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2 minutes to read Posted on Tuesday January 15, 2019

portrait of Douglas McCarthy

Douglas McCarthy

Collections Manager, Art & Photography , Europeana Foundation

Pioneering open access at the Musée de Bretagne

The Musée de Bretagne is an open access pioneer in the French museum sector, offering high-resolution public domain images free to download and use. Douglas McCarthy spoke with Céline Chanas and Fabienne Martin-Adam to learn about the genesis, impact and context of the museum’s open access policy.

Céline Chanas is Curator in Chief of Heritage and Director of the Musée de Bretagne. Her colleague Fabienne Martin-Adam leads the museum’s documentation and collections department, and manages its collections portal.

What should our readers know about the Musée de Bretagne?

The museum tells the story of Brittany and the Breton people’s social, technical and cultural evolution, from prehistoric times to the present day. It also houses an important collection related to the Dreyfus Affair because Dreyfus's court-martial took place in Rennes.

The museum has a team of 25 permanent staff. Of the museum’s 700,000 collections items, nearly 200,000 are now visible and reusable online.

The Musée de Bretagne publishes digital images of its out-of-copyright works under the Public Domain Mark – a rare sight in the French museum landscape. How did the open access policy come about and who was involved?

Open data has been integral to the museum's scientific and cultural mission for several years. Our policy was developed with, and supported by, Rennes Métropole, the supervisory body of the Musée de Bretagne, which promotes the dissemination and transmission of knowledge.

Users can download and re-use images free of charge, without the need for permission or any administration. This complies with the copyright and rights transfer agreements that the museum has established. The majority of our digitised collections is now available under Creative Commons licences.

What has been the impact of open access for the museum, and who does it benefit? Has anything surprised you?

There are several benefits. Firstly, open access brings greater visibility to the museum. It gives the Musée de Bretagne a positive and innovative image in the French culture sector. It also generates new knowledge about the museum’s collections, thanks to feedback from online visitors.

A "win-win" relationship is established between online visitors and the museum team. A variety of people benefit from open access, from video artists using the collections in their work, to the Wikimedia community that gives our collections greater visibility. Publishers often send us books in which the museum’s images have been used, without us having asked them to – a nice surprise!

How do you measure the impact of open access?

One impact has been the number of enquiries we receive from colleagues in other institutions, who are keen to learn from our approach and our policy. We receive many requests to speak at professional conferences and events, and a number of articles have appeared in the press.

Traffic growth on our collections portal also tells us that users have taken notice. They’ve become self-sufficient in their research to the point where the museum rarely receives research requests – so the time spent on this previously can now be allocated more usefully.

What advice would you give to other museums considering open access?

Diligent copyright and legal assessment of the collections is crucial to understanding risks and to inform licensing, rights holders and contracts. This takes time so it should be undertaken well in advance of the planned launch date. For our museum today, this process is far from complete and further releases of open data depend on the continuation of this work.

All three of us attended the recent De nouvelles démocraties du savoir conference at l’Institut national d’histoire de l’art (INHA), Paris. What impressions did you leave with, and what future do you see for open access in the French culture sector?

The INHA event and the publication of the report Droit des images, histoire de l'art et société (coordinated by Martine Denoyelle) were significant and a huge breath of fresh air. Just six years ago, we barely knew what a CC licence was! Since then, we’ve developed our understanding through our commitment to communities in Rennes, such as the local Wikipedia chapter and individuals involved in the movements.

The museum of Brittany’s roots in ecomuseologymeans that notions of community and sharing are woven into our professional culture. We take pride in being open access pioneers in France and we want to share our experiences, whether positive or less successful.

We remain optimistic that open access in France will continue to grow, as we saw recently with the Paris city museums’ opening of data. The status quo – especially the fee-charging model of the Réunion des Musées Nationaux - Grand Palais – is not sustainable for much longer. It’s counterproductive and contributes to give a feeling of spoliation of our shared heritage.

Museum directors can provide strategic visions for their institutions but at the national level the Ministry of Culture and the government must provide leadership in these matters.

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