Author: Hans Nederbragt
Describing cultural heritage collections is, as most archiving, a job that poses many dilemmas. Traditional collection registration using legacy systems relies on datamodels that are eloborate enough to encompass a number of obvious but different perspectives from which a curator could want to describe the object. The contradiction lies in the notions of "elaborate enough" and "different perspectives". The famous and notorious Dutch "historical object record" illustrates this very well:
A ideal way to describe cultural objects, or any object, would be to be able to dress it up, at random and unlimited, with any possible property which comes into view. But such a cloud of properties, the complete opposite of the classical fixed record model, poses some severe practical and technical problems.
In the "Groningen casus" of the RNA-project we have implemented a solution which lies somewhere in between those two opposites.
The museums of Groningen, an area in the north of The Netherlands, cover various knowledge domains. Together they manage an impressive amount of objects ranging from farms and old churches to agricultural tools, gravestones, paintings and books. They want to present this varied collection, which digital representations are scattered over a number of database and websites, via the web to a wide audience with search perspectives like cultural history, environmental history, education, tourism, etcetera.
In the Groningen situation we have identified two types of object descriptions, sets of properties that we have called profiles:
The idea is that any object can be described according to the following rules:
The experiment to test this setup in practice has just begun. The museums are linking their objects to object profiles. Next to these they also use context profiles, like "Roman architecture", "agricultural tools after mechanisation", "art deco", etcetera. At this stage two educational organisations have joined the experiment, they will make their educational context profiles and link them to the museum objects. And the Groningen museums expect that soon other organisations will follow, for instance with tourist context profiles like "museums with restaurant", or "sites on bicycle tour 66", and so on.