Practical Uses of Open APIs for Museums

Diane Drubay
Published in
4 min readAug 8, 2019


(back from the first edition of the API Culture Day on 28th June 2019 in Lyon, France)

Following up on my last article about the learnings from the first API Culture Day organized by biinlab in collaboration with We Are Museums at the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon in France last June 28th, I give you today the learnings from Isabelle Reusa’ speech “API and Museums — A Story to Write”.

Isabelle Reusa worked for 4years at the exhibition department of the Réunion des musées nationaux — Grand Palais after taking the challenge to re-invent the diffusion model of the photo database of the RMN.

“When we work in digital, we create the world of tomorrow”.

Being able to work on the project “Images d’Art” for 5 years led her to learn about APIs but also about the technological infrastructure and transformation management. She now works as an API expert for different industries. She created the open-innovation meetups “API dot Culture” held in Paris a few times per year and participates in the international conference API Days.

©Anaïs Guyon

During the API Culture Day, Isabelle explained how cultural institutions can be part of people’s daily life via smart digital interfaces. Today, all the content available in a museum should be ready to be useful and used, and APIs are here for that.

“Working on your API is preparing the digital interactions that you will have with your audience.”

API means “Applications Programmation Interface”, and it is an interface used by developers to access digital content, nothing else. Isabelle took the example of the website of Fine Arts Museum of Lyon to show that the material currently online could be fed by a “Collection API” to give info about the permanent collections and the education programme. But this is not all! The website could be smartly updated thanks to a “Practical Info API” to feed the opening hours, the access map, a ”Agenda API” that will give info about the upcoming events in the museum or related to the programme, a “Ressource API” to provide access to images, videos, audio guides, educational content or even a specific road for kids, Chinese visitors or about one topic.

Thinking about a different kind of APIs like that is a way to anticipate all the future needs and being able to automatize the life of the website, apps or all the other digital interfaces from the museum. To open your API to developers means being able to feed Google Maps, Tripadvisor, Tourism offices, but also different cultural startups like Cloudguide, some chatbots, etc. It is a way to spread more info about your museum and still staying in control of it.

It also enables museums to connect their specialized content with more generalist data like geolocalisation, Wikipedia, video or a podcast or to other database or content. It also allows museums to use external content to feed digital interfaces with augmented-content (multilingual from Wikipedia, archive video from the INA, voice-version of material, etc.) and even to automatize multimedia content production line augmented-narratives, games, etc.

And to finish, Isabelle gave us precious guidances on the cultural transformations that we should start to embody to welcome the potential of APIs fully:

  • Let go on the control of the interfaces and give priority to the power of the content
  • Always use content multiple times and valorize it as it should
  • Understand that it is your role as a museum to share only verified content and become an authentification agent

Next article: ‘What are you ready to do to preserve the data quality?’ by Philippe Rivière, Head of Communication and Digital at Paris Musées



Diane Drubay

Founder of @wearemuseums. Co-founder of @alterhen. Arts & Culture for the Tezos ecosystem. Visual artist nudging for nature awareness.