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2 minutes to read Posted on Wednesday February 5, 2020

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Georgia Evans

Georgia Evans

Senior Editorial Officer , Europeana Foundation

portrait of Douglas McCarthy

Douglas McCarthy

Former Collections Engagement Manager , Europeana Foundation

Exploring the global picture of Open GLAM

This month, Europeana Pro looks at how the public domain contributes to the re-use of cultural heritage and explores different aspects of open access. Europeana Collections Manager Douglas McCarthy has interviewed a number of cultural heritage professionals about open access for Europeana Pro, but today he tells us more about his own research and the global picture of Open GLAM.

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Pál Szinyei Merse
Museum of Fine Arts - Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

What does ‘open’ mean in the context of ‘Open GLAM’ and how does it relate to the public domain?

For over a decade, members of the Open GLAM (Gallery, Library, Archive, Museum) movement have been advocating liberal access to, and reuse of, cultural heritage held in memory institutions – most specifically, digital surrogates of public domain works in which copyright has expired or never existed.

In the GLAM sector the precise meaning of ‘open access’ sometimes lacks consensus. The term is often opaque and self-designated. So the clarity that the Open Definition brings is welcome: put most succinctly, it states that open means ‘anyone can freely access, use, modify, and share [content] for any purpose.’ 

This philosophy relates closely to Europeana’s advocacy, through the Public Domain Charter and other outreach, for the benefits of a vibrant public domain, and against the practice of institutions using copyright and licensing inappropriately to obstruct access to digitised public domain works.

Tell us about the Open GLAM survey.

For almost two years I’ve been leading an international survey of open access policy and practice in the GLAM sector with Dr. Andrea Wallace, Lecturer in Law at the University of Exeter. We were inspired to start the survey because we couldn’t find an up-to-date picture of open access policy and practice in the sector. It seemed obvious that a shared resource to see, add and update relevant information would be valuable for researchers, policymakers and cultural heritage professionals.

The Open GLAM survey is held in a Google Sheet and data are gathered through desk research and crowdsourced outreach to the GLAM community. Anyone can suggest survey additions or corrections by commenting in the spreadsheet, contacting Andrea or I on Twitter, or completing a Google Form. The survey is a personal research initiative and not owned by any particular institution.

Cat on a flowery meadow
Bruno Liljefors

Since its creation in March 2018, the survey has grown significantly in size and sophistication. Listing fewer than 50 GLAMs at the beginning, the survey now contains over 650 instances of open access, from Brazil to Bulgaria. It includes information on GLAM location, institution type, Wikidata item, open licence, terms of use (for digital surrogates and metadata) and direct links to all of the open data sources.

What’s the scope of the survey?

The survey records instances (however small) of open access practice. It covers digital objects and metadata that GLAMs make available on their own websites, and on external platforms such as Wikimedia Commons, DigitaltMuseum, the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek and Github.

It’s important to say that survey inclusion does not mean that a GLAM has a blanket open access policy; merely that it has released some data on open access terms. Nor does inclusion equal any kind of endorsement from Andrea and I; we record policy and practice as we find it. If you see any errors or omissions in the survey, let us know – we’re happy to update the data.

What does the survey tell us about the global picture of Open GLAM?

Thanks to the survey, we now have a much clearer global picture of where and how open access is deployed by GLAM institutions. This enables new insight. For example, we can analyse copyright and licensing policy and practice in detail, visualise Open GLAM geographically with Wikidata, observe patterns in open access scope, and begin correlating open access policy to museum admission fees, to name a few examples.

Halonen, Pekka
Finnish National Gallery

How does Europeana fit into the context of the Open GLAM initiative?

For conducting the Open GLAM survey, the ability to query aggregators like Europeana (through its API and Europeana Collections) for instances of open access is immensely valuable. Having a single access point to explore so much data is a huge time saver.

Furthermore, Europeana’s long-standing stipulation that data providers label their digital objects with a specific licence or rights statement from the Europeana Licensing Framework has proven to be very valuable. International frameworks and standardisation give users and GLAM professionals clarity in the complex landscape of copyright, licensing and terms of use.