Raising Awareness

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UKOLN is based at the University of Bath.

What Does Openness Mean To The Museum Community?


Brian Kelly and Mike Ellis are co-facilitators of a professional forum on What Does Openness Mean To The Museum Community? at the Museums and the Web 2008 conference. The conference was held on 9-12th April 2008 in Quebec, Canada. The 60 minute professional forum took place on Friday 11th April.


What does openness mean to the Museum community? Within the context of networked services openness can have several meanings. It can refer to:

  • use of open source software
  • use of open standards
  • open access, such as use of Creative Commons licenses
  • Within the context of a Web 2.0 environment, openness may relate to an open culture which is willing to experiment and to trust its users, which may include the provision of tools such as blogs and wikis.

    Within a wider context this concept could include society's views on the openness and ability to reuse services and data paid for by the tax-payer.

    Openness is often regarded in a positive light, something which museums should strive to attain. However although openness can provide many benefits, there can also be dangers in an open approach, whether this is use of open source software, open standards, Creative Commons or openness with the user community or within our society: for example open standards may fail to gain market acceptance; it may prove difficult to replace proprietary software solutions with open source software and providing open access to data owned by museums may undermine the business case and sustainability of the service.

    There is a danger that discussions of the development of a new generation of networked applications, which are sometimes referred to as 'museums 2.0' may assume that the rationale for openness is accepted. In this professional forum the convenors will argue that there is a need for an open debate on this issue. The professional forum will review the strengths and weaknesses of the different aspects of openness and invite discussion on what openness should mean to the museum community and on ways of achieving the desired goal. Weaknesses of openness which may not always be acknowledged might include:

    • Open source software can provide a range of benefits, but much open source software is likely to be of poor quality and will not be sustainable (as can be seen from sourceforge - which has been referred to as a 'dumping ground of open source software'.
    • Open standards don't always work.
    • Useful formats such as RSS are not open standards in terms of a clearly defined governance and roadmap for future developments of the formats.
    • Creative Commons can undermine the business case for the maintenance and development of resources.
    • Proving free access to publicly-funded data (e.g. maps) could result in cutting back on the funding for the services, resulting in degradation in the quality of the data.

    A deployment strategy based on a risk management approach and a culture of sharing will be described which is aimed at institutions wishing to either make use of open services, open standards, open source or open content and those who are considering the business case for making their outputs available under appropriate open conditions. The paper concludes by discussing how the museums should respond to the wider discussion of openness.


    Please note the slides were intended to illustrate points and are not intended to convey the views of the speakers!


    What Does Openness Mean To The Museum Community?
    [MS PowerPoint 97/2000 format] - [HTML format]




    Addressing The Limitations Of Open Standards
    About - [MS Word] - [HTML] (held remotely)


    Accompanying Resources

    For a list of related resources please see the social bookmarking Web site (for the tag 'mw2008'):