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Scientific Information - Development of information technology tools for museums

Short description:
The project “Development of information technology tools for museums” has been in place since 1981 and is therefore older than ZIB itself. Its tasks include on the one hand the IT-technical support of inventory and documentation projects in museums and on the other hand the communication and distribution of internationally recognized standards within the German museum landscape. Projects opening up the use of modern information technology to museums are carried out in interdisciplinary cooperation with scientists from various humanistic disciplines.

Carlos Saro
, Barbara Fichtl, Beate Jahn

Project description:

Within the framework of more than 10 cooperation agreements, the museum project supports various museums and institutions serving museums in the use of modern IT methods for collection documentation.


The basic software for all projects is the GOS database system, which was originally developed by the British Museum Documentation Association (MDA, in the meantime renamed to Collection Trust1) especially for use in inventory and documentation in museums. Since 1981 it has been further developed by ZIB and is made available to museums interested. GOS enables the processing of complex, hierarchically organized information structures and thus makes it possible to describe the most complicated object relations without any loss of information. In contrast to libraries, objects in museums are more complex and heterogeneous and require adequate data structures for the their scientific description in order to be able to describe and manage objects that are as diverse as a knight’s armour, a movie poster, a tin can or a toy locomotive in a uniform database.

Use of data

An important aspect in the development is the use of collected data in a manner that is as versatile as possible. In this context, data collected in the inventory of objects are used for highly different scientific and administrative processes (preparation of an exhibition, object lending, restoration protocols,…). Furthermore, data can be made available on various media (paper, CD/DVD, Internet, multimedia applications in exhibitions). In this context, the publication of collection inventories in the Internet is of particular importance: With the object database of the German Historical Museum2, that has been accessible via Internet since 1996, ZIB is responsible for the technical support of the still most comprehensive offer of this type in Germany.
The museum project also supports cooperation partners in further projects, such as the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum in a DFG-sponsored project on the collection of autographs.
Since projects in the area of museum documentation generally exist over an extended period of time, the institutions participating expect a continuous cooperation. Thus, the cooperation agreement between ZIB and the Institut für Museumsforschung der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin -- Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz3 dates back to the year 1981 and has been renewed repeatedly. Further cooperation agreements exist with the German Historical Museum4 (since 1991), the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munic5 (since 1995), the Museum im Wasserwerk Friedrichshagen6 (since 1998), the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig7 (since 2001), and some other museums. Thus, the project is to a large extent third-party funded.


Sustainability is also in the focus of the second main aspect of the museum project: the communication and distribution of internationally recognized standards within the German museum landscape.
Due to close contacts to decision-making bodies, e.g. the "Fachgruppe Dokumentation" in the Deutscher Museumsbund8 and the CIDOC (Comité international pour la documentation des International Council of Museums9), ZIB is now well established in the field of museum documentation. The autumn meeting on museum documentation, which each year is jointly organized by the Fachgruppe Dokumentation and the Institut für Museumsforschung, has traditionally taken place at ZIB for more than 15 years now.
Members of the museum project participate in the “data exchange” study group, which was founded by the Fachgruppe Dokumentation. The study group is involved in the principles of structuring data required for the inventory of museum objects and examines (metadata) formats with respect to their usability for the needs of the different collections. The basis for this is the "Conceptual Reference Model"10 (CRM), which has been developed by the CIDOC. This model is considered as a "domain ontology" (in terms of information technology) and was published in 2006 as ISO Standard ISO 21127:2006. The data publication format "MuseumDat"11, which was published by the study group in 2007, has become the standard format for many museum portals. Data from the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig and the German Historical Museum are also delivered by ZIB in this format to the BAM Portal12 and to the European Digital Library europeana13.

Vokabulary control
ZIB p { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; played a leading role in the foundation of the "museumsvokabular.de"14 initiative, which opened its online platform in May 2006 and has met with widespread interest that goes far beyond the Fachgruppe Dokumentation. The aim of the initiative is the provision, development and alignment of vocabulary used in museum documentation in a common portal.
Ip { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; n order to simplify the software-independent use of thesauri, classification schemes and the like, ZIB has proposed specifically the development of a Web service that is based on open and commonly used standards (SKOS - Simple Knowledge Organisation System for data structuring, SOAP as communication protocol, XML as general data exchange format). This service enables platform-independent access to vocabularies provided by different institutions with different DBMS. After ZIB presented a prototype and suggested an interface definitionp { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; } during a workshop at the beginning of 2006, coordination with software manufacturers took place in the summer of 2007. By now, nearly all reputable manufacturers of museum software are able to use this Web service.