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
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
complete the on-line form. Help with the form is available from
CHIN or, where possible, from the regional network or provincial
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.
"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
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
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
- a seasonal museum (Associate Member)
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
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/
Send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org