Understanding how standards might be employed to better assure the continuity of museum data over time and its usefulness within and between institutions is the first step in achieving the benefits of interchange. The second step is to develop an implementation strategy.
The Standards Framework for CIMI can be implemented for moving data within a single museum, for moving data between museums, and for moving data between museums and other institutions. Although it will need to be implemented at each of these levels to achieve all the benefits envisioned, some benefits will be realized if it is implemented at only one level.
1: Specify museum applications support CIMI standards
The simplest implementation is for museum institutions, when they are procuring hardware and software, to specify that the standards defined by the framework which are required to support applications in their museums must be supported. Minimally the standards used for import and export of data will be provided, assuring that data will be interchangeable to a different platform, although inter-institutional meanings may not be shared. By asking vendors to provide support for the specific standards, individual institutions which are seeking to acquire systems today will be helping other institutions which don't need to acquire systems until tomorrow. But they will also be making it more likely they will be able to acquire systems satisfying these standards when they need to upgrade or replace systems in the future.
2: Standards for data representation
In making and keeping data within the museum, attention should be paid to standard data representation methods and disciplinary standards for data values. Museum-wide data standards should be adopted across applications even if these do not conform in all respects to external standards. Systems architectures that involve as little redundancy of data storage as is efficient should be installed.
3: Community defined content standards and service definitions
Implementing the standards so that data will have the same meaning, and even be acted upon, when it is interchanged with other museums is more complex. For these meanings to be understood and acted upon, museum institutions will need to collaborate to define common content standards and service definitions used with underlying technical communications protocols. This work is currently being conducted by some CIMI Task Groups and is discussed further below because CIMI is focussing its efforts on being able to provide assistance to groups of museums which are trying to take advantage of concrete benefits derived from data interchange.
4: Common data value standards
Finally, to link museum data with other sources of information that could usefully extend its significance requires adoption of common value standards (authorities and thesauri) for some data within the museum applications and data within the external data repository or used by another institution. For example, linking to geographic databases requires adoption of standard geographic place names and/or geographic reference systems. Linking to bibliographical resources requires use of common name authorities and subject headings. Linking occupations to the wealth of demographic knowledge on the distribution of skills and job classifications, requires adoption of Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) and occupational titles established by national departments of Labor or Census. Standards at this level can be adopted by individual institutions but they will even greater dividends if adopted by communities of common institutions.
Among the promising interchanges with non-museum institutions are those with providers of business services, such as insurance, shipping, and custom brokerage which use EDI, those with repositories of primary texts which are adding value to the content of the texts by marking them in SGML, and those with libraries and archives which create surrogate representations of their holdings consistent with ISO 2709.
Tasks for present and future CIMI task groups
As discussed earlier, CIMI encouraged Task Groups representing institutions with interchange interests to collaborate in defining the content of the information required to support particular inter-museum applications and the definition of the services which would be provided by those applications. Since 1990, several Task Groups have been established and their experience has led to formulation of some guidelines and the beginnings of a "CIMI Task Group Resource Kit" containing:
This collection of materials corresponds to but extends the approach advocated by ISO/IEC for encouraging open interchange capability. Because each CIMI Task Group has a different reason for interchanging data, the guidelines suggest a method rather than a concrete outcome. The most difficult task is to agree on the data that will be required, or permitted, to be sent in the application.
The experience with CIMI Task Groups has shown that it is effective for each participant in the Task Group to come to the table with a list of data elements. The group must then establish that it is talking about the same things or discover where there is overlap between the institutions in the data they expect to send and receive. To assist Task Groups in defining the data they need, CIMI has followed the ISO Guidelines for structuring Data Element Dictionaries and developed its own set of standards for Data Element Naming Conventions. By following the data element naming conventions, Task Groups can reach agreement on data which must be carried by the interchange format which is an implementation of the appropriate interchange standard specified in the Standards Framework for CIMI.
Once the Task Group determines what data it wishes to interchange, it can address the question of how the interchange application is intended to work. Who initiates the action? What do they send? How does the receiving system respond? What actions do each party take and what follow-up actions are required? By answering these types of procedural questions surrounding the interchange service, the Task Groups generate the information needed to specify an Interchange Service Definition.
CIMI has three active Task Groups at different stages in this process. The Cultural History Information Task Group has completed a definition of the data content and service requirements for the construction of a shared database of information relating to institutions and their major collections. They await the technical mapping of their data and services to a proposed interchange standards and its testing. The Registrars Task Group has begun data and service requirements definition within the framework of EDI for interchange of information regarding all aspects of arranging for and lending materials for exhibition. Ultimately such EDI transaction sets might including messages to be interchanged between insurers, custom brokers, shippers and other museums. The Art History Information Task Group is working on data content requirements for scholarly interchange of art historical information and has not yet begun to examine service requirements.
The ongoing CIMI Initiative encourages other groups within the museum profession to organize efforts to define data content standards and interchange service requirements for applications that will contribute to their work. CIMI will support such efforts with technical guidance.
The future of the CIMI initiative
With the publication of the Standards Framework for Computer Interchange of Museum Information the first phase of the CIMI Initiative and the work of the Committee for CIMI has come to a conclusion.
The CIMI Management Committee appointed by MCN in November 1992 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 through a membership based Consortium for CIMI, a research and development agenda will be pursued over the coming years to promote the implementation of standards in museum software and network services. While the specific agenda for the Consortium will be set by its members, some features of it can be assumed from needs identified in the past.
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. The tasks might include developing guidelines for writing descriptions of Interchange Application Services based on ISO/IEC JTC1 SC21 Document N4903 (Methodology and Guidelines for the Development of Application Layer Standards)and could require guidelines for Task Groups on establishing a methodology, preparing a definition of the required services, and formal descriptive techniques (FDT).
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 test their usefulness to museums. 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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