Atelier J. Hamann, Pferd-Pyramide der Mädchen, around 1900, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (Public Domain)

Sharing is Caring — Hamburg Extension

Antje Schmidt
7 min readJan 9, 2017

This is a written version of a speech given at the opening of the conference “Sharing is Caring — Hamburg Extension. Building Connectivity through Cultural Heritage” (20/21 April 2017) organised by the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg and the University of Hamburg.

Sharing is Caring is a conference focused on collaboration and sharing in the cultural heritage sector, bringing together practitioners, researchers, and users of culture. It was established in Denmark in 2011 and is now spreading to other countries.

At the beginning: Openness and sharing

Why are we celebrating the opening of the “Sharing is Caring — Hamburg Extension” at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg today? Let’s say it was a logical development and it was fueled by the openness of many people. It started long before we talked about extending the format of the “Sharing is Caring” conferences to Hamburg.

It started in May 2014 at the The Annual Assembly of the European Museum Forum in Tallin, where I was invited for a preconference to talk about our digital activities. Jill Cousins, the Executive Director of Europeana, was also one of the speakers and talked among other things about the open collections of the Rijksmuseum and their Public Domain Policy. And she shared something with me: The contact of Lizzy Jongma, former data manager at the Rijksmuseum. A few month later I was there in Amsterdam and Lizzy and her colleagues openly shared her knowledge and experiences with me and encouraged us to open up our collection.

On the other hand we were influenced by the research carried out by Merete Sanderhoff, the initiator of the “Sharing is Caring” conferences in Denmark and her inspiring Anthology “Sharing is Caring” about the advantages of openness and sharing in the cultural sector.

Screenshot MKG Collection Online

What does opening up a collection actually mean?

When we launched our MKG Collection Online we decided to follow the examples of the Rijksmuseum and the Statens Museum for Kunst and others before them and established a Public Domain Policy.

“All images tagged with ”Public Domain” are free of rights and can be downloaded. These images can be used without restrictions for private, scientific, creative and commercial purposes.”

A Public Domain Policy means that what is already out of copyright and in the Public Domain should stay in the Public Domain after digitization. It means not to license the photograph or scan you take of the Public Domain artwork in order to facilitate reuse.

Opening up a collection means to make the image available via download, but also to make clear rights statements. The rights statement that we use is a CC0 Public Domain Dedication. This means the original artwork/object is in the PD and MKG waives off all rights possibly created through the digitization process.

But it also includes to indicate clearly what cannot be reused, like images that are still under copyright where the rights of the rightsholders have to be respected and that can’t be used without their permisson.

Opening up means to provide the information in varoius formats, also machine readable. Therefore for all published works in MKG Collection Online the descriptive metadata and the links to the images are available as an LIDO-XML dataset on GitHub.

Why we opted for this approach?

Before we opened up the collection we investigated how the museum can — in its role as a public cultural institution — make its collection visible and accessible to as many people as possible. Besides being inspired by the achievement of the Rijksmuseum and the example of the Rijksstudio, where people are encouraged to reuse the collection in new ways, it was logical regarding our founding charter as a museum of applied arts to allow reuse in order to boost creativity and innovation.


But is all of this as easy as it sounds? I have to disappoint you, it is not. There are challenges on the way.

Atelier J. Hamann, Hochsprung, 1902/03, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (Public Domain)

Clearing rights can be really challenging. This photograph created by the Atelier J. Hamann in Hamburg stands for this challenge. Because we don’t know, if only the father Hamann was involved, whose work is already in the Public Domain, or also his son who only died in 1975. So we were not able to publish it without permission of the rightsholders. Fortunately we managed to find out who they were, and they agreed on waiving off their rights with the CC0 Public Domain Dedication in order to make the work as reusable as possible.

But this is the exception. We at MKG hold vast amounts of objects that are out of commerce and are not commercially exploited anymore or never have been, but we are not able to show them online because we can’t identify the rightsholders.

And making clear rights statements is one thing, but are there clear enough for our users? Do they understand what they can do and what not?

There is also a huge pressure to get the collection digitized and catalogued as fast as possible and report our progress to the Ministry of Culture and Media in Hamburg every six month. On the other hand there is the need of metadata enrichment and rights clearance in order to unfold the potential of the digitized artifacts in the context of Linked Open Data and reusability.

Photo: Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe CC-BY 3.0

Opening up: More than digitizing the collections

Other than digitizing as much as possible there is much more what should be considered:

There is the mission of museums to educate and to be the trusted source in a world of fake news.

There is the responsibility to serve other communities with respect.

There are ideals and wishes of real people who want to get connected with our cultural heritage. Our concern should be how to make this happen in the best possible way.

What is useful for a researcher is different from what is important to young people.

To engage more people we have to open up several access points, via social media, Wikipedia or wherever our audiences could be.

Participants at the Coding da Vinci Nord Hackathon, 2016, Photo: CC-BY 3.0 DE, Gerald Heinemann/Mirco Larsen/puff4.0 agency

This means to create curated content, but first of all we have to make sure that there is staff who can accomplish this work. This is a journey called digital transformation and it doesn’t end when an object or an entire collection is digitized. Digital has to be part of everything, not only a project. This involves that we have to make sure to include all our own colleagues on this journey, train them and discuss the challenges together!

Are open collections revolutionary?

A little less than a year ago, at the German Mai-Tagung, I gave a presentation about our project and our open policy. We had a great discussion and I was overwhelmed by the reactions: This was no talk. This is Revolution! one colleague stated on Twitter.

But is opening up really revolutionary? This no-licensing practice of Public Domain material is recommended by the European Commision and Europeana, it is part of the digitization guidelines of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft which are recommended by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research in order to get funding for digitization projects. Obviously organisations that stand for innovation and high quality research, but for revolution?

What evolves so logically out of our founding charter of the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg might be a paradigm shift. Sharing authority about what can be done with our digitized cultural heritage seems to be threatening to some cultural institutions to an extent that some of them file lawsuits.

Let’s face it. This is the range of discussion: What is best practice for some institutions is revolutionary or even threatening for others. And this is why we needed a conference in Germany, in Hamburg, where we are at the forefront of this discussion, focusing on openness and sharing: To explain and explore why it is recommended by our ministries and can be beneficial for every cultural heritage and memory institution.

The concept of “Sharing is Caring — Hamburg Extension”

Therefore we developed the concept of the “Sharing is Caring” Seminar further, to our needs. Besides international keynote speakers, we focused on workshops that aim to give practical guidance and encourage to exchange about topics like copyright and licensing, economisation of cultural heritage, how to open up your institution step by step, how to contribute to hackathons, crowdsourcing, sharing authority, how to deal with sensible objects, how to use open content in art education and digital projects and participation through social sharing.

But the most important aspect is that we need a forum to encourage sharing failures and frustrations openly, not only our brightest moments. Because we share the same challenges all over the world and there is always someone who can learn from us, like we learned from others.

F0llow the discussion and share your thoughts #sharecarex



Antje Schmidt

Head of Digital Strategy at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg #mkghamburg | Art Historian | works in the field of #openGLAM #digitalstrategy #musetech