Faq For Museums

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Top 15 Questions Asked About the National Portal

1. What is the National Portal?

Begun in 2007, this multiyear project will provide searchable online access to digital images and descriptions of millions of historical artifacts housed in the collections of American museums, historical societies, National Parks, and other institutions across the country. It has a broad set of goals to support these historic sites.

2. How Does the National Portal Compile Its Data?

The National Portal aggregates data from historical institutions as provided by their curators, registrars or archivists. At present, data is exported from collection management systems and transferred to the National Portal’s servers. Automated systems for harvesting data are currently under construction. The data is then aggregated, cleaned up, sorted and displayed in an attractive, easy-to-use web interface. Data has already been aggregated from institutions using PastPerfect, Re:Discovery, KE Systems, Access, and Mimsy.

3. How Does a Museum Participate?

After signing a simple agreement with American Heritage guaranteeing that the museum maintains rights to their data, museum staff export data from their collection management system and send it by FTP to our servers. The process has been completed with dozens of institutions, and proven to not require a great deal of time on the part of museum staff.  Usually, the data is exported in a spreadsheet format, and the images are zipped by and sent by FTP.

4. Do You Digitize Collections?

At the present time we can only work with data as it is provided by the institutions.

5. What Are the Benefits of Participating?

Since its inception in 2007, the project has been designed to provide many benefits to historical museums—one reason for its strong support from AASLH. Many of these goals are set out on the page “Top 10 Goals for the National Portal.” These include:

  • Greater visibility for individual museums. Each displayed item from a museum’s collection becomes a “marketing magnet” discoverable by search engines and linked to information about address, hours, and location of the museum on a Google map.
  • Providing access to “hidden” items not otherwise on the Internet, including stored items not on display. The data in most online museum collections that are currently deployed cannot be seen by search engines.
  • Facilitating low-cost migration of data to the Internet, with costs shared among many institutions.
  • Increased community involvement with historic collections through posting of comments by local community members and persons with specific knowledge.
  • Encouragement of greater adoption of industry-standard nomenclature.

Museums that have put collections on the Internet report great benefits. “We put as much of our collection online as we could and it paid off in increased loan fees, greater visibility (even internationally), and increased image licensing and purchasing,” says Anna Holloway, VP, Collections at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News,

6. Will Visitation To Our Museum Decrease If We Put Our Collections Online?

The evidence indicates that greater exposure only increases interest in visitation. “People find us online and then come to see the things they found on our website,” says Anna Holloway of the Mariners Museum. “A family came here recently that had found a collection of drawings that their grandfather had done by searching our online database. They gave us a call and flew out to see the drawings in person with their children!”

7. Do Museums Lose Revenue from Licensing If Its Images Are Online?

No. In fact, licensing revenue should increase because for many historical institutions, this type of revenue is limited by the fact that potential licensors aren’t aware the images exist at their institution. The National Portal will display only watermarked images. Photographs may be used for personal purposes, but each record will display a notice that in order to use the image in publication or commercial use, permission must be obtained from the individual institutions. Each image links dynamically to the museum’s address and contact information.

8. Who is the Audience?

The National Portal will provide a valuable service to curators, historians, genealogists, teachers, students, collectors, and reenacters. It will serve as an educational and research tool, as well as an engaging environment in which history enthusiasts can explore the nation’s rich heritage. An important audience for the site will also be “heritage travelers” – individuals hoping to discover interesting places to visit. The National Portal is being designed to provide easy access to museum and collection information based on location, thereby drawing new visitors to historical institutions around the country.

9. What is the Business Model of the Portal?

The National Portal is being supported primarily by advertising in order to keep the cost down for participating museums, who are charged modest fees for uploading their data. Prospective advertisers are largely state and local tourism organizations, historic destinations, and “heritage travel” advertisers.

10. What Are The Fees for Being Included?

There is a $250 fee to set up the museum's account, and then a yearly hosting fee based on the size of the collection. There is also a 25% discount for members of AASLH.  See Price List and Services.  Contact Berkley Kilgore at 240-453-0900 ex 11 to discuss a package that works for your museum.

11. How Much of Our Staff Time Will Be Required To Participate?

Data exports generally take an hour of “active” time on the part of museum staff and up to several hours of “passive” time if large image collections need to be uploaded.

12. Will Museums Lose Control of Their Data?

No. Individual museums retain all rights to the data and images from their own collection, and may terminate their agreement with American Heritage for any reason. All records will be removed from the National Portal within sixty (60) days of receipt of notice of termination.

American Heritage reduces the file size of all images so that they are no longer suitable for use in publications, and adds a watermark.  If someone wants to use an image for publication purposes, they will need to contact the museum for a high resolution image.

13. What If Our Museum Adds Or Amends Its Collection Information?

American Heritage is currently developing a museum-friendly upload system that will allow curators to update their National Portal catalog quickly and easily. Until the release of this system, curators should contact an American Heritage editor to schedule periodic updates.

14. Can Other People Comment On Our Collection Information?

Yes. Registered users can post supplementary information about collection items. This will allow for individuals with information on certain collection items to add new information that could be of help to the institution holding the materials. It will also allow the local community to interact with its heritage in way that has not been possible in the past.

15. What is the Structure of Your Metadata?

Where available, the Portal displays the basic Dublin Core fields: title, creator, publisher or photography studio, date, historical context, physical characteristics and dimensions, institution, collection group within an institution, subjects and keywords, and reproduction rights for collection items.