Topic: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

Josselin has contributed some thoughtful input on how we present "museums" in another thread:

Josselin wrote:

The museum system in Germany is really tricky, especially in Berlin. In this city, there is a general State museum system ("Staatliche Museen zu Berlin"), with many museum dependencies, as explained here. So the "Staatliche Museen zu Berlin" is just the body which directs them all, and NOT a museum.

The problem is that it has been created as such on the Athenaeum and now holds 258 artworks, which are actually in other museums (Gemaldegalerie, Alte Nationalgalerie...).

I thought it worth starting a side discussion on this.

In truth, the concept we have represented very simply as "museums" on this site is much more complex. First of all, many of our "museums" are not museums in any normal sense. There are a lot of churches in there, historical societies, various other professional associations and companies that own artwork, etc.

Secondly, we don't distinguish between a "museum" as a place, a "collection" as a group of items, and an "owner". These could all be different things. In many European countries especially, the owner might be the nation, the collection might be a national collection or civic collection, and the collection itself might move around among various buildings which are what we normally think of as "museums". For example, the National Trust in the UK is an organisation that owns land and buildings, but also owns artworks. We might think of an artwork belonging to Wightick Manor, but in reality it belongs to the National Trust and is just "housed" there for now. They could decide to move it to a different historic home. So it's *owned* by the National Trust, and *located* at Wightick.

Some collections are even "homeless" in the sense that they don't have a permanent home in a specific set of buildings. The main example that comes to mind is Terra Foundation for American Art. The foundation was created in 1978 and has a lot of major artworks. They had a museum for a few years, but it closed in 1984, and now the artworks owned by the Foundation move around in a bunch of different museums - the Art Institute of Chicago, the Louvre, the Smithsonian, etc.

In the long run, I want us to have a robust way of representing and using "organisations" in a broad sense. As we get into provenance, exhibitions, and more Wikipedia-style history, we'll need to have pages for things like the Royal Academies, professional associations, universities, and so on. Eventually I want people to be able to look up an organisation and see its members and leaders over time, and properties owned by them. So you could see that the National Trust has sites in towns X, Y, and Z, and site X has certain artworks there.

But that's a lot of work! Specifically, I'd have to get our geography (towns, cities) in shape, and build up pages for organisations, and also start representing places or buildings. Plus, it's a bit complex - does the casual visitor care that an artwork is owned by the Terra Foundation, or do they just want to think of it as "belonging" to the Art Institute of Chicago?

So here's my thinking for the near-term approach:
1. On artwork pages, allow the display of "owner" and "location". In many cases, they'll effectively be the same thing, although even single collections located in one place are usually owned by a "foundation" (the organisation) but located in a "museum" (the building). We won't worry about those simple ones - for now we can just say the owner and the location are both a "museum". But at least let the page show both, in case they are different in an important way.

2. In the "museum" pages, add a field to designate the type - museum, foundation, church, etc.. We'll keep that simple for now, but it will give us "hooks" to eventually develop further.

I think this solves 90% of our unusual cases, without being too confusing to uninformed viewers.

What do you think?

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

Good idea Chris, but I don't think an handful of members can fix this issue!

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

As I feared, the Berlin System is also prevalent in Saxe: the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden rules in fact more than a dozen of museums and galleries in the Land of Saxe, none of them are present on the site.
http://www.skd.museum/de/museen-institu … index.html
Therefore it would be an enormous work to reallocate all the German museums holdings with the correct exhibition place...

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

Well Josselin, don't get too discouraged!

Right now you are doing a fantastic job of looking and thinking carefully about these things, and I am helping from the coding side. It's slow, but we're making progress, and even now I would say our web site handles most of this complexity better than anywhere else. As we work on it, things will only get better. Plus, we get new members every so often who jump in and help. Our overall active user base is growing, and once I get around to some things that will attract academic users, the standards will go up even more.

The only thing we can really get "wrong" as we go about this is the user interface, and sometimes that's the hardest part. Balancing complexity with ease-of-use is almost an art form, but I'll keep working at it.

I'll try in the next week or so to look carefully at these museum "systems" and come up with a way to adequately represent them for now. That won't do the job of moving lots of artwork, but it will give us tools to do so.

Lastly, remember that you don't have to do all of the work! This project is a lifelong effort for me, and it should be enjoyable for you. If one aspect becomes boring or annoying for you, then try a different bit. Please don't burn yourself out or feel that it's a burdensome duty. We're just glad to have you here and helping. :-)

Thanks,
Chris

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

I didn't want to feel depressed. :-)
I just wanted to point out this is a work which can only be done on several years.

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

I am actually distinguishing between the, e.g. various Berlin Museums - examples the Gemaldegalerie  that holds the old masters up to 19th century and the Alte Nationalgalerie for 19th century works.

One bug I have spotted:  If one goes to museums listing, one cannot add an artwork from the list - one has to exit and go to the artist listing. Althouhg this is in no way a serious flaw it would be useful if one was able to enter an artwork from the museums page.

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

kohn1fox,
     Good idea. I'll look at that this evening (I'm on London time) and see what kind of effort it would take.

-- Chris

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

I have created a new 'museum' entry entitled 'Civic Collections - United Kingdom' as there are many works that are in town halls, guildhalls and other civic collections.  They do not warrant their own separate 'museum' folder (except for the London Guildhall Art Gallery) but can be used to capture works that are 'elsewhere'.  A note in the description should state where the artwork is located (I have done this with two portraits that were previously shown to be in Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, but are in civic collections in Norwich, Norfolk).

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

We shouldn't forget about Vatican belongings when this feature about museums is done since there are several churches, palaces and museums in the same place.
On the other hand, I could merge all these "museums" into a category named "Vatican collections", including the Sistine and Niccoline Chapels, the Pinacoteca Vatican, and the Apostolic Palace.

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

Josselin wrote:

We shouldn't forget about Vatican belongings when this feature about museums is done since there are several churches, palaces and museums in the same place.
On the other hand, I could merge all these "museums" into a category named "Vatican collections", including the Sistine and Niccoline Chapels, the Pinacoteca Vatican, and the Apostolic Palace.

I think that's a sensible consideration.  If all the various collections are in the Holy See, then this might be best.

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

chris_mccormick wrote:

2. In the "museum" pages, add a field to designate the type - museum, foundation, church, etc.. We'll keep that simple for now, but it will give us "hooks" to eventually develop further.

I would very much like to have this feature. It would help a lot to clean and organize the museums list. We should have the following four categories: museums, religious buildings, civic/public buildings, and art trusts (with the dependencies if they exist).

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

Josselin wrote:
chris_mccormick wrote:

2. In the "museum" pages, add a field to designate the type - museum, foundation, church, etc.. We'll keep that simple for now, but it will give us "hooks" to eventually develop further.

I would very much like to have this feature. It would help a lot to clean and organize the museums list. We should have the following four categories: museums, religious buildings, civic/public buildings, and art trusts (with the dependencies if they exist).

A great many earlier works exist in religious buildings (principally in Italy and also Germany).  I have made separate entries for churches/basilicas etc that contain important works (Giotto for example).  It is not useful to keep them under 'unknown' (which is of course incorrect).

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

After I finish the task of allowing multiple names for museums, I plan to work on museum "groups" and types as we've been discussing here. Hopefully that will get our museum system in good order. There's always more to do later, but I'll feel comfortable moving on to some other tasks after this.

Thanks for the very good ideas!

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

The title of the museums is no longer displayed: http://www.the-athenaeum.org/sources/detail.php?id=2641

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

Hello Josselin,
    The page for adding new museums is putting the name into the old (no longer used) single name field, until I update the "Add a museum" script tonight. If you have any others to fix today, you can fix them in the Edit screen.

All existing museums should be working, except perhaps any added in the last 24 hours. I just fixed your example.

Thanks,
Chris

16 (edited by Josselin 2014-03-19 07:34:19)

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

chris_mccormick wrote:

Hello Josselin,
    The page for adding new museums is putting the name into the old (no longer used) single name field, until I update the "Add a museum" script tonight. If you have any others to fix today, you can fix them in the Edit screen.

All existing museums should be working, except perhaps any added in the last 24 hours. I just fixed your example.

Thanks,
Chris

It doesn't work for this one: http://www.the-athenaeum.org/sources/detail.php?id=2640
It displays an error message when I validate the changes: http://www.the-athenaeum.org/sources/edit_test.php

update: the edit page doesn't work at all for me.

17 (edited by Josselin 2014-03-18 20:56:33)

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

It would really help me if you could delete all the "empty" museums, as you did for the empty artists.

I'd also like to have a feature to display museums by country, so I will be able to edit all the French museums at once. Currently, I have to pick them one by one in the list (and scroll down frantically ^^).

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

Hello Josselin,
     If you go to the page for a nation, there is an "Art" tab which lists all museums for that nation. Here's the page for France, for example: http://www.the-athenaeum.org/nations/detail.php?id=88

From the list, you can right-click (in most Windows browsers) or CTRL-click (on a Mac) to open the links in new tabs. That way you can keep the main list up and open museums one at a time as needed. Eventually I should add sorting by nation to the "By Museum" listing page, but for now, you can go from nation to museums in that nation.

I did a back end search for "empty" museums, but I can't find any - it seems every museum has one or more artworks? Do you have an example of an "empty" museum?

- Chris

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

chris_mccormick wrote:

Hello Josselin,
     If you go to the page for a nation, there is an "Art" tab which lists all museums for that nation. Here's the page for France, for example: http://www.the-athenaeum.org/nations/detail.php?id=88

From the list, you can right-click (in most Windows browsers) or CTRL-click (on a Mac) to open the links in new tabs. That way you can keep the main list up and open museums one at a time as needed. Eventually I should add sorting by nation to the "By Museum" listing page, but for now, you can go from nation to museums in that nation.

I did a back end search for "empty" museums, but I can't find any - it seems every museum has one or more artworks? Do you have an example of an "empty" museum?

- Chris

Hello Chris,

Thank you for the link, I will edit them soon.

Here is an example of an empty museum: http://www.the-athenaeum.org/sources/detail.php?id=1554

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

Ah, I found a problem with my query. I found and removed 67 entries for museums/institutions with no artworks.

I still think that once I get museum groups in, we will want to move artworks back to their actual location. This would be both more correct/accurate, and will also provide an important piece of information - where the actual artwork is located. If I want to contact the holding institution, or visit an artwork, it doesn't help me much to only see that it's in a "UK civic collection" for example...

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

chris_mccormick wrote:

Ah, I found a problem with my query. I found and removed 67 entries for museums/institutions with no artworks.

I still think that once I get museum groups in, we will want to move artworks back to their actual location. This would be both more correct/accurate, and will also provide an important piece of information - where the actual artwork is located. If I want to contact the holding institution, or visit an artwork, it doesn't help me much to only see that it's in a "UK civic collection" for example...

Most of the accurate locations are written in the description. In fact, these locations often have only one artwork, so is it really worth creating a "museum" page for them? Some of them are chapels or little city offices lost in the countryside.

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

Josselin wrote:
chris_mccormick wrote:

Ah, I found a problem with my query. I found and removed 67 entries for museums/institutions with no artworks.

I still think that once I get museum groups in, we will want to move artworks back to their actual location. This would be both more correct/accurate, and will also provide an important piece of information - where the actual artwork is located. If I want to contact the holding institution, or visit an artwork, it doesn't help me much to only see that it's in a "UK civic collection" for example...

Most of the accurate locations are written in the description. In fact, these locations often have only one artwork, so is it really worth creating a "museum" page for them? Some of them are chapels or little city offices lost in the countryside.

I created the 'UK Civic Collections' as a large number of bodies hold one or two works only.  These include UK council offices and small galleries.  I always add the actual location in the description (but not sure if others on here also do the same).  I considered it pointless to create a new institution for every artwork.

I did the same for the UK National Trust, which also falls into a similar category.  I always explain where the work is located on all my entries.

One will find that there must be well over 100 National Trust properties throughout the UK. 

A look at the listing for museums demonstrates how many have only a single item.

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

If we don't have the location "encoded" into the museum, these things are true:

1. We all have to remember to put location information into the description of each artwork, because it's not there at the museum level.

2. Not only is this work that we have to remember to do, it's potentially much more work as a whole. If the National Trust properties have an average of five artworks each (I love Wightwick Manor for example, which probably has 50 artworks on site), then that's five times as much work to put locations into each artwork as it would be to just have a museum with location.

3. In museum listings, the best specificity we can do under this system is the national level. This is true for both the text listings, and for any mapping we do in the future. Imagine a map of the UK museums, with an important entry effectively being "Here's a marker for several hundred artworks which are 'somewhere in the UK'. You can find out where they are by looking at every single artwork in this collection."


Let me flip the discussion around: What is so bad about having more locations, or lots of locations which only have a few works? Is it just that the list is long? How bad is that, if we can find things through search, or drill down alphabetically, etc? I tend to thing that making things easily "find-able" is not such a difficult problem, when the alternative is to "hide" location data down at the artwork level for a bunch of artworks.  It wouldn't be that hard to change the museum listing page to show only museums with five or more artworks by default, with a button for "show all museums" to reveal smaller ones.

It would be helpful if you can outline for me the problems caused by "too many small museums," so I can focus on fixing those, while maintaining the integrity of what a "museum" node means...

Thanks,
Chris

24 (edited by Josselin 2014-03-20 11:58:10)

Re: Thinking about how to better organise "museums"

chris_mccormick wrote:

It would be helpful if you can outline for me the problems caused by "too many small museums," so I can focus on fixing those, while maintaining the integrity of what a "museum" node means...

Well, the main problem is that they are not museums. :-) Churches, city offices and manors often don't have website and sometimes cannot even be visited.
I don't mind creating "museums" for just one entry, but I think we should have several categories of museum, as I listed above, ie. "museums", "religious buildings", "civic/public buildings", and "art trusts" (with the dependencies if they exist).

As Graham already mentioned, some art trusts move their belongings between their dependencies, so we would have to frequently update the site when there are changes. The British Royal collection is a good example of this system.