While we anticipate that most of the object records we gather will be available for re-use one way or another, we should say at once that MDS is not an open data initiative. The source museums will have full control over how much of their data is visible and also set the terms on which that data is licensed.
Although, as described below, much of the data in our repository will soon be available for anyone to access, individual members of the public are not our target audience. In marketing terms, MDS is a ‘business-to-business’ service rather than ‘business-to-consumer’. In other words, we make data available to people who will use it as the raw material for all kinds of uses, including creating content that is aimed at public audiences. A good example is Art UK, which will use MDS to scale up and speed up the process of gathering raw records from its contributing collections, but will do a lot of work to turn that source material into the curated content on its website.
Access permissions framework
Much MDS activity will take place behind the scenes. Some museums may use us as an extra backup of their whole collection database, including fields containing personal information covered by data protection law, or confidential information such as valuations. Other museums may not feel ready to make their collections data public, but want to use MDS to share it in a limited way with specific people such as their volunteers or particular researchers.
We’ve been working with the Open Data Institute and our early adopter museums to develop an access permissions framework based on the ODI’s data spectrum. When museums first sign up to MDS, we’ll go through their data with them and apply one of four permission levels to each field.
Optionally, accredited researchers
The account administrator for each museum will be responsible for setting up named individuals as users and assigning permissions for restricted fields.
To save museums fielding individual requests from academic researchers for access to restricted but non-confidential data, and to save researchers the same chore, we will invite account administrators to allow default access to accredited individuals from a list maintained by MDS. We are still consulting over how this might work, but think the most efficient criteria might be an ORCID iD combined with a current email from an academic domain.
‘Public’ data will initially be visible only to users with an MDS account, but from spring 2024 there will be an interface that anyone can access without logging in. This will be fairly simple to start with, but we will evaluate it and create a roadmap to develop it further, particularly to meet the needs of academic researchers.
Our approach to licensing
We know from experience that fully open licences such as CC0, required by some cultural heritage aggregators and expected by many users, are a step too far for most UK museums. They are happy to license their data for non-commercial use, preferably with attribution, but will simply not come on board if asked to give up all rights. Our pragmatic policy is therefore to explain the range of licensing options open to museums joining MDS, but allow each to set the terms it is comfortable with.