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Brooklyn Museum


Regarding openness and sharing, the Brooklyn Museum is an exemplary institution. They are major contributors to The Commons on Flickr, license their online image collection under a CC Attribution-NonCommerical license license, provide API access to this collection, and recently ran a CC-licensed remix contest with Blondie‘s Chris Stein. Needless to say, we were eager to catch up with Shelley Bernstein, Brooklyn Museum’s Chief of Technology, and learn more about how they are using our licenses to open up their catalog of amazing work, shaping the role museums play in a digital age in the process.

Can you give our readers some background on your role at the Brooklyn Museum? BM’s Twitter page describes you as the “Museum’s Chief Geek” – what does that entail?

Officially, I’m the Brooklyn Museum’s Chief of Technology, which means I work with a team of folks here to manage the Brooklyn Museum’s web presence, our gallery technology, and our computer network.

BM’s digital stamp is impressive – an active blog, social network presence, and the 1stfans program in particular all point to an organization that uses technology to better engage its community. What is the benefit, from your end, to this sort of interaction?

A big part of the Brooklyn Museum’s mission is about growing community and visitor experience, so much of what we do online closely ties into that. The blog, the social networking and 1stfans all help put a personal face on the institution and, we hope, allow visitors a chance to see what goes on here direct from staff and interact with us on a very personal level. This kind of engagement grows a more natural relationship with our constituents and one that we hope makes the institution very accessible.

BM licenses all of its images under a CC Attribution-NonCommerical license. Why did you choose this license and what has the experience been like? Have there been any interesting cases of re-use?

Brooklyn Museum: Bear and Canoe
Bear and Canoe – curated by Brooklyn Museum

We actually just launched a big project to better identify the rights status of objects in our online collection, so now each object on the Museum’s collections pages has information on its rights status, including those that are understood to be under no known copyright. At the same time, we’ve taken another step in the ongoing direction of opening up more content and with images and text that we own the copyright to, we changed our default Creative Commons license on the site from a CC BY-NC-ND to a CC BY-NC, to allow for greater re-use of materials. The rights project was spearheaded by Deborah Wythe, Head of our Digital Collections and Services, and there’s a lot more about the process on our blog. There’s also a great write up from the Huffington Post if you are curious for more.

The great thing about CC is its modular structure. We had started with that CC-BY-NC-ND back in 2004 and having had a good experience, wanted to open it up a bit more. CC allows us to change as we grow and that’s very valuable – it means we can take small steps toward larger goals and do so as the institution feels comfortable.

What about BM’s contribution to The Commons on Flickr? These are public domain images – where do they come from?

Pompeii: Forum and Vesuvius, Pompeii. – curated by Brooklyn Museum

The museum’s first curator, William Henry Goodyear, was an avid world traveler and photographer who’s image collection resides in our Archives. His photographs are pretty wide-ranging from his visit to the Columbian Exposition in 1893 to the Paris Exposition of 1900. He loved architecture, so there’s lots of material there that seems to document every European church and cathedral you can think of as well as many others. Our Principal Librarian, Deirdre Lawrence, has a great blog post about Goodyear’s history and Deborah Wythe, Head of Digital Collections and Services, recorded a pretty entertaining video about Goodyear’s travels to the Paris Expo – both are worth a look.

The Commons on Flickr has been a really lovely way to share these image collections. We’ve seen a lot of feedback from the community and been able to correct many of our records around these collections. There’s even a great example of a community member annotating a series of images, providing research with sources so we can all better understand and have a conversation around the material. That’s something that only Flickr can bring to the equation – a devoted community of photography lovers, dedicated to discovering content and helping us learn more about it.

What is the goal for the The Brooklyn Museum Collection API? We highlighted a couple initial interesting uses, are there any others that have stood out so far? How does the API interact with CC licenses?

We recognize that we are not going to have all the ideas around our own data, so we need to release it in order to learn more. In some cases, we’ve seen other institutions toying with our data for pan-institution collection searching – something we hope to see released soon. In other instances, we’ve seen some pretty cool applications develop. There’s an iPhone app, a developer working with geo data, another with materials data, alternative collection viewers – check out the application gallery for all the latest examples. In terms of the CC licensed work, all of the rights types are available via the API using the Collection.getRightsTypes method.

Talk about the remix contest collaboration with Blondie’s Chris Stein for Who Shot Rock and Roll. How did that come about and why did you choose to use CC licenses on the project?

Shelley, Brooklyn Museum | CC BY

Chris Stein’s photography is in the Who Shot Rock exhibition and we were fortunate enough that he was interested in doing a remix contest to run alongside the exhibition. Chris created eight tracks and was open to the idea of licensing them with a CC-BY-NC-SA. We’d never done a project utilizing SA before, so it was a unique opportunity. Check out the winning track from DJ Instantaneous of Afrofuturism Foundation.

Lastly, are there any events or projects on the horizon our community should know about?

In the coming year, you’ll see us doing even more with the online collection. We’ve amassed a ton of data, so now it’s time to analyze that to show relationships and explore a bit under the hood.

Posted 05 February 2010