Open for the World – open access at Taiwan’s National Palace Museum

Hibiscus With Wild Geese, silk tapestry, Song dynasty (960–1279). National Palace Museum, Open Government Data Licence

Taiwan’s National Palace Museum has a permanent collection of nearly 700,000 ancient Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks, encompassing 8,000 years of Chinese art from the Neolithic age to today.

In 2015, the Museum adopted open data policies to make its collections images and research materials more accessible to the public. Assistant Research Fellow Wendy, Wu-Yun, Mao tells us how the policy was developed and what its impact has been.

Hi Wendy, what’s your background and what you do at the museum?

I’m a permanent researcher at the National Palace Museum in Taiwan (NPM). I am a Bachelor in Law and I have an MBA in Intellectual Property Management and before joining NPM, I was an in-house legal and licensing salesperson in a well-known company based in Taiwan and China.

I’m currently the deputy section chief in the Marketing & Licensing Department of NPM. My work encompasses many different aspects of IP management and licensing, and I am the only person at the museum who specialises in this field. Working on NPM’s open access policy is one of my important professional duties.

Can you summarise the Museum’s open access policy for our readers?

Rather than a policy, I would describe it as a “movement” or “revolution” at the museum. Liberalising access to our digital collections led to a paradigm shift in NPM’s wider value proposition and cultural stewardship (both the physical artifacts and derivative works) from protectionism to free culture.

By adopting open access we want to build connections between the museum and the public, to achieve the ultimate goal of museum democracy. Our approach covers a variety of services and resources. It’s not just about offering free images to download. It’s also about making our museum’s services friendlier, for example by allowing photography in the galleries, offering free admission after 4:30 P.M., and so on.

Empowering our audiences to interpret and reuse our collections as they wish is a powerful incentive for people to participate, enjoy and co-create in the museum. We think that all of these measures are gateways to ‘open access’ that help people enjoy NPM in an easier and more welcoming way.

What inspired the policy and how was it developed?

Our former director Mr. Lin developed the concept of “publicising the NPM”. He argued that, for various historical and cultural reasons, for a long time NPM had little real connection with the citizens of Taiwan. Although NPM has an incredible collection of Chinese artifacts and has been acclaimed as one of the greatest museums in the world, its influence, degree of support and local recognition were lower than those of, say, the Louvre or the British Museum.

Mr. Lin believed that the main reason for this was that NPM was not open enough to the general public. So, upon his inauguration, he established “publicisation” (open access) as the main policy direction. Here are some of Mr. Lin’s thoughts on the “publicisation of NPM” (taken from the museum’s 2016 annual report):

‘In addition to fostering public use of artifacts and facilities, museum publicisation includes the public’s right to interpret cultural artificacts. The public has the right to participate, create and enjoy the museum’s research, collection and exhibitions. Through new artifact research and interpretation as well as changes in curatorial concepts and approach of exhibition dialogues, the meaning of NPM’s ancient artifacts in a new age as well as a new emotional connection with a modern audience have been created.’

The Museum uses the Taiwanese Open Government Data Licence for its data. Why was this legal tool chosen (rather than a Creative Commons licence or waiver)?

The National Palace Museum is under the supervision of the Executive Yuan and, before NPM launched its open access policy, the Executive had already enacted the Open Government Data Licence across its portfolio. Therefore, to comply with this regulatory context, NPM chose the Open Government Data Licence as the legal tool for its Open Data platform.

The only requirement that NPM places on its open images is that correct attribution to NPM is given when images are used. The Open Government Data Licence is compatible with the Creative Commons CC BY 4.0 International licence (see Article 4.2 of Open Government Data Licence for details).

With this licence compatibility in place, and to meet the expectations of our legislature, NPM is now trying to modify its open licensing regime to allow direct use of Creative Commons licences. We’re also looking at way to releasing our images in greater number and at higher quality, and to optimise the searching and browsing experiences we currently offer.

How has the museum promoted its open data policy?

We have held many events to promote the policy. For example, we ran an unprecedented crossover event that combined a runway fashion show, DJ set, street dance and hip-hop with art resources coming from NPM’s open data platform:

In addition to this, we’ve run competitions inviting participants to use open images to design new products, and we helped the winners commercialise their creations. We also held hackathons (in 2017 and 2018) using our open images and API.

Many institutions struggle to balance open access with pressures to generate income from digital collections. Is that relevant to your museum?

It has some relevance but it’s not a big issue because NPM’s budget comes from a central government grant, rather than self-funding. Congressmen set annual revenue generation targets for NPM but if we fail to reach these goals, only explanatory reports need to be submitted, which is not so difficult for the employees.

To put it more clearly, NPM’s revenue flows into the national treasury every year. The more we contribute to the national treasury, the more likely it is that we will receive higher budget. But the sources of NPM’s income vary greatly, from entrance tickets to creative product sales. Revenue from our digital collections is relatively low and this reduces the importance of this topic in the context of our open access policymaking.

How does the Museum’s open access policy serve its core mission and public? (e.g. scholarly publication, public programmes, Open Educational Resources)

As NPM’s resources come from the national budget, funded by Taiwanese taxpayers, we believe that people are entitled to use them in the easiest and friendliest way. We also extend this philosophy to global citizens: everyone can use NPM’s open resources free of charge, regardless of their nationality and identity.

We hope this will inspire people’s creativity and, in time, enlarge NPM’s influence in the world. So apart from requesting attribution, we don’t set limitations on the usage of our open resources. Any and all types of reuse, whether commerical or non-commercial, are encouraged.

Do you publish open data on other platforms?

Personally, I have strongly advocated the sharing of our open images to well-known platforms such as Wikimedia Commons, Flickr and Pinterest. I have written an academic article on this which is under discussion at NPM, so I hope this will happen soon.

Who are the open access influencers in Taiwan?

NPM’s position and characteristics are unique in Taiwan so we tend to look abroad for inspiration and examples of good practice. I’ve studied the open strategies of several GLAMs and the approach of the Rijksmuseum is probably my favourite. The Rijksmuseum is really proactive in sharing its story with the world, and it documents its policies and open access practice really well.

What are you working on now that our readers should know about?

Currently the major project I’m working on is copyright clearance of our publications. This is the first time that we’ve tried to thoroughly check every element of the articles in our publications to ensure that there are no copyright issues. It’s a time-consuming but vital task that will enable further release of those publications. Copyright analysis and clearance are, of course, crucial to the successful operation of open access policies.

Please cite this article as follows:

Wendy, Wu-Yun, Mao and Douglas McCarthy, ‘Open for the World — open access at Taiwan’s National Palace Museum’, 2020 (Medium)