It’s International Museum Day today, and at Creative Commons (CC), we are thrilled to celebrate museums under this year’s theme of Museums, Sustainability and Well-being.
Museums play an important role in sustainable development — they are in fact instrumental in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — and in supporting the well-being of the communities that they serve. As ICOM states, “museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures, and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.”
At CC, we believe in the transformational power of better sharing through open access to knowledge and culture to achieve sustainability and support well-being. By making the collections that they hold as openly accessible as possible for use and reuse, museums can contribute to fostering global collaboration to solve the world’s most pressing problems and enable people to lead richer, more meaningful lives.
As just one example of the power of open sharing, last year, the UK’s Natural History Museum shared that over 125,000 of the Museum’s digitized Butterfly collection — released to the public domain using the CC public domain dedication tool (CC0) — were analyzed by scientists to understand how animals may respond to climate change. The Museum stated: “…open access digitized collections … allows scientists from all over the globe to be able to more easily use collections, can accelerate research in a more collaborative way than ever before.” This example is emblematic of the immense benefit for society of making information held in museums as openly accessible as possible to the public. It really embodies the mission of museums: preserving heritage, of course, but also enabling members of the public to access and use that heritage in furtherance of the public good.
Openness is key to achieving global goals, like fighting climate change, because it helps us to collaborate in the face of common challenges. Museums hold the keys to unlocking fresh solutions through global collaboration, and with collaboration comes increased pace, efficiency and efficacy of research, so that more communities have the opportunity to build upon research.
Museums also serve as peaceful spaces to come together, reduce social isolation, gain better understanding of each other, and improve people’s mental health. Both on site and online, museums can support the well-being of communities around them by providing a public space for cultural exchange and discourse. When it comes to sharing potentially sensitive materials, museums must also account for important ethical considerations. The CC Open Culture Platform working group on the “Ethics of Open Sharing” has identified some of the thorny ethical considerations regarding the opening up of cultural heritage. The working group developed a gamified approach to dealing with some of these to ensure well-informed and balanced decisions.
Museums educate, entertain, inspire, and bring joy to visitors — they are close to levers that can spark wide-ranging, positive change. By “opening up”, by better sharing their collections with the public, disseminating information, and working together to serve as public forums to hold society-wide debates, museums can empower people, generation after generation, in offering them the resources to engage and participate in civic life, increase the speed of innovation and scientific discovery, and strengthen community bonds for a sustainable future.
Want to get involved? Join us!
- Become a member of the CC Global Network
- Become a member of the CC Open Culture Platform
- Sign up for our Open Culture Matters newsletter
- Join the #cc-openglam Slack channel
- Participate in CC Open Culture Platform calls — they are announced in the Slack channel and on the mailing list