Museums provide places of relaxation and inspiration. And most importantly, they are a place of authenticity. We live in a world of reproductions – the objects in museums are real. It’s a way to get away from the overload of digital technology.
Thomas P. Campbell, Director, Metropolitan Museum of Art
According to the Museum Universe Data File, there are some 35,144 museums in this country – and still counting. The newly-released file includes a broad range of museums – aquariums, arboretums, botanical gardens, art museums, children’s museums, historic houses and sites, history museums, nature centers, natural history and anthropology museums, planetariums, science and technology centers, specialized museums and zoological parks.
The Museum Universe Data File is a new tool, recently released after several years of compilation and modification by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. It’s the first–of-its-kind resource based not on third party commercially-produced sources but on original data from the IRS. The file includes information about nonprofits in the U.S. though not always from public and for-profit museums, e.g. museums governed by state and municipal agencies or public universities may be undercounted.
Still in its early release stages, the Museum Universe Data File is open and publicly available for use without restriction. It is a useful tool for a wide audience – for sight-seers and local chauvinists interested in geographic markers, for policy-makers concerned with fair allocation of funds, for journalists writing about local stories or sites, for educators teaching young learners about their community, and for families and individuals who just want to do some armchair travel planning. Because of its close links with pre-school and early childhood education programs IMLS has matched museums as social indicators with information about the locale and nature of other community-based resources such as Head Start Centers and early childhood service organizations.
The process of creating the data file is interesting in itself. From the outset, IMLS invited interested museum organizations to engage in the process – recommending additional sites, updating data, and otherwise contributing to the development process. The approach was to cast “a very broad net, include data from many different sources, and keep the records open to the public so the issues can be explored and discussed.” Short-term plans are to convene representatives of museum service organizations, museum faculty and other museum professionals in Spring 2015 to discuss next steps.
Patrick John-Murray has created US Museums Explorer, an app to complement the data file. (http://museums.hackingthehumanities.org) Each entry is linked with a Wikipedia entry – If no entry is found the site displays an invitation for users to create a new Wikipedia entry – or to update the existing entry. Enthusiastic designer Murray-John is there to help. Anyone interested in getting involved is welcome to Tweet @patrick_mj, who writes “I built this [US Museums Explorer] because I love data, making data useful, and getting cultural heritage data out in the open and sharing it.”
Checking the resource may add some new sites to your local museum agenda – or get you started thinking about what’s out there to be explored when Spring vacation comes!