background image
DigiCULT 39
museum community ascribes relevance to the
UNESCO Charter on the Preservation of the Digital
Heritage.
O
NE
M
USEUM
C
OMMUNITY ON THE
I
NTERNET OR TWO
?
T
he issue of top-level domain administration has
far-reaching implications.The self-styled virtual
museums that originate and exist solely in cyberspace,
and the virtual projections of the physical museum
establishment, are both well established on the Inter-
net. Given the vastness of the potential audience, it
may be safe to assume that a significant number of
non-specialist users would benefit from being given
means for discriminating between the real museums
and those that are only coincidentally labelling
themselves as such. It is difficult to imagine how that
might be done without the active participation of the
museum community. It is equally safe to assume that
a significant number of Internet users are more
interested in the way material appears than they are
in the sectoral identity of its source. Here again, the
active efforts of the professional museum community
are needed to avert the deflation of the value of
`museum' as it appears on the Net.
One obvious line of approach would be to pro-
vide means for recognising the origin of an Internet-
based resource as clearly being within the museum
community.The .museum top-level domain was
established precisely for this purpose, providing
immediate means for users to recognise bona fide
museum activity on the Internet.The extent to
which this may include digital-only museums is,
however, determined by the traditional museum
establishment.The conceptual framework within
which relevant domain policies are developed must
itself be expanded to be able to deal with the
unfamiliar but ever so demanding new situation.
There is no suggestion here that an individual who
has spent an afternoon placing digital images of a
stamp collection on a `virtual museum'Website can
expect the professional community to accept that
as a legitimate museum; no more so than the public
being given physical access to the same collection
would justify a claim to any other form of recog-
nition.
There are, however, numerous extremely valuable
information resources that are being made available
on the Internet by individuals and groups which
increase the public understanding of its heritage in a
manner that in all qualitative and quantitative regards
is on a par with the efforts of established agencies in
the heritage management sector. If the authors of any
of these born-digital initiatives wish to present them
using the virtual museum metaphor, doing so with
establishment guidance would clearly benefit the
consolidation of a single museum community on
the Internet.The subdomain virtual.museum was
envisaged as a useful means for providing an identity
for such resources. It provides means for indicating
the special status of born-digital initiatives that are
adjacent to, but not a clear part of mainstream
museum activity. However, it is imperative that born-
digital museums that are identical to the digital pro-
jections of physical museums, and are supported by
organisational constructs conforming to the terms of
the ICOM definition except for the maintenance of
physical installations, can be included in the .museum
domain without any restrictions deriving from their
born-digital status.
The blanket dismissal of born-digital virtual
museums can only result in there being two museum
communities on the Internet.There is great risk in
assuming that the user community will automatically
recognise the one that is restricted to the digital
projection of physical museums as the more signif-
icant.There is, however, no doubt that only one force
is capable of ensuring that this development reflects
well-established museum values.That is the museum
community itself. Its significance is as important here
as it has ever been, and much depends on the way it
responds to this grand digital challenge.
Digicult_THI5_JS_090104 09.01.2004 14:33 Uhr Seite 39