Many organisations considering submitting funding proposals to the HLF will need to consider the implications of making their digital content openly available for re-use. This brief paper has been created to help you consider the opportunities and the challenges, and to provide some examples of other heritage institutions that have opened up their collections in this way.
What does 'open' mean?
'Open' in the context of 'open content' means different things to different people. In its most generic sense, it means that people will be able to access and re-use the digital assets (text, images and associated information) that you produce without encountering barriers or constraints. In practice, it means that you need to consider several aspects of how your project will make its digital content available:
- You will need to consider the platform you use to make the content available - is it openly accessible, do people need to pay to access it, or is there a specific technology which they are required to use? Is it on the web, and if so, is it available in a way that people can link to now and in the future?
- You will need to consider the format of your content - specifically, are you using commonly-available, industry standard formats which do not prevent people from accessing your information? An example would be PDF, which makes it hard for people to access and re-use the content, versus XML, which makes it easier.
- You will need to consider the terms under which you want to make the content available - if you use a standard 'rights reserved' license, or simply assert your copyright, for example in the footer of your web page, you are effectively preventing people from re-using it. The ideal is to publish the content under an 'open' license, which expressly permits certain forms of re-use. Examples include the popular Creative Commons or the more adaptable Open Government Licens, published by the National Archives.
- You will need to consider how the content will be sustained - ensuring long-term access to the content costs money, and you will need to ensure that you have considered how these costs will be covered, and from which of your organisation's budgets.
The benefits of Open Content
Museums, galleries and heritage attractions all over the world are opening up their digital collections for re-use. But why are they doing it, and how are they dealing with the challenges?
In part, the argument is simply one of diminishing returns - the content you make available via your own website will reach some of your online visitors, but it won't reach the majority of people who are using the Web. If you make it available for other people to re-use, to create new applications and services, then your content can reach a far larger audience. Moreover, you an use this network of applications to drive audiences directly to your website, significantly adding to your marketing and audience development work.
The key benefits of open include:
- More exposure for your organisation and your Collections
- Better join up of your collections information with other relevant information and services
- Greater return on the investments you and funders make in your collections information
A key feature of opening up content in this way is that it still enables you to build added-value commercial services on top of your Collections. Hence, you can still run a commercial picture library service alongside a body of open content, and it is entirely possible that the enhanced audience for your open content will increase demand for your commercial services. The key point is that open and commercial are 'both/and', not 'either/or' - the decision to open up content doesn't prevent you from building a sustainable business model.
How to 'go open'!
Working with the Arts Council England, the Collections Trust has created a service called the 'Culture Grid' that is designed to help cultural, heritage and arts organisations share their collections openly online while managing risk and cost. The Culture Grid is effectively a 'staging post' into which you can put your digital content, and from which you can decide how you want it to be made openly available.
The Collections Trust has already worked with 140 heritage organisations to open up 1.7m 'collections records' (information about objects in museum and gallery collections) in this way. They key to this service is that it allows you to manage how you open up your content, and to do so in a way that is safe, sustainable and which minimises the risk to your organisation.
Through the SPECTRUM Partners Scheme, the Culture Grid is already compatible with 15 of the leading Collections Management Software providers, providing you with a simple and risk-free path to opening up your collections information.
The simplest way to demonstrate your commitment to open content in your HLF bid is to commit to sharing your digital content through the Culture Grid. To find out how this works, and what you need to do to open up your content, contact the Grid Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.