I've just read an interesting paper from a presentation at the recent CIDOC meeting: Nicholas Crofts, “Digital Assets and Digital Burdens: Obstacles to the Dream of Universal Access,” 2008 Annual Conference of CIDOC (Athens, September 15-18, 2008).
The premise is that technology is not the issue keeping our institutions from reaching a goal of universal access -- it's a number of post-technical issues, including varied intellectual property barriers, institutions' desires to protect their digital assets, and collection documentation that is not well-suited to sharing.
From the section on "Suitability of Documentation":
... but while this technical revolution has taken place, there has not been a corresponding revolution in documentation practice. The way that documentation is prepared and maintained and the sort of documentation that is produced are still heavily influenced by pre-Internet assumptions. The documentation found in museums – the raw material for diffusion – is often ill-suited for publication.From the conclusion:
While making cultural material freely available is part of their mission, and therefore a goal that they are obliged to support, it may still come into conflict with other factors, notably commercial interests: the need to maintain a high-profile and to protect an effective brand image. If museums are to cooperate successfully and make digital resources widely available on collaborative platforms, they will either need to find ways of avoiding institutional anonymity, or agree to put aside their institutional identity to one side.It's a frank and interesting paper. I think there has been progress in documentation practice -- look at the CCO and the Aquifer Shareable Metadata efforts, and the earlier Categories for the Description of Works of Art -- but it's true that this hasn't yet taken hold in a widespread way.