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Full title of the project: ATHENA
Number: D3.1
Date: 30 April 2009
Funding programme: eContentplus
Publisher: Athena

ECP-2005-CULT-038099 ATHENA

Report on existing standards applied by European museums

Deliverable number D3.1

Dissemination level Public

Delivery date 30 April 2009

Status Final


Gordon McKenna, Collections Trust (UK) Chris De Loof, Royal Museums of Art and History (Belgium)


This project is funded under the eContentplus programme1,

a multiannual Community programme to make digital content in Europe more accessible, usable and exploitable.

1 OJ L 79, 24.3.2005, p. 1.

Table of Contents


1.1 The purpose of work package 3

Work package 3 of the ATHENA project (WP3) is tasked with:

  1. Reviewing the different standards in use by museums;

  2. Facilitating the mapping of those standards to a common metadata standard;

  3. Assessing the requirements for the persistent identification of digital objects and collections;

  4. Producing tools to support the conversion of museums’ data into the common harvesting format for ingestion into the main Europeana service.

WP3 also works together with other work packages in the project. In particular WP3 works closely with WP4 and WP7: feeding information about standards for their work. Also the survey which is the basis of this deliverable was extended to include collecting information on IPR issues for use within WP6.

Overview of the deliverable

This deliverable is the first outcome of this work and is based on a survey of the content that partners contracted to provide to Europeana through the ATHENA project. These collections are described, in outline, in the Description of Work for the project (pp10-33).

The first part looks at Some basic concepts, a familiarity with these will be useful for the understanding of the rest of the deliverable.

Next we give an exposition of the range key standards being used by museums in a Standards landscape. This is done in order to provide a kind of ‘snap shot’ of the current situation. As with any landscape the view may vary over time, some standards may become more popular, others might disappear, but we believe that the major features will remain.

The next section looks at the results of the ATHENA Standards Survey. The analysis will answer a set of questions about the standards use in museums in Europe as exemplified by the collections in the survey.

Finally we draw some Conclusions about the use of standards in European museums with its implications for the ATHENA project and for Europeana in general.

Two appendices contain the:

  • ATHENA survey questions;

  • ATHENA content surveyed for this deliverable.

  1. Some basic concepts

    1. Standard

The British Standards Institution (BSI), the world’s oldest standards setting organisation (1901), says:

Put at its simplest, a standard is an agreed, repeatable way of doing something. It is a published document that contains a technical specification or other precise criteria designed to be used consistently as a rule, guideline, or definition. Standards help to make life simpler and to increase the reliability and the effectiveness of many goods and services we use. Standards are created by bringing together the experience and expertise of all interested parties such as the producers, sellers, buyers, users and regulators of a particular material, product, process or service." (our Bolding)

To the advantages given above can be added: delivering interoperability (see below).

  1. Types of standards

There are a number of standards typologies. A common one has:

  • De facto

Standards not formally recognised by a standards setting body, but is widely used and is recognised by the sector using it as a standard. These are quite common in the IT industry where the dominance of Microsoft, for good or ill, has led to some of its products becoming de facto standards (e.g. Word for Widows). They may not be the best solution to a situation but they are often the most economically successful;

  • De jure

Standards formally recognised by a standards setting body (e.g. ISO). They are developed by the common consent of a group of interested parties, with no one party being dominant. However they take a significant amount to time to develop and establish, sometimes leading to them being over taken by technological developments.

Standards can also be looked at with regard to the environment they were produced and used:

  • In-house

Standards developed and used in a particular organisation, for a particular purpose. An example of this is a local place name terminology. This would extend an existing national which only covers geography at a level of granularity too coarse to be useful at the local level;

  • Community

Standards developed by a set of organisations in the same sector for use within that sector. The UK museum documentation standard SPECTRUM was developed with domain experts with the aim to benefit from their experience;

  • National

Standards developed for use within a single country and recognised at a national level. Nationally recognised terminologies are examples of such standards;

  • International

Standards recognised and used throughout the world, nearly always approved by an international standards setting body, e.g. ISO 8601 is an international standard for date and time.

For some standards it is possible for them to begin as one type and then, with further work and taking part in an approval process, become another type. For example the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CRM), was originally developed by the CIDOC Documentation Standards Working Group as a community standard it is now an ISO standard (ISO 21127:2006).

Another type of standard that is worth examining in detail is the open standard.

  1. Open standards

Kenneth Krechmer gives ten requirements for open standards1:

  1. Open Meeting – all may participate in the standards development process.

  2. Consensus – all interests are discussed and agreement found, no domination.

  3. Due Process – balloting and an appeals process may be used to find resolution.

  4. Open IPR – how holders of IPR related to the standard make available their IPR.

  5. One World – same standard for the same capability, world-wide.

  6. Open Change – all changes are presented and agreed in a forum supporting the five requirements above.

  7. Open Documents – committee drafts and completed standards documents are easily available for implementation and use.

  8. Open Interface – supports proprietary advantage (implementation); each interface is not hidden or controlled (implementation); each interface of the implementation supports migration (use).

  9. Open Access – objective conformance mechanisms for implementation testing and user evaluation.

  10. On-going Support – standards are supported until user interest ceases rather than when implementer interest declines.

Most of the requirements are about the development of a standard. The aim is to make this process transparent and democratic.

It is not clear if any standards conform to all the requirements. However formal national and international standards are more likely to adhere to most of them, at least to some extent.

Open IPR, Open Access and On-going Support are the most important considerations for a potential user of a standard. Therefore in our descriptions of standards we have indicated which we consider ‘open’ in these three areas.

1 Krechmer, Kenneth. “Open Standards Requirements” in The International Journal of IT Standards and Standardization Research, Vol. 4 No. 1, January – June 2006. See:


Digitisation is the process of transformation of original (analogue) material into digital form. There are three distinct types of digitisation:

  • Reproduction

Digitisation with the aim to reproduce the original material in digital form as accurately as possible. This category includes images, sound, and video;

  • Retrieval

Digitisation with the aim to find and retrieve original material. This category includes scanned and indexed documents, for example contracts, letters etc. The purpose is not an accurate reproduction, but to increase usage of the material;

  • Procedural

Digitisation with the aim of capturing information from analogue (paper) museum catalogue systems with the aim to implement automated collection management.

This deliverable will mainly look at the standards associated with reproduction digitisation. However it will also discuss some of the standards associated with the other two.


Interoperability can be defined as:

“The ability of the systems, procedures and culture of an organisation to be managed in such a way as to maximised opportunities for exchange and re-use of information, whether internally or externally”1

This definition was written in the context of maximising the sharing of the collective knowledge of an organisation. Here we are attempting to maximise the opportunities for European cultural organisations to share their content with IST projects (and therefore benefit from that process).

Paul Miller further divides interoperability into 6 types2:

  • Technical interoperability – facilitated by using common technical standards (e.g. file types, metadata, etc.);

  • Semantic interoperability – facilitated by using common vocabularies for the terminologies used in data (e.g. thesauri);

  • Political/ Human interoperability – facilitated by understanding and overcoming the barriers caused by the different experiences and agendas of users and information providers;

  • Inter-community interoperability – facilitated by recognising differences between discipline communities and overcoming them by working together (e.g. museums, archives and libraries);

  • Legal interoperability – facilitated by following the legal restraints imposed on information providers (e.g. Freedom of Information and Data Protection legislation);

  1. Ashby, Helen, McKenna, Gordon and Stiff, Matthew. SPECTRUM Knowledge. mda. 2001, p63

  2. Miller, Paul 'Interoperability. What is it and Why should I want it?' in Ariadne, 21. UK Office for Library and Information Networking (UKOLN). June 2000. See:

    • International Interoperability – facilitated by recognising and overcoming the barriers caused by cultural and linguistic differences.

This deliverable is concerned mainly with the facilitation of technical and semantic interoperability. The other four types may be the subject of other projects.


Metadata has become such a popular term it is worth examining its use in more detail.

  1. Definition difficulties

In its origin it is clear that the metadata has taken as its model words like metaphysics, metalanguage, where the ‘meta’ element of the word indicates:

2. (of an academic discipline) concerned with the concepts and results of the discipline”1

The use of ‘data’ element has led to the tendency to restrict its usage to digital ‘objects’. For example an often quoted definition is that its: ‘Data about data’2. This implies that metadata is concerned solely with world of text and multimedia on the Internet or on computers.

Metadata has emerged in recent years as a new ‘buzz-word’ for information professionals, causing confusion and/or unease in some quarters. For example Tony Gill writes:

“… the term ‘metadata’ is now increasingly used in contexts where the term ‘data’ would have sufficed just a few short years ago (for example, descriptions of people, objects and events)..”3

In this wider context metadata can be data usually known in the cultural heritage sector as: collections management data, catalogue records and exhibition texts. In fact any ‘data’ can be thought of as ‘metadata’.

So why use the term ‘metadata’ at all? Perhaps looking at some of the key aspects of metadata is the best way to find an answer.

  1. Aspects of metadata

A key idea in metadata is that of a resource. This is the entity that the metadata is about. A danger here is to restrict the idea of a resource to texts and multimedia ‘objects’ accessible over the Internet and in particular on the Web. A resource is anything one wishes to describe and give access to in some way. A resource can be:

  • Texts (electronic or paper-based);

  • Physical objects;

  • Multimedia (image, sound, and video, etc.);

  • Software;

  • Persons;

  1. Collins Concise Dictionary. Third Edition. (1995), p835.

  2. See:

  3. Gill, Tony. ‘Metadata and the Web’, in Baca, M. (ed.) Introduction to Metadata: Pathways to Digital Information. 3rd rev. Getty Information Institute. 2008. See

    • Organisations;

    • Places;

    • Events;

    • Concepts;

    • Collections of all the above.

Also some resources are surrogates for another resource. A surrogate is a representation of resource in some other form. For example: a digital image or photograph of an artwork, or a virtual reality representation of a place, or a facsimile of an object.

It is important to distinguish between a resource and its surrogate when creating metadata for the two entities. Metadata for a surrogate should not describe the original resource. For example, an original artwork might but out of copyright, but a photograph of it might not be.

Resources can also be related to each in ways other than of original and surrogate. Examples include: creation, making available (e.g. publication), and use.

A number of different typologies for metadata have been proposed. For example Anne Gilliland-Swetland1 gives:

  • Administrative – Managing and administering resources (e.g. acquisition, rights, location);

  • Descriptive – Describing or identifying resources (e.g. catalogue records);

  • Preservation – Preservation management of resources (condition, and migration data);

  • Technical – How a system functions or metadata behave (e.g. formats, encryption, passwords);

  • Use – The level and type of use of resources (user and use tacking information).

The relationships between different resources and their associated metadata can be summarised in the diagram below:

D3.1 Report on existing standards applied by European museums 3

1 Gilliland-Swetland, Anne J. ‘Setting the stage’, in Baca, M. (ed.) Introduction to Metadata: Pathways to Digital Information. 3rd rev. Getty Information Institute. 2008.


Another type of metadata is that of resource discovery. This is metadata aimed at allowing potential user of a resource to find information they need in order to decide whether or not they want to have access to a resource itself. This is a similar situation to putting a term into a Web search engine, viewing the results, and deciding to ‘click’ on the link. The aim of resource discovery is to give a more accurate and relevant search result for the user.

The most well know resource discovery metadata is Dublin Core. This gives information on a resource, gives its identifier, and uses the identifier to give access to that resource. Access is direct if the identifier is an URL or similar, or indirect in the case of an ISBN (for example).

Finally there is a sense of there being a metadata movement taking place with large effort being put into the open development of metadata schemas. Schemas are the description of a metadata element set, together with a description of how the elements are structured. In turn these schemas are being tested and indeed adopted by organisations and governments. The metadata ‘bandwagon’ is impossible to ignore!

  1. A ‘better’ definition?

Metadata is much more than the simple definition given above. Perhaps a more comprehensive one is:

Structured information about any kind of resource, which is used to identify, describe, manage or give access to that resource.

For the full report, please refer to the following link:

default Report on existing standards applied by European museums (224 KB)

Full title of the project: ATHENA Number: D3.1 Funding programme: eContentplus