Nick Poole is the CEO of the Collections Trust, the UK-based not-for-profit organisation that works with cultural organisations worldwide to open up collections for enjoyment, learning and discovery. He is the Chair of the Europeana Network, a pan-European community of more than 600 museums, archives, libraries, publishers, broadcasters and creators working together to find solutions to the challenges of opening up content on the Web.
These are interesting times for the world’s great museums and galleries. On the one hand, the fundamental principle of public funding for the arts and culture established during the past century is coming into question. On the other, people are flocking to the rich, meaningful experiences we provide in unprecedented numbers.
These two great pressures – openness and financial viability – set the context for how museums see their role, how they operate and how they will present themselves to their audiences, both online and off. It is a tension that is playing out in policies and on websites and in conferences all over the world.
Openness, respect, shared custodianship, the values at the heart of the commons are also encoded into the DNA of museums and galleries. The right of free access to and engagement with culture is at the heart of democracy, transparency and public accountability. It ought to be an inalienable right in a free society, and it is the principle which unites the global Wikipedia community.
The principle is absolute, and the technical capability to open up cultural knowledge as open data is well-established, the challenge is how to pay for it. In the face of economic pressure, there is a temptation to swap out one business model (public subsidy) for another (commercial enclosure). But enclosure runs counter both to the principle of equal access and to the nature of the Web.
The challenge is to look out beyond the culture sector to see how other industries are establishing new models which work natively in the Web ecology, based not on enclosure or copyright but on openness and the addition of value. The prize is the creation of a dynamic, open culture sector that is seen as relevant, empowering and responsive to the needs of society. I am looking forward to exploring the challenge and the opportunity at GLAM-WIKI and to learning from the Wikipedia community how we can move forward together into this bold and exciting future.