accepted as reliable and true and for which there is evidence, or other justification. This is often known as the “justified true belief” theory of knowledge. Another tradition argues that knowledge is relevant information that can be used to make decisions and take actions. Both of these views place knowledge firmly in the realm of human understanding – knowledge cannot be acquired and stored by a computer, except in a metaphorical sense. However, there has a recent tendency to talk about “knowledge management” rather than “information management”, “knowledge systems” rather than “information systems”. My personal opinion is that this is just an example of marketing hype, but it is probably too late to do anything about it – resistance in this case is futile.The pyramid is usually topped off with Wisdom – which adds a certain poetic flourish, but doesn’t help much in understanding information science – at least until the marketing potential for “wisdom management” is recognised, so perhaps it’s better not to worry about this right now! The earliest version of this pyramid that I have found was developed by Douglas Foskett, a noted library and information scientist. This particular graphic comes from presentation by Angus McDonald (technical director, Elcom).
  • Having looked at data and information – the content – let us look at the life cycle of the information management system itself – its design and implementation. This process really is cyclical in nature, and endless feedback loop driving progress in information management.We start from a “domain of discourse”. This slightly peculiar phrase refers to the world we live in, and more particularly the field in which we work. Local government, high school education, the automotive industry, and museum collections management are all examples of domains of discourse. The domain of discourse dictates the requirements and conditions that have to be met. Recognising that the existing situation may not be ideal may lead us to the introduction of new techniques, organisation, or technology. In order to design and build the new system we have to analyse the domain of discourse and understand the difficulties, come up with solutions, then design and build the new system. The intellectual part of this process is the conceptualisation – an understanding of the domain of discourse and the proposed solution that has to be shared by all the people concerned – those working in the field, as well as the designers and engineers who will implement the new technical system. Ideally, the conceptualisation is documented in some way – as specifications, diagrams and models – in a form that everyone can understand. By analogy, imagine the construction of a new road bridge, spanning a river. The urban planners have realised that there is a problem of access and traffic flow in a given locality (problem identified) and they believe that a bridge will solve the problem. Engineers and designers produce a design for the bridge and build a scale model. This allows the urban planners to confirm that the bridge will have the necessary load-bearing capacity and functional requirements. The building contractors use the design to estimate the overall cost , the time needed for construction and the technical feasibility. When all parties have reached agreement, building can go ahead and the bridge (the technical system) becomes reality.The existence of the bridge (or any technical system) has an impact on the domain of discourse. Reality has been changed. Things that were impossible before have become easy. Unfortunately, the impact is not always as imagined. When this happens it is usually because of misunderstandings at the level of conceptualisation. If the plans and designs are not easily understood by all concerned, the technical system that is put in place may not correspond to the one the clients originally imagined. This sort of problem is surprisingly common with the design and implementation of information systems since the designs are not easily understood by non specialists.
  • This sequence of humorous drawings has become a classic reference in texts on the design and implementation of information systems. There are a great many colourful renditions and variations on the theme. Unfortunately, the continued popularity of the drawings underlines the frustrating nature of IT projects and the difficulty for everyone involved of communicating effectively.
  • Information technology always has an impact on domain of discourse, influences the way that information is organised and managed and may even change nature of the information itself. Until the nineteen sixties, and even the nineteen eighties in most cases, all information management in museums was based on paper: in the form of registration ledgers, catalogue cards, reports, photographs and other documents. Paper storage takes up a lot of space and it is difficult to maintain multiple “entry points” – a set of cards can be sorted in only one sequence, so each entry point requires a separate set of cards. Few museums would maintain more than one or two sequences, ordered, for example, by accession or registration number and perhaps by author. As a result, the emphasis was on systematic classification, based on a very limited range information – attempting to ensure that items were correctly classified from the outset, thereby avoiding the need for costly changes to the documentation. Some museums in the U.S. started to experiment with computerised information in as early as the 1960s, but for most institutions the cost was prohibitive until the arrival on the IBM PC in the early 1980s. This technology hugely increased the storage capacity and allowed for great flexibility in information retrieval, since computer records can be rapidly modified, indexed and reordered as needed. Initially, computer system were used simply as automated and improved card catalogues, but the potential of the new technology shifted the focus to questions about data structure and the organisation as institutions began to extend the depth and scope of their documentation. The arrival of internet and the web in the 1990s suddenly made it possible for institutions of all sizes to publish and distribute information internationally. The data that had been accumulated in computer systems over the last decade or so was made available to a much wider public. This “repurposing” was not without problems. Much of the information - initially created on card systems, and later rekeyed into computer systems – was intended for internal use within the museum by museum staff and professionals. Revealed to public scrutiny it often appeared dry and technical, lacking in narrative and notably, images. Digital imaging technology remained expensive at this point and museums needed time to digitize their photographic collections.Recent years have seen increasing popularity of social networking, fueled by easy access to internet communications through mobile devices. This has created a potential for increased audience participation and feedback (known as UGC - User Generated Content) that some museums are exploring enthusiastically – others with some reticence. This has also resulted in a push towards greater integration of information between institutions – linked data and aggregated access. Again, not all institutions have embraced these new developments.
  • It would be a mistake to assume that computer technology has replaced older media. Traditional paper and publishing still have a role to play. The characteristics of different media vary – they all have their advantages and disadvantages. The following table highlights some of these different characteristics. A simple paper document, hand written or printed using a computer is, by nature, visible to only a very few people. This makes it ideal for in confidential situations where public disclosure is not wanted. Keeping a document secret is no more complicated than placing it in a locked drawer. Paper is easily damaged or destroyed, and any information recorded on it will be lost, but the cost of a few sheets of paper is very low – so much so that we will happily screw up a draft document and throw it in the trash – not something you’d be likely to do with a hard disk. Paper has another key advantage – it is inherently tamper proof. Alterations and changes are extremely easy to spot and very difficult to hide. This makes it ideal for legal documents such as contracts. When a document is published – even on paper – the characteristics change. Now visibility is enhanced and large numbers of people can read it. This, of course, is why printing had such a huge social and economic impact. However, as a result, it becomes very difficult to control or prevent access. Printed books can be passed around, read and re-read. Because of the existence of multiple copies, conservation potential of the information in a printed book is greatly enhanced – it becomes very difficult, in fact, to destroy a published book. You may try to burn them all, but just one copy is enough to make a reedition. The cost of publishing is relatively high – too high for most individuals and even for many institutions. Advances in printing technology have reduced these costs to some extent. Tracking of modifications to printed books is virtually impossible. Any annotations I make to my copy of Plato’s dialogues remain invisible to others. Finally, turning to web sites, we see that visibility is enormously increased, potentially unlimited. Security of access, at least for a traditional website, is non existent. (Security measures can constructed to control and limit access but are not always reliable – famously the CIA website was brought down by hackers.) Conservation of web pages is, at best, delicate. The “404 Page not found” error is a frustratingly common experience. The costs of implementing a web site are relatively low – particularly compared to traditional publishing. Web sites offer very little in terms of change tracking. Web pages can be altered without leaving any trace of the modification. Looking at the strong points of these different media reveals that they have different profiles – they are each adapted to different situations and uses. Information management is partly about choosing the appropriate medium in a given situation.
  • Finally, I’d like to wrap up this introduction to museum information management by briefly alluding to the idea of a information strategy. This can help you to manage and deal with many of problems we have been looking at. No information specialist should be without one!The primary purpose of an information strategy is to identify the problems that need to be solved and to propose a plan to tackle them. Start with an audit of the existing situation. This should be honest and objective and, as far as possible, a quantifiable assessment of the existing situation. So, for example, is there a backlog? If so in which areas? How big is it, how many staff are available to deal with it, etc. Having identified the problems, you need to set priorities. Which problems are most urgent, from the legal, financial and operational perspectives? It’s important to get agreement and ‘buy-in’ on the priorities. Everything appears urgent and important until priorities have been established. People are very often much more patient when they know that their concerns have been taken into consideration and will be dealt with eventually. It’s also useful to point out what the consequences will be of not taking any action. This helps both to motivate management to support your plans, and to establish priorities.Next you need to establish a plan for the resolution of these problems. How exactly do you propose to tackle them? Plans need to be realistic and feasible, otherwise people won’t commit to them. Getting agreement on a plan is much easier when the problems have been clearly identified and priorities established.Your detailed plans should include an estimation of the resources and the time required to complete them. You should use calculations such as the one we looked at earlier to make realistic estimates rather than simply “pulling a figure out of thin air”. Justified estimates are more reliable and, above all, more convincing.Things change and the situation will evolve – that’s part of the reason for having a information strategic – so the plan needs to be reviewed and updated periodically.The information strategy is a very useful item in your armoury when struggling to obtain resources. It explains your approach and provides a justification for investments – time and money – spent on managing the museum’s information.
  • So, we’ve reached the end of this class. I hope you have found it useful. You should now have a clear idea about what information science is about and understand that information is a valuable asset that needs to be managed. I hope you’ve grasped the full scope of what an information system covers – not just the computers - how museum information relates to every aspect of the museum’s mission. And finally, you should now have gained some insight into museum information issues and the benefits of a good information strategy.And if you’re still interested after all this, and want to know more, you might be interest in the elective course on Heritage Information Management (MGMT 7000-00x) that I’ll be teaching sometime next year, probably in the Fall semester.If you have any question. Send me an email and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
  • MUSM5321 Museology - information management

    1. 1. MUSM 5321 Museology Information management in museums Nicholas Crofts
    2. 2. Overview • Understand what information management is about • Understand some of the jargon (data, information, knowledge…) • Understand the problems specific to museum information 2
    3. 3. Information management • Information management (IM) is the collection and management of information from one or more sources and the distribution of that information to one or more audiences. […] Management means the organization of and control over the structure, processing and delivery of information. 3
    4. 4. Information life-cycle 4 Identify Create/collect Organise Store/maintain Use/distribute Archive/dispose
    5. 5. Data, Information, Knowledge 5 Foskett, D. J. (1995). Libraries and information systems: A fruitful partnership.
    6. 6. analysis implementation impact Domain of discourse Conceptualisation Technical system Information system lifecycle 6
    7. 7. Project implemenation 7
    8. 8. Information technology • Manual - Paper documentation – Limited capacity, few entry points – Systematic classification • Computerised records (~1980) – High capacity, multiple entry points – Structure and organisation of data • WWW (~1990) – Cheap publication – Reuse and publication • Social networking (~2008) – Sharing, integration – Audience participation 8
    9. 9. Impact of storage medium 9 Paper document Published document Web page Visibility few many unlimited Security good poor nil Conservation high risk low risk high risk Cost low high low Change tracking innate impossible nil
    10. 10. Museum information 12
    11. 11. ICOM definition of museum “A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.” ICOM Statutes, Vienna, Austria, in 2007 13
    12. 12. Mission and information Acquire and conserve Research Registers, insurance evaluations, inventory Academic journals, articles, studies, reports Communicate and exhibit Catalogues, CD-ROMS, Web site 14
    13. 13. Information management issues Confidentiality Vs Communication Comprehensive Vs Exhaustive Complexity Vs Readability Convenience Vs Long-term needs Unlimited needs Vs Finite resources 15
    14. 14. Confidentiality vs Communication • “Serving visitors and other audiences is part of the very essence of a museum... staff are in effect public servants” p 107 • “The museum could also consider providing the public and researchers with online access to information, both within the museum and on the Web.” • “The museum must take special care to ensure that the information about the location of a particular object or collection is kept secure. This information can be of great assistance to criminals considering raiding the museum.” Andrew Roberts, 2004 16
    15. 15. Comprehensive vs Depth “One of the greatest costs associated with documentation is the work involved in developing records and particularly carrying out backlog cataloguing... It may be more important to have limited details across the collection than to record information in each ... field.” Andrew Roberts, 2004 • 30 mins/record * 1750 person hours/year => ~3500 records / person / year • 35,000 records = 10 person years work 17
    16. 16. Complexity vs Accessibility “records need to be consistently structured into discrete categories or fields, each of which can hold a specific piece of information.” Andrews Roberts, 2004 18
    17. 17. Long-term preservation • Industrial Paper – 50 years • B/w Photograph – 80 years • Computer – 5 years (technical life) • Digital storage medium – 10 years (technical) • Computer program – 10 years • Information - indefinite 19
    18. 18. Information strategy • An audit of the existing situation • Identifies problems and priorities • Proposes a plan for the resolution of these problems • Provides an estimation of the resources and time required • Is subject to regular review • Clarifies documentation policy • Justifies investment 21
    19. 19. Conclusions • Information – an asset, needs management • Information systems – not just computers • Heritage information raises specific issues • An information strategy needed • Course: MGMT 7000-006 Heritage Information management (elective) 22
    20. 20. References • Roberts, A. “Inventories and Documentation”, in Running a Museum, A practical handbook, ICOM, 2004 • Orna, E and Pettitt, C. Information Management in Museums, Gower 1998, Chapter 2 • Renaissance London - Information and Records Management Project 2007-2012 • ICOM CIDOC 23
    21. 21. 24