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For decades Museums have used Information Systems to track their massive collections.The National Palace Museum (NPM) is one of the most data filled museums in the world. There are almost 700,000 pieces of Chinese art located in the museum and recognized for its cultural importance. The museum was founded on October 10th, 1925 in Beijing and has moved multiple times. It is now located in Taipai, Taiwain and stores artifacts from the Sung, Yuan, Ming, and Ching Dynasties. The museum divides its artifacts into antiques, paintings, and documents. The way information is gathered and organized for almost all museums including the NPM has changed and modified with time.
In order to keep up with technology museums have created their own fundamentals of management. The Collection management system that was used in this academic Journal was created to cover collection management registration, transfer information, location history, conservation status, exhibition data, and publication records. In this new age there’s growing competition and operating in such an environment is becoming critical to the growth of museums.
The lifespan of Information Systems tends to be anywhere from five to eight years long. The information systems need to be reviewed from time to time. Upon review they need the proper changes in order for the system to work in a more efficient manner. The information systems in museums are different than those of commercial organizations. Commercial organizations goal is to create profit whereas a museum is looking to spread knowledge.
There are many attributes for museum information systems. The first attribute is the museum collections contain a variety of different works and range in their content. Every museum is different. The second attribute is that museums can trade their information in different ways. These can vary from the sources of the collection, communicating the meanings of the collections, and establishing relationships. The third attribute is that there is preservation and variability. Overall the museum system must be able to process names of persons, names of places, and titles of eras. These categories vary on cultural systems which many can be found in a museum.
Museums face challenges today such as needing to find a way to convey the information in their collection to the public. This has been very difficult due to the changes in the public’s expectations. Blackaby and Sandore conducted an academic study on system information in museums. They found that in order to meet the public expectations there are certain approaches that had to be done. For one, an entrance frame in which users can choose which system to use was well appreciated. Another method was having a search engine perform cross system data searches. Although in this paper they talking about a Taiwanese Museum, a European a project was also mentioned. In this project was a collaboration of many different European museums in which they together perform information into integration.
In order to judge a public system information project, one must have metrics to quantify the effectiveness. For this study participant observation was used to collect data. The researchers in the study were the leaders of the museum’s system information project management team. The NPM has many different departments such as that of Antiquities, paintings, documents, registration and conservation, education, and cultural creativity and marketing. For the management of this system is the responsibility of the Department of Education, exhibition, and Information Services. However, the primary users of this project were the Departments of registration conservation, the Department of Antiquities, the department of paintings and calligraphies, and the NPM’s southern branch. Originally this system was created to use background information about the collections and house data. The CMS was very basic at best. It contained money registration data on collections. However after about a decade of using CMS the system had reached the end of its life span. It was getting too hard to maintain any information and the system could not hold the needs of the museum. The museum had issues with the rare books similar to other contents of the other libraries, plus excluding them from integration.
At this time the NPM was in limbo about the next step for the information system for the museum. They were looking into Extensible Markup Language system that would have been more structured and of better use to the immense level of data the museum had. The museum had already used the system prior for the books and documents. However it was still limited in its ability to integrate the entire Museum. Therefore NPM decided not to go with the system.
This new system information project was expected to take 2 years to complete and was divided into three phases. All three phases started in January of 2011 and was expected to last until December 2012. Phase One went from January 2011 to November of 2011. It included planning the project management which involved creating a schedule for each task. Additionally, it required analysis of the system and interviewing all users. Phase 2 began in December 2011 and ended in September 2012. One of the major steps was creating a prototype to perform the core functions needed for the new information system. This would include confirming the functions and checking the pilot opinions from users. The second major step was the complete adjustment of system functions and correcting the system with feedback. The third phase was from October 2012 December 2012. It looked at the accuracy of the data in the new system. It also had end-user training. This phase also produced technical documents and new source codes for the operating system and for the information system. In January 2013 the system was finally launched online.
Finally the results of this new system could be observed. As for the result of the technical integration, there was now one system with one server. This simplified the software and hardware needs of the museum. As far as the results of information integration went, they were able to reduce their DB schemas from 300 to under 90. This got rid of a lot of redundancy in the system. The most difficult part of this project was the process integration because it affected users the most. There were many revisions to this aspect. This project took into account users preferences. An example of this was the department of Antiquities preferred putting data into the system with Excel. Whereas the department of paintings and calligraphy preferred unique information generation. There for the system personalized each users interface.
There are many reasons why the NPM changed systems from the old CMS two new digital information system. One of these issues was the repetition and inconsistency of artifacts basic information. This affected the users releasing the curators time. Another issue was locating information. There’s an issue with artifacts in conservation work that cannot be tracked. Additionally the museum created a new Southern branch. It is very difficult for the new system to integrate the information from this exhibit. The public relies on the museum to fix these issues in order for domestic and foreign Chinese Arts researchers to continue their work.
There are many factors that went into the execution of the NPM’s system information project. One of them was attributes of the artifactual materials and forms. The system was able to retain large amounts of information with simultaneous integration of information among departments. Another was the professional users, such as curators, and their needs. Collection data is important to them because they use this in order to communicate with the museum and the public. Additionally, there is a management piece that protects the artifacts themselves. The writeup states that once an artifact has been damaged, it cannot be replaced. For instance, artifacts that have been exhibited cannot be shown again for 18 months. This new system was able to detect other anomalies in the museum. Another factor with the organizational attributes. This project would not have been successful without the support of Museum Executives, curators, and IT personnel. The last key factor was the resource allocation. Funds for new system information are limited at museums. It is up to the museum to plan accordingly in order to create a sustainable yet low cost information system. All these factors determine the success of NPM’s new information system.
The adjustment of integrating updated information systems into museums will always be a part of how museums thrive. Maybe the museums across the world that are failing is because of the mismanagement of their information systems. This academic article shows the background of how museums operate in terms of generating information, showing new artifacts, when to update their artifacts, etc. Not a lot of people know that there is a lot of work and information that goes into how museums operate. This article was fascinating because of the work that was put into everything because of the sheer size of the museum. One can understand that there may be an easy system in place for small museums down the street on how they operate. However, this museum with almost 700,000 artifacts has to be a challenge to manage and is understandable why they have to update their systems every 5 to 8 years.
- Wu, S.-C. (2016). Systems Integration of Heterogeneous Cultural Heritage Information Systems in Museums: A Case Study of the National Palace Museum. doi: 10.1007/s00799-015-0154-2
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