REACH Project: Investigating the Integration of Museum Data
In 1997 the REACH project set out to investigate whether information about museum objects could be extracted from collection management systems and made useful for research use. The project enlisted museums and vendors; together they identified the access points that would be most useful to researchers. The resulting set of data elements was to be used for exporting the data from disparate museum collection management systems.
Museum management software vendors were encouraged to build in export mechanisms to facilitate ongoing extraction. The intent was for a number of museums to provide information not otherwise accessible, which could be assembled into a single database with a Web-based user interface. The data would be further integrated with museum information created for research access—records with and without images. The resulting resource would be evaluated for its value to researchers.
As the project got underway participants observed that:
- Extracting data proved problematic.
- Many participants had homegrown systems and no support for repurposing the data.
- Vendors were being asked for similar export functionality for other element sets.
By the project's conclusion in December 1998 the circumstances were these:
- Few participants were able to make data available in the manner planned.
- RLG had begun receiving records from a variety of sources and evaluating integration using other means.
- The VISION project had made it possible to assess object records with and without images in a single database.
- For these reasons, the final REACH project phases were not completed.
However, the creation of the REACH element set for shared description of museum objects answered two important questions:
- What information do experts in the field believe necessary for basic access to cultural heritage objects?
- What information are institutions likely to have and be willing to export for public access?
The REACH element set created in this project has many commonalities with other cultural heritage data standards. It remains a useful starting point for identifying the core data needed to effectively integrate networked cultural heritage resources for the benefit of research.
REACH Element set
Within the international museum community there are a number of standards for museum data. As part of the REACH project, in 1998 RLG staff identified the core fields shared among the most prominent of these:
- Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) Data Dictionary
- Categories for the Description of Works of Art (CDWA)
- CIDOC Information Categories
- Consortium for the Interchange of Museum Information (CIMI) Access Points
- Dublin Core
- Museum Documentation Association Standards
- Museum Educational Site Licensing Project (MESL) Data Dictionary
- Visual Resources Association's Core Categories
Since then, the REACH element set has proved helpful in a variety of ways to museums and other cultural heritage institutions, vendors to the museum community, and others. It is offered here as one means for advancing a more general standard for museum information sharing.
Element 1: Type of Object
Definition: The classification of the object by type.
Preferred use: This field is for the term(s) that indicate the classification of the object. For material culture collections, this will tend to be the object name (for example, chair, canoe, etc.); fine art institutions should use this field to specify object genre or format (for example, painting, engraving, etc.).
Element 2: Date of Creation/Date Range
Definition: The year in which the object was created; if specific year not known, or if object executed over several years, give date range.
Preferred use: Dates should be in the format YYYY, or YYYY-YYYY to indicate a date range. Where day and month are available, format should be MM/DD/YY. Where the date represents a BC date, enter as a negative integer, if possible. Note that this field is defined for searching purposes only: no attribution or qualifying information such as circa should be recorded here. Where uncertainty exists, information can be given in the "Notes" field, or, apply the following models: use 19xx for a 20th-century object or 187x for an object dated in the 1870s.
Element 3: Place of Origin/Discovery
Definition: The geographical location in which an object was created.
Preferred use: This field is for the name for the place where the object was created. Creation place may be a landmass/continent, country, region or city. Levels of hierarchy may be placed in repeating fields (if possible) or incorporated in text (when not stored separately in source database). Separate multiple places with a semicolon followed by an equal sign (;=).
Element 4: Object Name/Title
Definition: The name or title given to the object by the creator/maker, curator, or owner, or the text of a caption that appears with the image as in prints, cartoons, and photographs.
Preferred use: The field for a title or name of the object. Descriptive titles or names based on classification terms or object type should be provided for objects that do not have formal titles.
Element 5: Techniques/Process
Definition: A term describing how the object was created.
Preferred use: This field is for the term(s) that describe how the object was created.
Element 6: Medium/Materials
Definition: The substance(s) of which the object is made.
Preferred use: This field is for the term(s) that describe the media or material of which the object is made.
Element 7: Dimensions
Definition: Measurements associated with any particular dimension of the object.
Preferred use: This field is for object measurements, preferably in metric or US units. The structure of this field is measurement extent (e.g., height, width, depth, etc.), number, and unit of measure without internal punctuation. Use a semicolon followed by an equal sign (;=) to separate multiple measurements.
Element 8: Subject Matter
Definition: The content or subject matter of the object.
Preferred use: This field is for the word or string of words that describes the subject content of the object. Use a semicolon followed by an equal sign (;=) as the break character between multiple terms.
Element 9: Style/Period/Group/Movement/School
Definition: A term identifying a style or period in the history of art.
Preferred use: This field is for the term(s) identifying a style or period whose characteristics are represented by the object. These terms should preferably be in the AAT, except where the AAT is too western-art-centric. Use a semicolon followed by an equal sign (;=) as the break character between multiple terms.
Element 10: Creator/Maker
Definition: The name of a person or corporate entity responsible for the design or creation of the object. Where an individual artist is unknown, this field should contain a designation by school and period or the name of the culture group responsible for the creation of the work. The name should represent the attribution currently accepted by the holding institution. Birth and death dates, if known, should go in this field, after the name.
Preferred use: This field is for the creator/maker name, preferably in inverted order (surname, first name(s)). Corporate names are the full legal name. For multiple artists, enter their names separated by a semicolon equal sign (;=). The birth and death dates should preferably be in the format YYYY-YYYY.
Element 11: Nationality/Culture of Creator/Maker
Definition: The name of the culture group responsible for creation of a work that is not attributed to an individual, or the nationality of the individual creator/maker.
Preferred use: The person's nationality should preferably be expressed as the adjectival form of an existing nation or historic geographic entity. Multiple nationalities for multiple artists should be order-keyed to the creator/maker name field and separated by a semicolon equal sign (;=).
Element 12: Current Owner
Definition: The name of the current owner of the object.
Preferred use: The full name of the owner is preferred.
Element 13: Current Repository Name
Definition: The full name of the current repository of the object.
Preferred use: The full name of the current repository of the object is preferred.
Element 14: Current Repository Place
Definition: The location of the current repository of the object.
Preferred use: Data should preferably be in the following order: city or place, followed by country.
Element 15: Current Object ID Number
Definition: The inventory number currently assigned to the object by the current repository.
Preferred use: This field is for the object's accession number or ID number or current inventory number or any unique identifying number assigned by the current repository. Inventory numbers or other identifiers that may have been assigned to the object by former owners should be reported in the Notes field.
Element 16: Provenance
Definition: The name of a previous owner of the object.
Preferred use: Enter the name of a person, institution, or organization that formerly owned the object.
Element 17: Language
Definition: The language in which the data is recorded.
Preferred use: If there is language or text associated with the object, this field is where that language should be indicated.
Element 18: Electronic Location & Access
Definition: The URL linking the object record to a digital image of the object or the filename for that digital image.
Preferred use: Give full URL or unique file name.
Element 19: Related Objects
Definition: Object(s) related to the object. For example, when object is part of a collection or a set, suite, ensemble, etc. or, a panel that is part of an altarpiece, etc.
Preferred use: This field is for information identifying the related object(s)' record. When applicable, include in this field the object ID number from the record of the related object.
Element 20: Notes
Definition: Textual description of object; object history: associated people, organizations, places, and events in the object's history; distinguishing features; inscriptions/marks; condition; edition/state. Any descriptive text, remarks, and comments documenting the object or commenting on it from an interpretive/curatorial perspective.
Preferred use: This field is for any text or comments describing the object from an interpretive/curatorial perspective. This could be the text of a wall label, a full entry from a published catalog, or a multiple-page essay. Please consider adding to this field any words or descriptions that would be useful for retrieval.