Handout for Museum Commons: A Professional Interaction


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Created as a discussion starter for a "professional interaction" at Museums and the Web 2010. See paper written with Rich Cherry from the Balboa Park Online Collaborative at http://www.slideshare.net/edsonm/museum-commons-a-professional-interaction-museums-and-the-web-2010-michael-edson-and-rich-cherry (slideshare) and http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/edson-cherry/edson-cherry.html (conference site)

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Handout for Museum Commons: A Professional Interaction

  1. 1. What is a Commons?<br />Handout for Museum Commons: A Professional Interaction, Museums and the Web 2010, Edson/Cherry<br />Many organizations have started exploring aspects of the Commons. Thirty-two organizations participate in the Flickr Commons (http://www.flickr.com/commons/institutions/), and museums like the Brooklyn Museum, the Magnes, and the Powerhouse Museum are using Creative Commons licenses to clarify the intellectual property status of their on-line collections in ways that encourage reuse of their holdings. But what exactly is a commons? What are its characteristics? What makes a commons different than just a good on-line collections Web site? Why are these differences important to our organizations and audiences?<br />The ‘Commons’ refers to resources that are held in the public sphere for the benefit and use of everyone. Commons usually get created when a property owner decides that a given set of resources - land, grass for grazing sheep, books in a library, or software code - will be more valuable if freely shared than if restricted.  While there is no formal definition of a ‘museum commons’, some themes and attributes have emerged through conversations and workshops with museum practitioners, educators and other stakeholders working on commons-like projects. Resources are:<br />Federated: assets from separate databases or repositories are presented together, irrespective of what organization or department they came from<br />Designed for users: toolsets to allow specific user groups to effectively use the combined collections and data<br />Findable: search and findability are strongly emphasized <br />Shareable: the architecture of the commons emphasizes persistent URL's and linking/embedding tools that enable and encourage sharing<br />Reusable: intellectual property policies are uniform and clearly stated<br />Free: assets are free to access and use<br />Can be bulk downloaded: the commons platform provides for bulk download of assets<br />Machine readable: assets are presented in machine readable formats<br />High resolution: assets are made available in high resolution and not unnecessarily restricted.<br />Available for collaboration without control: the commons platform, through a combination of the attributes above, enables collaboration and research without the necessity of formal contracts or agreements. <br />Open to Network effects: commons platforms are designed to take advantage of  network effects from user contributions<br />In the Public Domain: particularly for collecting institutions, understanding and advancing the public domain is, or should be, a core activity<br />For the purposes of this interaction, several assertions about the benefits of the commons model can serve as conversation starters.<br />1. Harmony with mission<br />Advocates for the Museum Commons have lots of reasons for the ideas put forth above, but any discussion should start with a review of institutional purpose. The theme of providing access to knowledge and content runs across many institutional mission statements.<br />2. The Public Domain<br />The original framers of our intellectual property laws, including Thomas Jefferson, saw the commons as the natural state of intellectual property - and private ownership its cautiously and temporarily granted exception. <br />3. User experience<br />User experience on a commons site is generally more satisfying than the experience on a collections or data access site that was not designed with a commons model. <br />4. Economies of scale<br />One commons platform serving multiple museum collections should be more efficient to build and maintain than multiple platforms. <br />5. A better collaborative model<br />Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody writes: " we are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organization …Getting the free and ready participation of a large, distributed group with a variety of skills has gone from impossible to simple." (Shirky, 2008)<br />6. Innovation and knowledge creation<br />In the law, and in our understanding of the way the world works, we recognize that no idea stands alone, and that all innovation is built on the ideas and innovations of others. When creators are allowed free and unrestricted access to the work of others, through the public domain, fair use, a commons, or other means, innovation flourishes. (Edson, 2009) <br />7. A better business model<br />A free commons model in which organizations build increased visitation around on-line communities and open access will ultimately be more scalable and profitable (and more harmonious with most museum missions) than business models in which we attempt to directly monetize access and re-use. <br />8. More responsive to needs/expectations of digital natives<br />Digital natives (and those of us who are too old to be natives but nonetheless have a millennial bent) expect on-line resources to be free, easy to find, and permissively licensed. <br />9. Whose collections are they, anyway?<br />In many cases, public funds have supported the purchase, storage, conservation, and academic research surrounding museum collections. The public already owns these resources: shouldn't the public be able to use them on-line, without restriction? (This rationale is especially pungent when the physical collections are in the public domain.) <br />10. Helping our peer organizations<br />Research organizations often charge each other expensive rights-and-reproduction fees for scholarly access and reuse. Not only does this discourage scholarship and publishing, but it also perpetuates a continuing cycle of charging these fees. (A notable counter example is the Images for Academic Publishing (IAP) program,  http://www.artstor.org/what-is-artstor/w-html/services-publishing.shtml ).<br />