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Artikel Muzeumcafé

In de februari-editie van het Hongaarse museumtijdschrift Muzeumcafé staat een artikel van de hand van Sarte directeur Ad Aerts over de inzet van informatietechnologie in de Nederlandse museumwereld. Hieronder de originele engelse tekst. Want zijn Hongaars was toch niet zo goed...

Tendencies in Dutch Museum ICT
Communication has always been very important to museums, not only for collecting information about collection objects, but also to forward information about the collection to the museum audience. Over the past few years Internet developments have changed the way people communicate. Apart from the increase in the number of available communication techniques and the growth in sheer communication volume, the prominent type of communication has changed from one-to-one (letters, phone) and one-to-many (books, magazines, TV) to many-to-many (social media). Although these changes may appear threatening as they interfere with traditional communication practices, they also provide a lot of opportunities museums can benefit from. In this article I will give a few examples of the use of modern ICT methods as they are being used by Dutch museums in the past year.

Social Media
In the 21st century people are not only organized in local groups and associations but also in world wide Internet communities. Facebook, for example, has almost 4 million users in the Netherlands (with a population of 17 million). This makes social networks valuable platforms to communicate with any intended audience. But unlike traditional media for communication and marketing, social media are based on two-way communication. This calls for a dedicated approach. Simply moving existing strategies and products to this new media will not be efficient. All communication should call for response, and all user feedback should be properly handled. Two way communication calls for a dedicated team consisting of marketeers and communication specialist but also people with cultural and historical know-how.

Many Dutch museums are already using social media like Facebook and twitter for communication with their audience. But in general they find it hard to find proper formats to do so. The traditional approach of periodically sending messages (like they used to do with press releases and leaflets) does not work very well in social media. Social media call for interaction. The Leiden bases Boerhave Museum ( has adopted a extensive strategy for social media to gain more recognition, to get more attention in the press and to increase their network. All this does not necessarily have to lead to more visits. Boerhave deploys a multi-network approach including (among others) a blog, Facebook page, YouTube account, Twitter and a Flickr group. The blogs are longer stories about the collection of the museum. They found, to their own surprise, that blogs written by curators are much better read than the blogs written by the communications staff. The museum has lifted the ban on taking photographs in the museum. Visitors are encouraged to post their photographs on Flickr. Twitter is linked to Facebook so everything on Twitter is automatically placed on Facebook as well. Boerhave's twitter games were very popular, but unfortunately these were discontinued because the took too much time from the museum staff. Very important in the Boerhave approach is that not only the communications' department is involved in their social media activities. Especially the curators had an important role as well. Also important is the choice to use and integrate several platforms. This is a tendency that will become more prominent in the future. It also calls for wide re-education within the museum staff.

Sharing Data
A very important ICT concept in dutch museum collections is that of sharing information. Most museums want to share metadata with everyone who is interested in it. The first reward for sharing is that whoever is using your metadata will also refer to your institution, and hopefully make more people want to visit your museum. The second reward is that some people who are using your metadata will also be willing to enhance and enrich your data. Take for example the painting 'De overlieden van de Voetboogdoelen' from 1656 by Rembrandt contemporary Bartholomeus van der Helst. There are two ways to refer to the painting's metadata:
action=search&database=ChoiceCollect&search=priref=38475 .
Both methods are essentialy internet links of URL's. The first shows information on a webpage designed to be readable for the average website visitors. The page does not show all information but only a selection. Therefor it is not suitable for re-use, for example on another website. For re-use information should be complete and formatted for automated acces. This is what you see if you look at the second url. Although human readable, this representation is designed for metadata reuse. The two URL's in the previous paragraph show the two major approaches in sharing metadata. The first uses a webservice. This is essentially a piece of software installed on a webserver that executes queries on a heritage database. The query is passed to the server within the URL. The query in this example is very simple, but the query mechanism is extremely flexible. The second URL shows the Linked Data Approach: A URL that uniquely identifies all the metadata of a single museum object. The concept of Linked Open Data makes information is available to all with an absolute minimum of restrictions, that every piece of information is stored somewhere on the internet, and can it be referenced by means of unique and standardised identifiers. It was devised by Tim Berners-Lee ( who outlined the principles of Linked Open Data This concept was adopted by the Amsterdam Museum as part of their policy to make all their collection data available on the internet.

Both URL's give access to the same metadata collection of the Amsterdam Museum. This museum, dedicated to Amsterdam ( with a rich collection of works of art, objects and archaeological finds related to Amsterdam in past and present. In 2010 the museum started with providing full access to it's collection's metadata using a webservice. Early 2011 it donated all of its object photographs to WikiPedia. Later in 2011 metadata was also made available as Linked Open Data. Another Dutch museum making all collection data available on the Internet is the Utrecht Centraal Museum, the oldest city museum of the Netherlands, with a collection initially consisting mostly of antiquities, but over time shifted more towards contemporary art, fashion and design. The museum has the largest collection of Rietveld pieces in the world. The Centraal museum does not yet use publicly accessable webservices or linked data, but provides a dedicated web application for browsing the collection (

Both museums use ADLIB software for collection administration. ADLIB is a Dutch company specializing in museum collection management. Over the past few years ADLIB has developed a very powerful webservice enabling third party web developers to easily use metadata and images within websites. As many Dutch museums use this software, it is very likely that more Dutch museums will be using this webservice to provide access to collection metadata.

Crowd Sourcing
Within the museum world Crowd Sourcing means that collection metadata and other information is not only provided by museum staff, but also by an open Internet community of interested people. If used properly, crowd sourcing will enrich then information a museam can provide about it's object to a great extent. The major drawback is that the expertise of the (often) anonymous crowd is hardly on the level of the museum staff. Therefor it is very important to device proper procedures to maintain quality standards. Many museums are very reluctant to use crowd sourcing for this very reason. In many cases the only information that can be added by anonymous users are keywords or tags. The 'Theater Instuut Nederland' ( has an extensive museum collection of

theatre artefacts and publications. The institute also has a pure digital collection of opening night theatre performances since the late 1900's, theatre personalities, theatres and companies, that is being updated regularly. Most of the information is rather limited, but still very valuable. TIN chose for a hybrid approach to share the information they have, and extend the information with the help of Internet visitors. In order to achieve that, they linked their database to a wiki ( in such a way that information can be moved in both directions. The final product is still in development but is highly popular already.

The value of this project is that it is bidirectional. It gives information to Internet end-users but also collects information provided by these users. This approach is anything but simple, especially because you need to develop a very careful protocol for using user-generated data in the institution's database, starting with the question wether to validate user-generated content before or after publication. But without crowdsourcing it would simply be impossible to complete the theatre encyclopedia. Most of the 80,000 pages in the encyclopedia hold only metadata information as collected from the institution's database and are without any kind of textual explanation. Not even the fastest writer/researcher can produce even one page of descriptive text each day, let alone do research and find matching media clips. But even if it was possible to write one page a day, a staff of 100 writers would need almost three years to complete it. No heritage organisation can afford that scale of staffing.

This article mentions only a few projects, but many Dutch museums are already providing services like these. In the next years social networks, data sharing and crowd sourcing will become increasingly important for museums. This will lead to better services for researches as well as museum visitors, but also to enormous changes within the museum organization.

Ad Aerts is an Internet concept developer with over 25 years of experience. Until recently he worked for Theater Instituut Nederland where he developed the concept of the Dutch online theater encyclopedia. His starting points are people, cultural heritage and technology, in that order. He loves theater, film, art an in fact anything interesting that people might think of. At the moment Ad works for sArte, a non-profit organisation dedicated to art, culture and digital technology.

blog | by Dr. Radut