Archives & Museum Informatics








last updated:
April 17, 2012 4:27 PM

Unifying our cultural memory: Could electronic environments bridge the historical accidents that fragment cultural collections?

in Information Landscapes for a Learning Society, Networking and the Future of Libraries 3, 1998. and presentation at UK Office of Library Networking Conference, July 1998.

David Bearman and Jennifer Trant, Partners, Archives & Museum Informatics, USA


1. The meeting took place December 15, 1994. See the report by D. Bearman, "CIMI Entertains New Framework," Archives & Museum Informatics, Vol. 9, no. 1, 1995, pp. 120-123. A preliminary version of the "triangle" is reproduced on p. 121. Another version of this diagram can be found in J. Sledge, "Points of View," Multimedia Computing and Museums" Selected Papers from the Third International Conference on Hypermedia and Interactivity in Museums (ICHIM 95/MCN 95), Ed. David Bearman, Pittsburgh, PA: Archives & Museum Informatics 1995.335-346.

2. This has been made painfully apparent to museums who have found great difficulty in making databases that were constructed primarily for collections management into resources that can provide pubic access to their collections. The Catechism Project, at the National Museums of Scotland surveyed questions asked of museums, and found that almost one-third of these could not be answered by a museum database. See Helen McCorry and Ian O. Morrison, report on the catechism project, National Museums of Scotland, [1995]. This issue was also investigated by the Consortium for the Computer Interchange of Museum Information. See particularly the section "Formulating Typical Questions" in Kody Janney and Jane Sledge "A User Model for CII Z39.50 Application Profile" September 1995. Available online at

3. see, for example, David Bearman and Peter Sigmond, "Explorations of Form of Material Authority Files by Dutch Archivists", American Archivist v.50 (1987) p.249-253

4. The International Standard Archival Description (General) is maintained by UNESCO. See

5. Anglo American Cataloguing Rules and Machine Readable Catalog Record

6. While there are many reference sources and standards for the documentation of museum collections, such as SPECTRUM: The UK Museum Documentation Standard (Museum Documentation Association: 1994), local collection documentation systems structure records in distinct ways.

7. See, for example, the chapters "From Questions to Sources" and "Using Sources" in Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1995, 64-84.

8. One scholar "conceived an international guide that she thought would be of great use to both new and experienced researchers. ' I ... imaging ... some sort of publication .... Let's say you pick[ed] ten major libraries in Europe, and you just said how they worked, how they were set up ... you would probably be several weeks ahead of yourself." Object, Image, Inquiry...

9. This problem has been acknowledged at Harvard University. See the Visual Information Access Project, particularly the Report of the Task Group, May 1997 <>.

10. The mismatch between descriptive standards and user needs is sometimes acknowledged" This focus on provenance, as a means of providing access to archival holdings, has produced archival descriptive tools that are largely creator and document oriented. As such, these descriptive reference tools frequently fail to adequately describe the content of material for researchers." Diane Beattie, "Retrieving the Irretrievable; providing Access to 'Hidden Groups' in Archives," in Reference Services for Archives and Manuscripts, Laura B. Cohen Ed., New York and London: the Haworth Press, Inc, 1997, 85.

11. See, for example,

12. See Jane Sledge and Mary Case "Looking for MR Rococo: Getty Art History Information Program Point of View Workshop" in Archives and Museum Informatics, Vol. 9, no. 1, 124-129.

13. Sledge 1995, p. 342.

14. McCory and Morrison report that "Information relating to 'procedures - activities involved in the acquisition or management of the object ... represented 13.3% of those queries sampled that fell into their broad category of "information about the objects". Report on the catechism project, 1995, 7.

15. Such dialogues are essential to assure the accurate choice of homonyms (glass as a material vs. Glass as a name), and to refine common English language uses ("drawings by Italian Architects executed in the 18th century).

16. In practice, scholarly knowledge representations have made very complex choices which can be quite hard to represent in formal declarations. See Andrew Prescott, "Constructing Electronic Beowulf" in The British Library, Towards the Digital Library (London, British Library, 1998) p.30-49

17. Categories for the Description of Works of Art, College Art Association and Getty Art History Information Program in Visual Resources, 11 (1996) pp.241-429 together with articles on aspects of its development and application, edited by Murtha Baca and Patricia Harpring. Also

18. CIDOC Relational Data Model International Council of Museums, International Committee on Documentation, 1997, CIDOC Documentation Standards Working Group, CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model, 1998

19. The concept of frames, and of the discourse of disciplines building from common frames, grows out of the seminal writings of Marvin Minsky "A Framework for Representing Knowledge," MIT-AI Laboratory Memo 306, June, 1974 (popularized in his book Society of Mind) which influenced twenty years of AI research.

20. See for example the preliminary results by Andrew Gordon, in the definition of what he calls "expectation packages" within the Library of Congress Thesaurus of Graphic Materials, for building links in descriptive metadata and aiding retrieval in his "Deja-vu" Thesaurus Browsing System. "Andrew Gordon, Northwestern University , "Accessing mage Collections by Browsing Through Standard Thesauri", a paper presented in the session "Theory and Practice in the Organization of Image and other Visuo-Spatial Data for Retrieval: from Indexing to Metadata", American Society for Information Science, Annual Meeting, October 25-26,1998, Pittsburgh, PA.

21. Elsewhere, we have found these helpful in understanding the issues of "authenticity" in digital documents. David Bearman and Jennifer Trant, "Authenticity of Digital Resources: Towards a Statement of Requirements in the Research Process," D-Lib Magazine, June 1998. The definitions of the phases in the research process that follow are based on those in this article.

22. Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts (London, Sage Publications, 1979)

23. Constance Gould, Information Needs in the Humanities: An Assessment (Mountain View, RLG, 1988); Constance Gould and Mark Handler, Research Needs in the Social Sciences: An Assessment (Mountain View, RLG, 1989); Counstance Gould and Karla Pearce, Research Needs in the Sciences: An Assessment (Mountain View, RLG, 1991)

24. Elisabeth Bakewell, William O. Beeman, Carol Mc Michael Reese and Marilyn Schmitt (ed.), Object Image Enquiry, the Art Historian At Work, Report on a collaborative Study by The Getty Art History Information Program (AHIP) and the Institute for Research in Information and Scholarship )IRIS) Brown University, Santa Monica, CA: Getty Art History Information Program, 1988.

25. A useful text which explores these issues within the domain of art historical research is "Linking Art Objects and Art Information", a special issue of Library trends (vol.37 #2, Fall 1988). See especially articles by Karen Markey, David Bearman and Angela Giral.

26. Our analysis assumes the existence of orthogonal packages of metadata, as described in the Warwick Framework. See Carl Lagoze, "The Warwick Framework: A Container Architecture for Diverse Sets of Metadata" D-Lib Magazine, July/August 1996 <> and Lagoze, Carl , Clifford Lynch and Ron Daniel, Jr. June, 1996. The Warwick Framework: A Container Architecture for Aggregating Sets of Metadata. Cornell Computer Science Technical Report TR96-1593.

27. Marcia Bates, "Indexing and Access for Digital Libraries and the Internet: Human, Database and Domain Factors, JASIS, 49 (1998) p.1185-1205

28. Vijay Gurbaxani and Haim Mendelson, The Use of Secondary Analysis in MIS Research, in Kenneth Kraemer ed., Harvard Business School Research Colloquium on Information Systems Research Challenge: Survey Research Methods, vol.3 (1991) p.71-106

29. The images in this example are drawn from the online Thumbnail catalog of the Art Museum Image Consortium They are: Mummy Case of Paankhenamun, Third Intermediate Period, Dynasty 22, c. 945 - 71No. 1910.238. Art Institute of Chicago, William M. Willner Fund Copyright The Art Institute of Chicago, 1998; Wall Fragment from the Tomb of Amenemhet and His Wife Hemet. Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12, c. 1991-1784 B.C. No. 1920.262. The Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Purchase, Fund, Copyright The Art Institute of Chicago, 1998; and Egypt, Akhmim (?),. Mummy Case. 30 BC-AD395, Cleveland Museum of Art. No. 1914.715., Gift of the John Huntington Art and Polytechnic Trust, Copyright The Cleveland Museum of Art.

30. For further context of this table as it relates to the Reference Model for Business Acceptable Communications, developed for electronic archives, and the requirements of Dublin Core image data, see: David Bearman, "Possible Contributions of the Reference Model of Metadata Required for Evidence to a Reference Model of Metadata Required for Image Description", Archives and Museum Informatics, vol.10 (1996) p.295-302 and " Item Level Control and Electronic Recordkeeping", Archives and Museum Informatics, vol.10 (1996) p.195-245, also

31. Brian Kahin, "Institutional and Policy Issues in the Development of the Digital Library", in Networking in the Humanities, ed. Stephanie Kenna & Seamus Ross (London, Bowker-Saur, 1995) p.127-140

32. See the Art Museum Image Consortium Web Pages for full background on their program. Also, David Bearman and Jennifer Trant, "Economic, Social, and Technical Models for Digital Libraries of Primary Resources", New Review of Information Networking, 1998, forthcoming

33. Research Agenda for Networked Cultural Heritage, Santa Monica, CA: the J. Paul Getty Trust, 1996.

34. Computing and the Humanities: Summary of a Roundtable Meeting, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council, in collaboration with Coalition for Networked Information, National Initiative for Networked Cultural Heritage, Two Ravens Institute. American Council of Learned Societies, Occasional Paper NO 41, 1998.

Informatics: The interdisciplinary study of information content, representation, technology and applications,
and the methods and strategies by which information is used in organizations, networks, cultures and societies.