Meet the Members Council: Antje Schmidt
I started working in a museum at the beginning of the new millennium. But it was only in 2007, as I got involved in a digitisation project myself, that I fully understood the steps needed to document artworks digitally, and to make them accessible to others. In the same year, we founded a working group on data exchange between the museums in Hamburg taking part in that project. Despite the different collections and various documentation systems, we wanted to make sure that we could provide the data in a shared meta-database.
I was trained as an art historian with a research focus on museum history, and then worked as a curator. Databases, thesauri, and things like XML exchange formats were nothing I was familiar with. To be honest, I assume it is challenging for many art historians or curators to work with databases. They are used to give their point of view in an elaborated text. Reducing their input to a word chosen from a vocabulary is not easy: they often feel restricted. Fortunately, this working group in Hamburg gave me the opportunity to learn about the benefits of shared standards, controlled vocabularies and structured data, and so did Europeana.
I perfectly remember the day of 20 November 2008, as I was busy digitising the collections: it was the birth of the Europeana Portal! I read this article and it hit me: we were not only digitising the artworks for meta-database or collections management purposes, but to make them available to anyone interested, in any context! From then on, I perceived documentation as content creation for new audiences rather than a “task that has to be done”.
Atelier J. Hamann, Pferd-Pyramiden der Mädchen, um 1900, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication
"The potential of digital cultural heritage lies in its connections to other resources and contexts.”
Today, I work at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG), one of the most important museums of Applied Arts in Europe. I am responsible for a digitisation and cataloguing project started in 2012, and for the MKG Online Collection launched in 2015 as part of our developing digital strategy. When I first joined the MKG, one of our main goals was to publish the collection online, and to provide content to Europeana and to the national aggregator Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek. At this point, it was already obvious that the great potential of digitised heritage lies in the possibility of its reuse for multiple purposes. For that reason, the MKG decided to make their works reusable as freely as possible, and became the first museum in Germany to establish an open access policy.
This decision was highly influenced by the example of the Rijksstudio, and even more by council colleague Lizzy Jongma (former data manager at the Rijksmuseum), who openly shared her knowledge and experiences with me. Furthermore, case studies by Joris Pekel on Europeana Pro, and Merete Sanderhoff’s publications (such as Sharing is Caring) encouraged us to take this step. This is one of the strongest arguments to join Europeana besides the opportunity to disseminate your data: no matter which museum or institution you are associated to, you can benefit from an extraordinary network and learn a lot!
Guiseppe Arcimboldo, Rudolph II as Vertumnus, 1590/1591, Skokloster Slot, Public Domain.
“When I started exploring the benefits of open access I read about the example of Skokloster Castle and how they made an impact on a small budget.”
As a councillor, I am now trying to share our experiences at the MKG. I am more than happy to continue Merete’s work by extending the OpenGLAM conference “Sharing is Caring” (that she initiated in 2011) to Hamburg. On 20 and 21 April, our first international edition will be organised in cooperation with Gertraud Koch, University of Hamburg/Institute for Cultural Anthropology, and involve a lot of network members. We hope to see you there!