Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories

Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories

Archives & Museum Informatics

info @ archimuse.com

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published April 1998
updated Nov. 2010


Virtual Members: CHIN and the Guide to Canadian Museums and Galleries

B. Szirtes, CHIN


What is the Guide? 
What Works! 
What Needs to be Reviewed! 
CHIN Membership - What is it Anyway? 
Member Benefits 
Members on Membership 
Validity of 'Membership' 
Future Directions and Perceived Challenges 


A community may be built with bricks and mortar but it is defined by its members, with common ties or interests, who have come together to build a place to live, to grow, to learn, to recognize and to respect the needs of each member. The members of this community are pivotal to its success as it is through them that knowledge is gained and spread. Ideally, each member of a community contributes and in return, receives benefits. Respective responsibilities are determined by the strengths, resources and requirements of each of the members. The virtual museum community has as its building blocks the development of relevant computer programming and the availability of cutting-edge telecommunications, but it too is defined by its members who have come together to learn from each other and to share their knowledge with the world around them. And, just as with all communities, cooperation among inhabitants is, of course, essential for growth and development. 

Canada, a country at the forefront of telecommunications technology, is the ideal virtual community, connecting geographically disparate museums to each other via the Internet. Canada's virtual museum community began in 1972 when Canada created the National Inventory Programme (NIP), a program within the National Museums of Canada which was a federal crown corporation (i.e a government agency). NIP's mandate was to create computerized inventories of humanities and natural science collections and of archaeological sites in Canada as one means of protecting and preserving Canadian heritage. 

Canadian museums were enthusiastic partners in this national program, recognizing the potential of national databases to provide information to help in research, exhibition planning, and collections management. A sense of community developed rapidly as museums began communicating with each other, discussing such troublesome questions as consistent documentation of often inconsistent collections. 

In 1981-82, the National Museum policy was revised and NIP was renamed the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN). CHIN's mission, to provide collections management services to museums, promoted the use of shared documentation standards. As the technology was upgraded and the network expanded, museums that had collections management databases, housed both internally and on CHIN's mainframe computer, collaborated to create Canada's National Inventories. 

In 1995, CHIN's mission again changed to "broker effective access to Canadian and international heritage information for public education and enjoyment and for the benefit of Canadian museums". CHIN, as the gateway to Canadian culture, has worked with the Canadian museum community to create information resources and access tools that support public access to Canadian museum collections. The Guide to Canadian Museums and Galleries, launched by CHIN in July 1996, is the direct result of a Directors meeting held in the Spring of 1995 where the museum community voiced its desire to use the Internet as one means to attract new audiences, thus enhancing the idea of the virtual community. In keeping with CHIN's new directions, museums were invited to become members or partners with CHIN as joint contributors to a collective resource. 

The gateway opened and the virtual museum community grew and is continuing to grow. The members of this community, in partnership with CHIN, have come together to build a collective resource on the Internet as unique as the community itself - the Guide to Canadian Museums and Galleries. There is an investment on the part of all members - CHIN maintains all technical components of the Guide in addition to providing Internet accounts and training to Members, while museums contribute information about their collections and events - and therefore, a stake in the future success or failure of the Guide. The more complete and current the information is, the more successful the Guide will be in attracting new audiences and bringing back repeat visitors. With the potential for virtual visits to translate into actual visits, everyone benefits, including the general public who has a new and reliable resource to use. 

This paper will analyze the Guide in terms of what works and what needs to be reviewed. The concept of "Membership" will also be assessed based on the changing needs of the virtual community - what does membership involve from CHIN's standpoint?, what is the perception of membership among museums?, is 'membership' a valid term to represent the reality of the virtual community? This paper will also examine the future direction of the Guide in terms of the virtual community and perceived challenges for both CHIN and museums. 

What is the Guide? 

The Guide to Canadian Museums and Galleries, launched in June 1996, now has more than 250 virtual members. CHIN developed the Guide with the idea of increasing the profile of Canadian museums on the Internet and attracting new visitors. The Guide provides on-line visitors (currently 1/3 of all CHIN Web site visitors) with current information about Canadian museums, their collections, exhibitions, and special events. The Guide groups information about the participating museums into one searchable database which means that with the Guide, a searcher can do a one-stop shopping kind of a search on all museums in a province or city and retrieve information about the museums and their events and exhibitions. A comparable search on the Internet would require a visit to each institution's Web site, and the different search engines would provide different search results meaning that some institutions would be missed out. 

To participate in the Guide, a museum does not need to have a computer or Internet access. Guide participants receive an information package that includes a membership agreement with CHIN to contribute information about the institution, its permanent collections, its services, and its exhibitions and special events. The museum signs the agreement and returns it to CHIN. Upon receiving the signed agreement, CHIN issues a user ID and password to the contact person in the museum. He or she can then go to any computer with Internet access (e.g. in a library , school, or any other community access point), link to the Guide section of the CHIN Web site (http://www.chin.gc.ca), complete the on-line form. Help with the form is available from CHIN or, where possible, from the regional network or provincial museum association. 

Eligible Guide participants receive the benefit of an Internet account and training to enable them to explore ways to use the Internet to reach their audiences. Museums that already have an Internet account are offered advanced Internet training courses. For museums that do not have their own Web site, the Guide is an excellent opportunity to be part of the collective Canadian presence on the Internet and to maintain an up-to-date listing of events and exhibitions. 

For the computerized institutions, much of the dynamic information we ask to have included in the Guide is already in place on their Web site and duplication of effort is an issue. To address this issue, a hybrid system of centralized and distributed information has been established as an interim solution.  Museums contribute background information that does not change rapidly and is likely to be a one-time contribution. At the same time, CHIN establishes links to the museum Web sites. To allow comprehensive searches on more changeable information, museums contribute minimal exhibition information (i.e title, dates that can be searched for) to the Guide. Search results from the CHIN site are then linked to the institution's Web site that contains the expanded exhibition or event information. This interim solution reduces the duplication of effort for museums while permitting access to the full information for the public. 

Once an institution has completed their Guide entry, they are eligible to participate in a coupon program. When a Web visitor reaches the Guide entry of a museum participating in the coupon program, they see an icon for a coupon that they can select. The visitor can then print out the coupon and redeem it at the museum in question for a small gift provided by CHIN. Museums are also encouraged to offer a small gift or a discount (e.g., 10% off the admission price) in addition to the CHIN gift. This program is meant to encourage visitors and to help the museums and CHIN track the use of the on-line Guide. Currently, 62 museums offer coupons. 

What Works! 

"No man is an island entire of itself" (John Donne, 1571?-1631). No saying could be truer in relation to the Guide. CHIN created the solid foundation from which the Guide could grow, but it has been the partnerships that have been created throughout this project that have allowed the Guide to blossom into a valid on-line resource. These partners include provincial museum associations, regional networks and CHIN members, old and new alike. 

From the outset, CHIN has worked closely with Provincial Museum Associations (PMAs) and regional networks such as Trillium (Ontario), InfoMuse (Quebec) and Dogwood (British Columbia). In fact, these three provinces have the highest number of entries in the Guide. The networks have helped their members by putting them in touch with local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and by helping them enter their information into the Guide. In provinces that have a regional network, museums that contact CHIN directly about participating in the Guide are encouraged to contact the network coordinator and work through them. In provinces without regional networks, CHIN has worked directly with the provincial museum associations. They have responded with a great deal of enthusiasm and interest. They have provided CHIN with mailing lists of their members and have encouraged their members to participate in the Guide

While the provincial museum associations and regional networks have made important contributions to the success of the Guide, it can not be stressed enough that it is the information contributed by the individual institutions, the members of the virtual community, that has built this credible resource. Indeed, they have a vested interest in the success of the Guide and they have proven, not only with the contribution of their information, but with their enthusiasm and willingness, that they are up for the challenge. 

What else has worked? The incentive of an Internet account and Internet training in exchange for the museum's information has also encouraged institutions to participate in the Guide. In these times of government cutbacks and lack of funding, heritage institutions, in particular, are not used to receiving benefits of this kind, especially from a government agency. In fact there has been some skepticism that this could actually be true, but for the most part the museum community has responded positively to this program. In addition to receiving Internet accounts and training, institutions have been encouraged and somewhat surprised by how easy it is to enter their information in the Guide using the on-line input forms. CHIN created these forms with a combination of check boxes and text boxes in an effort to make it as easy and as straight-forward as possible for museums to enter their information without getting bogged down by confusing and cumbersome procedures. As well, assistance from the CHIN HelpDesk is only a telephone call or e-mail away. CHIN prides itself on the technical expertise available for its members through the HelpDesk but it is our members themselves who appreciate the fact that an actual person is available to answer their questions. 

What Needs to be Reviewed! 

As with any new product, with increase use and the passage of time, inconsistencies are identified and have to be reviewed and corrected, if necessary. These include password validation procedures, non-adherence to update schedules, lack of events information and poor usage of the Help file. 

When a museum completes and returns their agreement with CHIN to contribute information to the Guide, CHIN issues a user ID, a.k.a Guide ID, and password to the appropriate contact person. This Guide ID and password is then used to validate the submission of a museum's information, i.e., the Guide ID and password are entered into the Guide database at the time that they are issued to the institution so that when the institution's information is submitted the system will post this information in the Guide provided that the Guide ID has been entered correctly. The problem begins when a Guide ID is entered incorrectly and the system doesn't recognize it. It takes diligent monitoring by CHIN staff to quickly catch these glitches before the process grinds to a halt. CHIN is currently working on an automatic validation system that will let the institution know immediately if they enter a Guide ID or password incorrectly. 

CHIN is also working on a system of automatic e-mail reminders. The need for these reminders arises when an institution has not completed their Guide entry (an entry is considered complete if it contains a description of the institution, a brief description of the collections and events information) or had at one point completed their entry but have since let their events information lag and have not updated their entry with new events information. On the information form that is returned to CHIN along with the Agreement, institutions indicate their preferred update schedule, however, there is currently no system procedure in place to ensure that this schedule is maintained or that events information is always present. The events information is pivotal to the success of the Guide - this is the information that prospective cultural tourists to the museum in question want to know. If this information is consistently missing from a Guide entry, it hurts everyone - the museum itself who may have lost a potential visitor and all the institutions in the Guide that do maintain their events information since the on-line visitor may lose faith in the Guide as a valuable resource and not return to the site. CHIN hopes that friendly, system-generated e-mail reminders will solve this problem of missing information. 

Of concern as well is the poor usage of the Help file. Links to the Help file can be found in several places on the in-put forms and even though every effort has been made to make these links as visible as possible, little use is made of them. CHIN will be revising the Help file as well as trying to increase its visibility. One option being considered is to allow our members to download and print out the entire file prior to entering their Guide information. In this way they would have a handy reference nearby at all times. At this point, however, CHIN is keeping all avenues open and will continue to seek out new solutions to this vexing problem. 

CHIN Membership - What is it Anyway? 

There are currently three categories of CHIN Members: Contributing, Basic and Associate. Contributing Members contribute information about their collections, services and events to the Guide to Canadian Museums and Galleries and also contribute at least 1000 collection records to the National Inventories, or all collection records if fewer than 1000 objects. Basic Members contribute information to the Guide. Associate Members are usually not-for-profit public heritage institutions without collections or seasonal museums that contribute information to the Guide

To become a CHIN member, organizations must be one of the following: 
- an eligible museum as defined by the Museums Assistance Program of the Department of Canadian Heritage 
- a federal or provincial heritage agency 
- an organization responsible for managing archaeological sites 
- an organization responsible for consolidating collections information for its member institutions 
- a not-for-profit public heritage institution without collections (Associate Member) 
- a seasonal museum (Associate Member) 

Member Benefits 

CHIN Members benefit from increased public exposure and profile within Canada and internationally through participation in the Guide. Each Contributing and Basic Member receives an Internet account and financial support for introductory Internet training or support for advanced Internet training if the institution already has an Internet account. CHIN encourages museums to use this access to explore the potential of the Internet for public programming and marketing and to become part of the virtual museum community. 

All Members receive a free subscription to access Research and Reference Information in the subscription environment on CHIN's Web site, once their Guide entry is complete. As well, all Members are registered in electronic mail distribution lists in order to keep up-to-date of any new developments in the museum community and to communicate with other members. 

Members on Membership 

For the most part the virtual museum community has understood and embraced CHIN's concept of membership. However, a number of institutions have voiced concern that membership involves membership fees and are therefore reluctant to participate in anything that will remove more funds from their stretched-too-thin budgets. Once they understand that no fees are involved in becoming a CHIN Member and that they actually will receive free perks as an incentive, they become very enthusiastic about the Guide and about CHIN. These new Members have become ardent supporters of CHIN and have begun to spread the word to their colleagues about the benefits of participating in the Guide. Indeed, a number of requests that have come into CHIN for Guide information have been via referrals from institutions already in the Guide

Validity of 'Membership' 

CHIN is currently reviewing its Member categories and guidelines as well as the term 'Membership' itself. Is the term 'Membership' valid? If one looks at the Guide or, for that matter, any of CHIN's projects, there is a heavy investment on the part of all 'Members'. So much so that CHIN and its Members are truly partners in these ventures. 

The term 'partner' sometimes has financial connotations associated with it as does 'Membership' but those involved in a partnership share both the risks and the profits of their business whereas Member implies a more passive role. Other terms that could be considered include 'associate' or 'collaborator'. 

Everyone involved in the Guide has a stake in its future and whatever term is used, the goal is the same for all participants - a successful product. CHIN wants to fulfill its mandate as being the gateway to electronic heritage information and wants to provide on-line visitors from around the world with a useful resource for information on Canadian museums; museums want to reach new audiences, increase attendance and increase revenues. 

Future Directions and Perceived Challenges 

The future looks bright for the Guide. It will be getting a facelift with a brand new, graphically pleasing, more user-friendly look. Its focus will be expanding as it combines with the Canadian Museums Association (CMA) Directory. This super Guide will have basic information for the over 2000 heritage institutions in Canada with expanded listings for those with Guide entries. CHIN is very excited about this collaboration with the CMA and hopefully this new Guide will be unveiled in late spring or early summer 1998. 

While optimism remains high for the implementation of the new and improved Guide, CHIN will face its share of challenges along the way. These will include getting more new Members, getting the larger institutions to participate and proving the effectiveness of the coupon program. 

To increase its Membership, CHIN must focus on all of the institutions currently in the CMA Directory. The CMA Directory has basic information such as institution name, address, telephone numbers, hours of operation, special services/activities and brief collection information for the over 2000 museums and galleries in Canada. Of this number, over 250 institutions have more detailed information in the Guide including descriptions, events, images, and links to museums' own Web sites. The challenge for CHIN, will be in trying to close the gap between these two numbers, i.e., to have more information, especially events information, for all museums in Canada thereby creating a truly superior and impressive resource. 

One very important task that CHIN faces is to encourage the participation of more of the larger institutions. Many of these institutions have expended a great deal of time, energy and resources in an effort to have very extensive, informative Web sites. Some have felt that to do a Guide entry is a duplication of effort and therefore have resisted becoming involved in the Guide. Even CHIN's interim solution, discussed earlier, of a hybrid system of centralized and distributed information has failed to convince some of the larger institutions to participate. CHIN is active in pursuing the challenge of convincing these institutions of the merits of this centralized resource. At the same time, CHIN will continue to be an active participant in the Consortium for the Computer Interchange of Museum Information (CIMI). CIMI aims to develop the standards and tools to manage museum information and to search across different hardware and software in a distributed environment. 

Last but not least, CHIN wants to prove the effectiveness of the coupon program as one means of marketing the Guide. As outlined earlier, this program is meant to encourage visitors to the Guide and help museums and CHIN track the use of the Guide. Museum visitors can redeem their coupons for a CHIN gift and any other gift or discount of the museum's choosing. Once they run out, museums can then reorder their supply of the CHIN gift. So far, out of the 62 institutions participating in this program, no order forms have come in. This is not to say that the program is not working - it could be too early to tell - but CHIN will review the program to see if this part of the Guide should be maintained. 


The Guide to Canadian Museums and Galleries is what it is today due to the successful collaboration between CHIN and its Member museums. This virtual community of heritage professionals will continue to work together to increase the profile of Canadian museums, nationally and internationally, and to increase awareness of the Canadian public to their cultural heritage through access to heritage information virtually on the Internet. CHIN is proud that the Guide has become one of its flagship products and will continue to maintain its strong bonds with its Members and to forge new ones. 

Last modified: March 16, 1998. This file can be found below http://www.archimuse.com/mw98/
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