Discussions between the Getty Information Institute
and leading national and international umbrella agencies and government
bodies in 1993 established that there was a consensus on the need to
collectively address issues relating to documentation practices and the
implementation of international standards.
In July of that year the
Institute convened a meeting in Paris to discuss the possibility of
developing an international collaborative project to define documentation
standards for identifying cultural objects. The meeting was attended by
representatives of the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe
(now the Organization for
Security and Co-operation in Europe), the Council
of Europe, the International
Council of Museums, Interpol, UNESCO,
and the US Information
The participants agreed on the need for such an initiative and
recommended that it focus on developing a standard for the information
required to identify cultural objects, and on the mechanisms for
encouraging the implementation of the standard. As a result of these
consultations, a project was defined and initiated, one of the objectives
of which was to recommend an international 'core' documentation standard
for the identification of cultural objects.
The findings of the surveys and recommendations of
the roundtable meetings established that there was strong agreement on the
categories of information that should constitute the standard. The result
is Object ID, a
standard that is best defined in terms of the ways in which it can be implemented:
- to provide a checklist of the information required to identify stolen or missing objects,
- as a documentation standard that establishes the
minimum level of information needed to describe an object for purposes of identification,
- as a key building block in the development of
information networks that will allow divers organizations to exchange descriptions of objects rapidly,
- to provide a solid basis for training programmes to teach the documentation of objects.
The standard has been developed in response to an
identified need, and is designed to be used by non-specialists and to be
capable of being implemented in traditional, non-computerized ways of
making inventories and catalogues as well as in more sophisticated
computerized databases. Because Object ID is designed to be used by a
number of communities, and by specialists and non-specialists alike, it
identifies broad concepts rather than specific fields and uses simple,
non-technical language. Similarly, its function as a checklist usable by
the public led to the decision to present the definitions of the
information categories in the form of questions - such as 'What materials
is the object made of?' - an approach that was found to be more
comprehensible to non-specialists than definitions in the form of statements.
From the outset, the project recognized the need to
work collaboratively with organizations in six key communities:
- Cultural heritage organizations (including
museums, national inventories, and archaeological organizations)
- Law-enforcement agencies
- Customs agencies
- The art trade
- The insurance industry
The information needs of these users vary, but all
need documentation that makes it possible to identify individual objects.
Building a broad consensus across these communities on the categories of
information essential for identifying objects was the essential
precondition to a successful outcome for this initiative.
The first step toward establishing consensus on this
core information was to identify and compare the information requirements
of each of these communities, to understand the purposes for which their
information is collected, and to determine how it is used and with whom it
is shared. These requirements were identified by a combination of
background research, interviews, and, most importantly, major
international questionnaire surveys.
The first of these surveys was carried out between
July and December 1994 by the Getty Information Institute, with the
endorsement of the Council of Europe, ICOM, and UNESCO. The survey
elicited responses from organizations in 43 countries, including many
major museums and galleries, heritage documentation centres, Interpol, and
a number of national law-enforcement agencies. The survey also took
account of existing standards and standard setting initiatives in the
museum world, including those of the International Council of Museums, the
Association (UK), and the Canadian
Heritage Information Network.
The results of this preliminary survey - published
in July 1995 as Protecting Cultural Objects through International
Documentation Standards: A Preliminary Survey - demonstrated that there
did, indeed, exist a broad consensus on many of the categories of
information that are candidates for inclusion in the proposed standard.
Encouraged by these findings, the project went on to survey the
information needs of the other key communities, namely dealers in art,
antiques, and antiquities; appraisers of personal property; art insurance
specialists; and customs agencies. Over 1,000 responses were received from
organizations in 84 countries and dependencies, making this survey the
largest of its kind ever carried out.
It is important to point out that Object ID is not
an alternative to existing standards; rather it is a core standard created
for a very specific purpose - that of describing cultural objects to
enable them to be identified. As such it can be incorporated into existing
systems and nested within existing standards. For example, in August 1997
the Executive Council of the International Council of Museums (ICOM)
adopted a resolution that "A museum should be able to generate from
its collection information system such data (preferably according to the
'Object ID' standard) that can identify an object in case of theft or
looting." Similarly, it has been nested within the Spectrum standard
for museum information developed by the Museum Documentation Association
(United Kingdom). It has also been incorporated into a number of
law-enforcement databases, including the National
Stolen Art File of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (United States).
Combating the illicit trade in cultural objects
requires international collaboration among a variety of types of
organizations in both the public and private sectors. The contribution of
the Object ID project has been to identify a minimum standard for
describing cultural objects, to encourage the making of descriptions of
objects in both private and public ownership, and to bring together
organizations that can encourage the implementation of the standard, as
well as those that will play a part in developing networks along which
this information can circulate.
Object ID has been translated into 13 languages.
When supplying descriptions of works of art, the
National Central Bureaus of Interpol's 178
member countries use standardized forms called CRIGEN/ART forms. These
forms exist in Arabic, English, French and Spanish and are used to enter
data on stolen works of art into Interpol's database at the General
Secretariat. This ensures that all police departments use the same
vocabulary to describe the same objects.
Object ID is fully compatible with Interpol's CRIGEN/ART forms and its database.