Introduction to Object ID
  Project Team
  Part 1
  Part 2
The Making of Object ID

Discussions between the Getty Art History Information Program (renamed the Getty Information Institute in 1996) and leading national and international umbrella agencies and government bodies in 1993 established that consensus had been reached on the need to collectively address issues relating to documentation practices and the implementation of international standards. In July of that year, the Institute convened a meeting in Paris to discuss the possibility of developing an international collaborative project to define documentation standards for identifying cultural objects. The meeting was attended by representatives of the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe (now the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe), the Council of Europe, the International Council of Museums, Interpol, UNESCO, and the U.S. Information Agency. The participants agreed on the need for such an initiative and recommended that it focus on developing a standard for the information needed to identify objects, and on mechanisms for implementing the standard.

From the outset, the project recognized the need to work collaboratively with organizations in six key communities:
  • cultural heritage organizations (including museums, national inventories, and archaeological organizations)
  • law-enforcement agencies
  • customs agencies
  • the art trade
  • appraisers
  • the insurance industry
The first step toward establishing consensus on the proposed documentation standard was to identify and compare the information requirements of each of these communities. These requirements were identified by a combination of background research, interviews, and, most importantly, major international questionnaire surveys. The Getty Art History Information Program carried out the first of these surveys between July and December 1994 with the endorsement of the Council of Europe, ICOM, and UNESCO. Organizations in 43 countries responded to the survey, including major museums and galleries, heritage documentation centers, Interpol, and national law-enforcement agencies. The survey took full account of existing standards and standards-making initiatives in the museum world, including those of the International Council of Museums, the Museum Documentation Association (UK), and the Canadian Heritage Information Network.

The results of this preliminary survey — published in July 1995 in Protecting Cultural Objects through International Documentation Standards: A Preliminary Survey — demonstrated that broad consensus did indeed exist on many of the categories of information. These became candidates for inclusion in the proposed standard. Encouraged by these findings, the project went on to survey the information needs of the other key communities: dealers in art, antiques, and antiquities; appraisers of personal property; art insurance specialists; and customs agencies. More than 1,000 responses from organizations in 84 countries and dependencies made this survey the largest of its kind ever conducted.

The findings of the questionnaire surveys were used to brief a series of roundtable meetings of experts drawn from the communities concerned. The series began with the first meeting of an international Conservation Specialists Working Group, organized jointly by the Getty Art History Information Program and the Getty Conservation Institute, in Washington, D.C., in August 1994. A key recommendation of this meeting was that the standard should include a category called Distinguishing Features, to record information about an object’s physical characteristics that could help identify it uniquely (e.g., damage, repairs, or manufacturing defects). This recommendation was later strongly endorsed by the other communities consulted.

A meeting of museum documentation experts, held in Edinburgh in November 1995, followed the Washington roundtable. Its recommendations have been little changed by the findings of subsequent surveys and the recommendations of later meetings. An important milestone for the project, this gathering demonstrated the possibility of establishing consensus among professionals within the key communities addressed by the project.

The third meeting assembled art-insurance specialists at Lloyd’s of London in March 1996. The fourth meeting — held at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware — brought together organizations representing dealers and appraisers of art, antiques, and antiquities. The final meeting, held in November 1996 in Prague in partnership with UNESCO and the Czech Ministry of Culture, convened representatives of law-enforcement agencies and commercial organizations that operate computerized art theft databases.

The surveys and roundtable meetings established that strong agreement existed on the categories of information that should constitute the standard (see Protecting Cultural Objects in the Global Information Society: The Making of Object ID, Getty Information Institute, 1997). The result, Object ID, offers a standard simple enough to be used by non-specialists and capable of being implemented in traditional, non-computerized inventories and catalogues as well as in sophisticated automated retrieval systems.

International organizations, including UNESCO, the Council of Europe, Interpol, and the International Council of Museums (ICOM), have welcomed and recognized the importance of Object ID. A number of major law-enforcement agencies now use it, including the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Scotland Yard in the United Kingdom. Organizations representing appraisers of personal property on both sides of the Atlantic have endorsed it, and art insurers and bodies representing the art trade are promoting its use.

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