Vol. VIII, No. 3

November, 1995


by Margaretta Sander, The CIMI Consortium

The Museum Computer Network (MCN) formed the Computer Interchange of Museum Information (CIMI) Committee (1990-1992) to investigate standards for interchange of museum information. Committee members represented a wide variety of museum groups, including: the American Association for State and Local History, the Museum Computer Network, the American Association of Museums, the Association for Systematics Collections, and the Association of Living Historical Farms and Agricultural Museums.

Support came from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The Committee's work resulted in A Standards Framework for the Computer Interchange of Museum Information, co-authored by David Berman and John Perkins. Several members from the Committee joined with new institutions, forming the Consortium that is now carrying forward the CIMI work, and John Perkins became the Director of that Consortium.

The Consortium consists of 16 member organizations working cooperatively to solve problems relating to the electronic interchange of museum information. Through its own publications and by monitoring evolving standards in the technological community, CIMI provides a bridge between museums and technology. By broadly disseminating the results of its work and inviting participation in its efforts, CIMI has become the focal point for museums' efforts to find the most economic and effective means to exchange their information electronically.

Because the use of standards is the key to long-term, broad access to information, CIMI's mission is to promote a standards-based approach to the interchange of cultural heritage material.

After extensive research, CIMI has adopted two international standards. One, called SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), is for structuring data; the other, Z39.50, is a search and retrieval standard established by the International Standards Organization (ISO). To demonstrate the usefulness of SGML/Z39.50, CIMI is implementing Project CHIO, a prototype application that will allow the cultural heritage community to use the SGML/Z39.50 standards, thus advancing its knowledge of standards applications and applying them within cultural heritage institutions.

Document Types Defined

CIMI has produced two draft SGML standards for structuring data in exhibition catalogs and collection records. In SGML terms, these standards are called Document Type Definitions (DTDs); they specify the structuring of data in documents. The project is developing training workshops on how to use the CIMI Document Type Definitions and how to apply SGML to museum information.

CIMI has finished an Information Reference Model that describes the needs for searching and retrieving cultural heritage information.

Project CHIO: Online Access to Cultural

Heritage Information

Project CHIO (Cultural Heritage Information Online) will demonstrate how a standards-based approach enhances access to cultural heritage information. Using the SGML/Z39.50 standards, CHIO will allow online access to cultural heritage information held in multiple databases. It will incorporate multiple data types through a single interface that will allow access independent of the hardware and software used to store or search the data.

Project CHIO is being implemented in two phases. In Phase 1, "CHIO Structure," museum-related information will be structured to meet the SGML standard. Phase 1, which is sponsored by a grant from the Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program, is expected to be complete by March, 1996.

In Phase 2, "CHIO Access," the SGML-structured data will be made searchable using the Z39.50 standard. Phase 2, which is funded by an NEH grant, will run from July, 1995, to August, 1997.

By 1997, CIMI expects Project CHIO to have in place a system of encoding museum information using SGML, a methodology for searching texts and collections data using Z39.50, and a demonstration system that will show the power of a standards-based approach to electronic interchange.

Getting More Information

CIMI information, such as the Consortium's mission statement, background, member organizations, publications, information on SGML and Z39.50 standards, and much more, is available on the CIMI home page at http://www.cimi.org/cimi.

The CIMI home page also provides a link to the prototype CHIO Demonstrator. The CHIO Demonstrator shows how CIMI is using SGML and eventually other standards such as HyTime and Z39.50 to explore new, richer ways of making museum information available.

For more information, contact Margaretta Sander, The CIMI Consortium, RR 1, 252 Viewmount Drive, Tantallon, NS B0J 3J0, Canada (Voice 902-826-2824; Fax 902-826-1337; E-mail: info@cimi.org; http://www.cimi.org/cimi).

For other Newsletter articles concerning the use of electronic media in the humanities, consult the Subject index.

Next Article: Canada's Visual History/L'Histoire du Canada en Images - A Review

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