Museums neglecting needs of researchers?


A recent RIN report ‘Discovering Physical Objects’ looks at how researchers find out about collections of objects relevant to their research. The report relates to museum objects rather than archives, but as ever, the Archives Hub feel that its always worth looking at library and museum studies, and seeing how they might apply to the world of archives.

Well, the results don’t seem to be very surprising. Researchers want online finding aids but are unaware of those that exist; they want contact with curatorial staff; and access to objects amongst museums is inconsistent.

I was interested to see that access to online finding aids NOW is more important than access to ‘perfect’ descriptions. The report states “technological developments that allow researchers
and others to easily add to and amend the content of these records have the potential to help all museums and other collections to improve the quality of their records.” I assume the report is reflecting what researchers have actually said here, rather than making an assumption, although the wording doesn’t make this explicit.

On the whole, the report gives the impression that museums are really rather behind the archive community in providing online access to descriptions. I’m curious about the statement that ‘only a few have the needs of researchers in mind’ when they create their online finding aids – I’d like to know more about this and the the evidence for it.

I’m surprised that curators apparently underestimate the value of online finding aids. It certainly seems that museum curators have not generally embraced technical possibilities and are not really into the spirit of collaboration and sharing.

The ways forward that the report recommends fit in quite nicely with the Hub’s ethos: to make museum descriptions open and interoperable so that people can create their own interfaces sourcing the data. We’ll keep an eye on the progress of Culture24 with interest.

Image from RIN report: Discovering Physical Objects (2009)

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