Sunday, April 12, 2009

museum data exchange software

OCLC, funded by the Mellon Foundation and working with the software company Cognitive Applications, Inc, has released COBOAT and OAICat Museum to support data interchange between museums. This work is happening under the auspices of their Museum Data Exchange Project.

So what, many people will say? It should already be easy to share museums data, right?

Not so much.

The museum collection management system arena has some major vendors (Gallery Systems, Willoughby, Minisis, Cuadra, etc) and some smaller vendors (Re:discovery, PastPerfect, etc.), and countless (and I really mean countless) home-grown systems running on FileMaker, Access, and MS-SQL. I know, because I spent many years working for museums and I was on the board of the Museum Computer Network, a group that dilligently worked on many interchange initiatives. I worked with software from 3 vendors and managed a FileMaker-based system. Getting data in was easy. Getting data out was often hard. Participation in data aggregation projects took a lot of effort. And most small- or medium-sized museums (and there are many, many more of them than large museums) have little or no technology staff to enable data sharing. And there is no common data schema in the community.

The museum community itself has sometimes slowed progress. When discussion of relevant library community standards were mentioned, some said "We're nothing like libaries! Our collections are unique! Their standards are not for us!" That attitude seems to have adapted in the last 10 years.

I am glad to see something like this going forward. A fee-free tool that can help museums extract data from black-box vendor systems and enable sharing? Bring it on.


Dan Chudnov said...

I'm not sure I get it. A black box tool for extracting data from black boxes? "fee-free" is doublespeak, like "double plus black box".

Leslie Johnston said...

I hear you, but I still welcome this as a first step. Any enabling of interchange is better than none.

Guenter Waibel said...

Leslie, thanks for the thoughtful write-up of our project. I've just pushed the button on my own blog-posting, and it should go a long way towards explaining why going open source all the way was not an option for this project.

atlas245 said...

I thought the post made some good points on extracting data, For simple stuff i use python to get or simplify data,data extraction can be a time consuming process but for larger projects like documents, files, or the web i tried "extracting data from the web" which worked great, they build quick custom screen scrapers, extracting data, and data parsing programs