Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about the frustrations of working with cultural archives, not only in my role in Pararchive, but also as a trustee of the Impressions Gallery and an upcoming collaboration with Leeds Creative Labs and The Hepworth gallery that is seeking to challenge the notions of what it means to be a gallery.

Thinking about cultural institutions as platforms and manifestos like the OpenGLAM principles go some way towards providing the vocabulary and values for unlocking the social value in our public archives. However, I still feel a sense of indignation that we have to beg and plead of access to our public assets.

Cory Doctorow’s recent talk GLAM and the Free World at the Museums and the Web conference explores the moral, political and democratic freedoms at stake during a thrilling and provocative hour…

We, the public, are the angels.
We built up all that value in our public assets.
The return on our investment comes from access to those assets — the right to see and use them.

Drawing an analogy with angel investors in the quote above, is sublime and true. I once said to the managers of the publicly created Leodis photographic archive that: “Unless you give it to us, we’ll take it.” I wanted to provoke a response; to get them to defend why they thought applying intellectual property rules to a public commons could be morally justified.

Cory’s talk reminded me that public collection and archive owners shouldn’t expect gentle, polite and deniable requests for things we already own and fund. They should expect us to feel indignation for obfuscating access our shared cultural heritage.

You can find a transcript of Cory’s talk, along with an hour-long video, over at…



Incidentally, my friend Ian Forrester (currently with BBC R&D) reminded me of another of Cory’s talks on Copyright vs Community, which Ian hosted back in 2004.