The new MAA Documentation System combines open-source technologies with deep social computing principles to create a truly innovative approach to museum documentation. The new MAA Documentation System shifts the age-old documentation principles of standardized description and information accumulation to multi-vocal and multi-source accounts and distributed documentation.
For the past few years, the MAA has been developing an open-source Documentation System. With over 20 years experience of developing its own Documentation Systems and Collections Management Systems, the MAA is just about to finish one of the most ambitious upgrades of its history. In fact, this system is the result of a complete re-think of its documentation practices. Though the new system takes account of documentation standards, such as SPECTRUM, and newer developments such as CollectionSpace, it differs from the traditional approaches in several key respects.
First, the MAA Documentation System brings all of its collections under one table structure. Combining the object collections, the photographic collections, the documentary archives and the growing digital archives into one accessible structure, removes the structural constraints placed on access to museum collections by disparate, institutional divisions. Though the system “knows” when a record refers to an object or a photograph, it treats all of these collections as collected objects.
Second, the MAA Documentation System has implemented a new referencing system, called RELATIONS. Any object in the system can be related to any other object, and a reason for this relationship can be stated. Furthermore, relations can be made between any object and resources outside of the Documentation System, such as web-sites, blogs, datasets, publications, etc. For instance, when an object is photographed, the digital image is collected as part of the MAA’s digital collections. It is then related to the object it is an image of, thus maintaining its status as a digital object, but also recording its relationship as an image of an object.
Finally, the most innovative aspect of the system is its decentring of documentation authority. The MAA will be providing logins for a growing group of trusted authorities â€“ academics, scholars, artists, source community experts, crafts people, etc. These authorities will be able to add Names, Descriptions, Contexts, Place Names, and even Relations to the records, under their own names. In fact, the new system requires that anyone who is adding information add it under their own name, thus removing the authorless museum record.
As an open-source system, it will readily accommodate many forms of social computing interaction. The MAA will be releasing in the near future an API for developers to create new interfaces to the data, and we are beginning to experiment with WebHooks to fully decentre the access and use of our documentation information.
The new MAA Documentation System went live at the end of April, 2009