Museums have many needs to interchange data. When a museum moves from one computing system to another, it will want to migrate its data. If the museum has a system for financial management, another system for membership and development, and yet other software for collections management it will want to communicate between these applications. If a museum lends objects for exhibitions or borrows objects for research, the process could be greatly improved by interchange. And when the interpretation of objects requires research in secondary sources, or indexing collection descriptions requires access to standard vocabularies and authority files, interchange capabilities can link museum collections with sources of that information.
Without a standard for such interchange, each instance of interchange requires preparation and programming. This may result in lost data, or the cost of one-off interchange outweighing the benefits. With interchange standards, basic management responsibility for preservation of museum information and integration of museum functions will be met while enhancing the potential for scholarly information exchange.
The Museum Computer Network (MCN) launched its initiative for Computer Interchange of Museum Information (CIMI) to develop standards that could support museum requirements. Representatives from all the major North American museum associations and network service providers attended meetings from 1990-92 which contributed to the framework for museum standards presented here.
This report identifies the types of interchange museums do or have a need to do. It then examines national and international information standards to see if existing standards can serve museums. Using the Open Systems Environment (OSE) and Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) models as a benchmark, the report reveals that certain classes of existing standards can serve museums and discusses how to identify applicable application standards. It then reviews the evidence on the suitability of certain application standards to specific museum applications.
Based on these findings, the report recommends a standards framework for museum information interchange titled the CIMI Standards Framework.
This framework encompasses interchange protocols, interchange formats, and lower level network and telecommunications building blocks as well as content data standards that provide the technical basis for museum information interchange.
Specifically, the CIMI Standards Framework adopts existing standards for interchange of information at OSI levels 1-6 including FTAM for file transfer, X.400 and X.500 for messaging and directory services, and ISO 9040/41 for terminal access. It allows for the use of either OSI or TCP/IP. It recommends EDI for business transactions and ISO 10162/10163 for information retrieval. It provides rationales for using either ISO 2709, ISO 8879 SGML, ISO 8824 ASN.1 for building collections databases or reference files.
The CIMI Standards Framework provides guidelines for museums, museum consortia, and vendors of museum services, to define the purposes and contents of specific exchanges of data and positions them to take advantages of information industry-wide developments in interoperability. It allows individual museum institutions to be the beneficiaries of standards rather than having to bear the cost of developing software themselves.
The CIMI Standards Framework is also a strategy for preservation of museum data because it recognizes the shortcomings and costs of having information dependent on a particular hardware and software combination and provides a blueprint for migrating data.
The report discusses two levels of implementation of the CIMI Standards Framework. The first is for museums to specify that their hardware and software acquisitions support the standards defined in the CIMI Standards Framework. This will ensure that the data can be interchanged even if all the institutional meanings cannot be. The second addresses the problem of agreeing on meanings by proceeding with the standardization of data content (the fields of information), and data values (what goes in the fields).
The report recommends:
The report encourages museum profession involvement in networked communications to increase the visibility of museum resources on the Internet, to improve museum to museum communications, and to enhance museum service delivery and develop museum professional skills. It also recognizes the need for research and development of standards for integrated text and image management and access to museum information as important, contemporary interchange issues for museums.
The report concludes by acknowledging the importance of the ongoing commitment by the MCN to CIMI and the recommendation of the current CIMI Management Committee, accepted by the MCN Board, that a Consortium for CIMI be formed to promote further research and development.
If funding can be secured through a membership based Consortium for CIMI, a research and development agenda will be pursued over the coming years to:
The Standards Framework for Computer Interchange of Museum Information is intended to be: a guideline for museums engaged in systems planning, acquisition and implementation; for software developers and network service providers designing museum applications; and for the profession as a strategy for the preservation of museum data and as insurance in a rapidly changing information environment. Recommendations made in this section apply to each of these three audiences.
The Standards Framework for CIMI specifies what standards should be used in what applications to best assure interchangeability of data among museum applications, migration of data across generations of museum software, and exchange of information among museums and other institutions so it can be used directly by the recipient independent of kind of software, hardware system or network service vendor.
The Standards Framework for Computer Interchange of Museum Information provides a means for museums, museum consortia, and vendors of museum services, to define interchange services and the contents of specific exchanges of data in a way which assures them that the interchanges will work today and in the future, and positions them to take advantages of information industry-wide developments in interoperability.
The foundation of the Standards Framework is the Open Systems Environment (OSE) Reference model (RM) introduced in Figure 6. The OSE RM has been applied most comprehensively in the working draft of the ISO/IEC JTC1 SC18/WG1 Technical Report on Multimedia and Hypermedia: Model and Framework (MHMF), and there provides a context for understanding how the different technologies required for open systems and applications interrelate. (ISO/IEC JTC1/SC18/WG 1 N1444 1992)
Figure 15 shows where the CIMI Standards Framework fits in the OSE context. CIMI addresses the interchange aspects of the OSE model that includes how data is represented, how various data types are identified, and how data content objects are presented.
Implicit in the OSE/MHMF model is the adoption of external standards primarily those originating with ISO, or other international organizations such as IEEE or CCITT. CIMI believes that museums will bewell advised to adopt OSE/ISO standards and services whenever possible. This leads to endorsement for museum use of data representation standards for text, image and sound which conform to OSE recommendations, including the adoption of message handling, file handling, and terminal handling services which conform to lower level OSI requirements.
Figure 15: CIMI in the context of OSEThe CIMI Standards Framework, therefore, may be viewed as a suite of communications protocols, interchange formats and data representation schemes to support museum interchange needs.
Figure 16: CIMI Standards FrameworkIt employs preexisting and standard methods for data representation (ASCII and the ISO 7 and 8 bit sets along with extension mechanisms, MPEG, JPEG, CGM), ISO 10162/10163 for information retrieval, EDI/EDIFACT for business transactions, FTAM for file transfer, X.400/500 for messaging, ISO 9049/41 for terminal access, MHEG for multimedia. Transport services can be provided by OSI or an appropriate alternate such as TCP/IP. Database building, reference file construction, and the interchange of collections management data can be handled by ISO 2709, ISO 8879 SGML, ISO 8824 ASN.1, and ISO 9735 EDIFACT.
Figure 16 arranges in a conceptual fashion all aspects and interrelationships of museum information interchange.
The standards framework for CIMI acknowledges that museums applications have special content and that business transactions using EDIFACT, and collections and reference database building using ISO 2709, ASN.1 and/or SGML will require agreements on data content standards still to be developed. Nevertheless it recommends adoption of appropriate carriers for application data and the beginning of data interchange service definitions.
1) Museums should take the Standards Framework for CIMI into account in making decisions to acquire software. They should advise offerers of products that they will weigh adherence to standards heavily in their decision making.
2) Museums should implement systems in a fashion that will take advantage of the modularity of layers as represented in the Open Systems Environment model.
3) Museums should adopt data value standards, such as thesauri and name lists, accepted as standards within the disciplinary community.
4) Museums should employ standards identified in the Standard Framework for CIMI in any exchanges of information with other institutions. The ongoing CIMI Initiative will support collaborative efforts to define specific interchange services.
Vendor and Network recommendations:
1) Software vendors and networks offering services to museums should support interchange of data using methods consistent with the Standards Framework for CIMI.
2) Software vendors should promote the adherence of their products to CIMI standards in advertisements to the museum community.
3) Network service providers should engage museum clients in defining interchange services employing standards identified by the Standards Framework for CIMI.
4) Software vendors and network service providers should support access to data value standards adopted by the museum community and the disciplines which contribute to it and use it.
5) Networks should support the on-going research and development efforts of the Consortium for CIMI and implement tested interchange methods as these are developed.
Museum profession recommendations:
1) Museum professional associations should promote the Standards Framework for CIMI and on-going efforts of the Consortium for CIMI through publication, conference sessions and debate.
2) The museum profession should encourage the further development of standards for data values and data content designation as represented by collaborative disciplinary efforts in thesaurus construction, biographical and geographical databases and reference files of various types.
3) The museum profession should continue to monitor and report on developments in information systems standards and participate in standards development activities at the national and international level.
4) The museum profession should incorporate education about information systems standards and the Standards Framework for CIMI into museum management education and museum program reviews.
5) The museum profession should encourage museum involvement in networked communications to increase the visibility of museum resources on the Internet, to improve museum to museum communications, enhance museum service delivery and develop museum professional skills.
The future of the CIMI initiative
The CIMI Management Committee has recommended that a Consortium for CIMI be formed to promote further research and development and the network implementation of the Standards Framework for CIMI. In April 1993, the Museum Computer Network Board accepted this proposal.
A prospectus, inviting participation in the development of actual interchange protocol specification supporting specific applications of interchange envisioned by groups of institutions and individuals in the museum community, is currently being circulated to governmental, nonprofit and for-profit organizations with interest in museum information interchange.
If funding can be secured, a research and development agenda will be pursued over the coming years to promote the implementation of standards in museum software and network services. CIMI needs to continue to promote the idea of standards, and especially of a standards framework built on existing internationally accepted information systems standards and architectures, as a method for achieving museum data interchange objectives.
CIMI needs to encourage groups within the museum community with data interchange needs to define the data content and service requirements of their applications and to provide the necessary technical support for such efforts.
Finally, CIMI needs to specify interchange services based on international standards. It needs to implement these in test applications on a variety of networks and it needs to publish specifications for import and export of data to take advantage of network services so that museum application vendors and in-house systems staff in museums can take advantage of interchange functionality.
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