Making of Object ID
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:
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.
heritage organizations (including museums, national inventories,
and archaeological organizations)
- the art
- the insurance
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 objects 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
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 Lloyds
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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