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December 4, 2012: USC Researchers Guiding the Smithsonian American Art Museum to the Next Generation of the Internet

Press Release
Contact: Robert Perkins - 213-740-9226 or perkinsr@usc.edu
December 04, 2012 —


The USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI) is collaborating with the Smithsonian American Art Museum to provide more detailed and more easily accessed information about artworks in its collection online than was previously possible.

Online users will be able to access records of more than 40,000 artworks, which will be converted to Linked Open Data (LOD). LOD is a system that tags and publishes information online in a structured format that is designed to be easier to interlink — both inside and outside of the museum’s online presence.

Using more precise tagging information than current web publishing formats allow, LOD lets users to access, reuse, enrich and share information dynamically and eliminate many of the useless results sometimes found in other searches. The USC team has already mapped data into a standard LOD model, and currently is working to link the published data on each artwork and artist to other online resources, such as DBpedia — the Linked Open Data version of Wikipedia.

“We are excited about developing and applying our research tools to support the museum community,” said Pedro Szekely, research assistant professor at ISI. “The resulting tools are generic, will work with any museum’s databases, and they will be made available for free to the museum community.”

In essence, LOD is an advancement of the “Semantic Web,” a movement with the goal of creating a system in which machines will be able to understand the meaning (or “semantics”) of information on the Internet and be able to perform tasks automatically and locate related information on behalf of the user.

“The Smithsonian American Art Museum has embraced technology that connects our amazing collections with global audiences since 1995 when we launched one of the first museum websites. Through this partnership with the Information Sciences Institute, the museum continues to be a leader within the global museum community in using emerging technologies. ISI’s expertise provides us with the tools that will allow researchers and casual visitors alike to make new connections across the story of America’s visual culture,” said Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

As more information becomes available in LOD, it will provide much broader access than has been possible thus far, facilitating a more collaborative process. Many museums have their own websites, but users currently have to visit each individual website to find out what each collection contains. As cultural institutions convert to LOD, users will be able to search seamlessly across the content of stand-alone websites.

For example, if someone were looking to access information about the works of artist Jackson Pollock, he or she could easily search and obtain relevant results automatically assembled using the LOD from every museum that owns Pollock artwork.

“We hope several art museums will join in the effort and work with us,” said Eleanor Fink, art and technology consultant for the project and former director of the Getty Information Institute. Fink adds that the project currently underway will serve as a model that can provide LOD conversion guidelines and tools for other museums and art organizations.

This press release is available on the USC Press Room website.