Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Responses to "Progress on Museum URIs"

Three people responded to yesterday's post on museum URIs.

Leif Isaksen left a comment to the effect that he's not too concerned about differing base URIs for museum collections. I agree that there are worse things than the string "collection." in "http://collection.britishmuseum.org/object/YCA62958". The original explanation was to reduce load on an individual server. Without meaning to get too technical, the "/object" can be an effective load reducer by passing requests to a proxy. Bottom line: in an ideal world, I'd drop the "collection.", but I'm not too worked up about it.

Eric Kansa responded on his blog. His point had an interesting overlap with an e-mail I received. I won't quote that in its entirety as the author could have made it public if s/he wanted to. Here's a snippet:
but to me it seems a very bad idea to think that only museums can claim the right to designate URIs for their objects; there should be a standard that can be used by museums as well as by scientists outside of museums...
I took this as responding largely to
2. In order to avoid that everybody invents a new URI for the same
object, there should be one authority known to the whole world that
assigns such a URI.

3. This authority is naturally the museum that keeps the object,
because it is the only institution that can verify that two
different use cases of museum object URIs actually describe the same
thing.
Taking Eric's and Anonymous' comments together, I read them as calling for a multi-vocal internet in which many agents can assert an identity for an object, with those identities together forming a distributed and diverse commentary on the human past. I totally agree. To be self-critical, I may well have mis-read M. Doerr's e-mail. If he's calling for recognition of the exclusive right of museums to identify their objects, that's a non-starter. It's neither the right thing to do nor is it possible. On first reading, I took his e-mail to represent a welcome assumption of responsibility by museums to provide a locus of stability for reference to their collections. But to be clear, objects will have multiple identifiers. Referring back to a common identifier promoted by and discoverable at the holding institution will ease the process of recognizing that two or more identifiers refer to the "same thing". That will itself promote the idea of a discoverable and multi-vocal discussion about the past.

2 comments:

reinhard said...

Hi Sebastian (and Eric and Leif),

it would have been easier if I had posted my comment from the beginning, but you spotted the core of it and put it in the right context, thanks.

Too, I have no problem with encouraging museums and their curators as well as their deciding bodies as much as possible to create URIs (and digitally publish the objects).

To add one point. After travelling since 30 years and having been in every country that touches the Mediterranean and some that don't, I suspect that the Ancient world does not consist of some Northern European Museums alone. So a tremendous amount of material would remain totally outside of the discussion if one would go with unilateralism of URIs. Otherwise, with the help of the scientific community and attempts to mine old archives and new Foto-Tourism, much progress could be done.

Many curators would be happy if the community would help them to get a foothold in their material, also digitally. In front of this background the exclusive minting-right for URIs is a somewhat Northern European notion. Its all a very old story.

Reinhard

Sebastian Heath said...

Just as an FYI... Useful links have been added to yesterday's post by Mia Ridge and Robert Huber.