January 28, 2022

New Report From CLIR & Mellon Foundation Looks at Policies for Open Access to Images at 11 Art Museums

From CLIR (Council on Library and Information Resources) and  Mellon Foundation:

This report describes the current approaches of 11 art museums in the United States and the United Kingdom to the use of images of works of art that are in their collections and are in the public domain. Each approach is slightly different. By presenting the thought processes and methods used in these institutions, this report aims to inform the decision making of other museums that are considering open access to images in their collections.

The following museums are included in this study:

  • British Museum, London
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis
  • J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • Morgan Library and Museum, New York
  • National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  • Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
  • Yale Center for British Art, New Haven
  • Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven
  • Providing open access is a mission-driven decision. Every staff member of each museum in the study emphasized that museums exist to educate and serve their audiences, and that providing access to images of works in their collection is part of their institutional mission.
  • Different museums look at open access in different ways. Some museums have the technological, financial, and human resources to provide free, immediate, high-quality downloads of collection images, while others are taking the process in steps as resources and time permit.
  • Internal process is important. The decision to provide open access to images can affect many people in a museum. Each is a stakeholder in the process, and each needs to understand and participate in the decision making. Senior-level commitment is critical.
  • Loss of control fades as a concern. While many museum staff had legitimate questions and concerns about providing open access to images of works in their collection, their worst fears have not been realized. Several of the museums are part of the Google Art Project, or have contributed to Wikimedia or other social media sites, which means that images of many of their works are already available online.
  • Technology matters. While a decision to provide open access to images is not based solely on the available technology, it is important to have clean and complete metadata, an effective digital asset management system, generally solid museum technology, and the staff to manage all of these systems.
  • Revenue matters less than many institutions think it does. While revenue remains a topic of interest to many museums, staff generally acknowledge that their desire to provide information about the collection in as open a manner as possible trumps revenue concerns.
  • Change is good. No museum that has made the transition to open access for the images in its collection would return to its previous approach.

The report was prepared by Kristin Kelly.

Direct to Full Text Report (40 pages; PDF)
CLIR Publication No. 157

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.