MOAC California museums working with libraries and archives to increase and enhance access to cultural collections
MOAC REPORT 2003: Table of Contents
  Introduction, Robin Chandler
  Project Manager's Report, Richard Rinehart
  Standards and Best Practices, Guenter Waibel
  Partner Reports
    Bancroft Library, James Eason
    Grunwald Center for Graphic Arts, Layna White
    Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Josh Meehan
    UCR/California Museum of Photography, Steve Thomas

Museums and the Online Archive of California (MOAC): A report to IMLS

Robin L. Chandler
California Digital Library Digital Content Coordinator & Manager of the Online Archive of California (OAC)

Diverse institutions such as libraries, archives, and museums may collaborate because of shared values for use, preservation and education of collections, or because collaboration is a well established means to garner external funding. The Museums and the Online Archive of California (MOAC; ) collaboration was partly formed for philanthropic and practical reasons, with the specific goal to integrate access to collections of art, historical artifacts, photography, and manuscripts from museums, archives, and libraries throughout California. As a pilot project developed out of and using the infrastructure of the Online Archive of California (OAC; see, MOAC sought to achieve this goal by creating a standards-based and scaleable solution, which could potentially allow every California museum to share collections with libraries and archives online.

A core component of the California Digital Library (CDL), the OAC is a digital information resource that facilitates and provides access to materials such as manuscripts, photographs and works of art held in over seventy libraries, archives and museums across California. The OAC includes a searchable database of Encoded Archival Description (EAD) guides or finding aids to primary sources and associated digital content. Developed in 1995 at the UC Berkeley Libraries, EAD is an XML/SGML document standard for encoding and structuring archival description, which enables exchange, federation, retrieval of finding aid information between institutions in an online environment. Primary sources include letters, diaries, manuscripts, legal and financial records, photographs and other pictorial items, maps, architectural and engineering records, artwork, scientific logbooks, electronic records, sound recordings, oral histories artifacts and ephemera. Describing primary sources in detail, finding aids are the guides and inventories to collections held in archives, museums, libraries and historical societies. Finding aids provide detailed descriptions of collections, their intellectual organization and, at varying levels of analysis, of individual items in the collections. Access to the finding aid is essential for understanding the true content of a collection and for determining whether it is likely to satisfy research needs. Currently, the OAC comprises 7,339 finding aids and over 100,000 unique scanned images and approximately 25,000 pages of electronic structured texts.

In 1997, several California museums approached the CDL with the idea of forming the MOAC collaboration to integrate access to collections of art, historical artifacts, photography, and manuscripts from museums, archives, and libraries throughout the state. Through the generous support of the Institute for Museum Library Services (IMLS), the MOAC collaboration addressed several goals: testing the use of EAD for museum metadata to provide access to museum objects, integrating primary source materials access across institution types (libraries, archives and museums), and integrating item level description with collection level description. Eight California institutions initiated the project including UCB Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Oakland Museum of California, UCLA Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, UCR/California Museum of Photography, The UCB Bancroft Library, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, Stanford University Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, and the Japanese American National Museum. The following multi-part report will present several perspectives outlining the successes of this collaboration, including the project managerÕs description of accomplishments and future plans for sustainability, technical achievements (such as the development of a collection management tool and best practices implementation as outlined by the projectÕs digital media specialist), and narrative from the individual museum collaboratorÕs implementing the work plan.

As a collection of museums, libraries, and archives, MOAC represents a collaboration of institutions with distinct missions, a spectrum of artifacts demanding different methods of preservation and maintenance, and disparate descriptive practice. For example, academic libraries and archives provide access to collections of published and unique materials to support research and teaching, create and sustain tools supporting bibliographic access for learning activities, maintain the public bibliographic catalog based on the MARC standard, and create unique catalog records providing access points based on authority controlled subject headings. These institutions also view the EAD standard as a means to create a union catalog for a collection finding aids.

In contrast, museums provide access to individual artifacts through interpretive exhibits curated by subject specialists; museum exhibits are typically part of larger educational programs leveraged by professional education director, and museum artifacts are registered in a management catalog that is not publicly accessible and does not require subject headings for controlled access. For the museum community, a standard such as EAD represents a means to exchange information with other communities or consortia.

Although operating under different professional mandates, MOAC participants recognized the opportunities provided by digital technology. The digital environment is an important means to concretize values shared by libraries, archives and museums. In other words, at their core, these diverse institutions believe that learning is built upon the availability and use of primary resources. EAD - its descriptive structure and established delivery mechanisms - provided a bridge across the disparate professional practices of museums, libraries, and archives. These diverse institutions quickly grasped that learning could be made easier by providing access to finding aids and primary sources through a shared online catalog such as the OAC. Previously users only accessed and evaluated these materials through painstaking travel to geographically distributed institutions.

From the CDL perspective, the MOAC collaboration has been a very successful enterprise. The diverse institutions participating in the OAC (libraries, archives, and museums) are complemented and enhanced by their unique practices and intellectual perspectives. Learning from each other continues, specifically in the areas where each institution type is strongest. Libraries and archives teach museums about the benefits of publicly available bibliographic catalogs; the importance of implementing data and content standards (such as standard vocabularies and authority control); and best practices upon which those tools are established. With their core mission of interpretation, museums teach libraries about direct participation in educational activities and through emphasis on the artifact, museums have provided leadership to collection-minded archivists on how best to describe individual digital objects. The IMLS funded MOAC II project (also funded by IMLS) is a concrete example of how our collaborative learning process continues as this effort seeks answers to questions about how digital content from diverse institutions can be effectively chosen and presented online to complement education for K-12 and undergraduate and graduate student audiences. As we continue to build a critical mass of finding aids and digital content, the museums, libraries, and archives of the OAC will explore new avenues to better provide access to collection descriptions and primary resources. The following report will provide an in-depth examination of MOACÕs contributions to building the OACÕs foundation. With this fruitful museum partnership, the OAC will continue to grow and develop as a respected and valued access point for shared cultural heritage.