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AMICO Executive Committee

Report to the AMICO Executive Committee
December 1997


David Bearman and Jennifer Trant, Archives & Museum Informatics

Activity:

Archives & Museum Informatics devoted 12 days to AMICO business in December.

Summary

AMICO Internal:
Much of the activity was directed to getting agreement from AMICO Committees to next steps in the processes. We conducted a survey to map data in AMICO members systems to the proposed data dictionary (involving much assistance on our part) and continued our discussion with members of the Technical Committee to establish a specification for the structured data to be contributed to The AMICO Library. We drafted a "License to AMICO" and conducted a discussion with the Rights Committee about its terms. We initiated a discussion by the Users and Uses Committee of the functional requirements for access to The AMICO Library.

External to AMICO:
Our external activity was focused on continuing the discussion of terms for a distribution contract with the Research Libraries Group and continuing discussions about funding with the Mellon Foundation.

We asked several other organizations to make formal proposals to AMICO with respect to activities they had previously expressed interest in: Macmillan Reference Ltd. about possible co-publishing agreements regarding the Grove Dictionary of Art, the Joint Information Steering Committee of the Higher Education Funding Councils of the UK about a UK-wide license to AMICO, and commercial vendors about processing AMICO data prior to its transfer to RLG.

We began preparation for the AMICO Executive Committee and Board meetings in January. Agendas were drafted and circulated.

We held fairly extended on-line discussions and one face-to-face conversation with universities considering participation in the test-bed project. We processed the applications received from the universities interested in participating in the test-bed project and posted these to a discussion of the User and Uses Committee.

We held discussions with Don Waters of the National Digital Library Federation on ways for AMICO to collaborate with NDLF, including the possibility of NDLF co-sponsorship of an AMICO University Testbed research conference.

AMICO Status

University Testbed Proposals:
As of the end of December, we have received 18 proposals from about 80 universities to participate in the testbed. The reason for the difference in numbers of proposals and numbers of universities is that several proposals came from groups of universities. According to our agreement with RLG and our own plans for the test-bed, we can accept about 20 university participants, so we will probably limit some of the groups of institutions to having only a few of their university members participate during the first year.

RLG as Distributor:
We have begun discussion of final terms for the contract with the Research Libraries Group to be the distributor for the test-bed year and two years beyond. Under this agreement they will invest a minimum of $250,000 in developing a system to provide access to The AMICO Library and will provide free access to AMICO members.

We have initiated all the Committee decision processes that must be concluded prior to the January Board meeting in order to bring staff decisions forward for board approval.

We have continued the discussions with the Mellon Foundation on possible funding for AMICO as a whole. In the most recent communications, they have asked us to provide assurance that other museums will join AMICO, that software will be developed by distributors, and that universities will license the product. We are confident in our responses to the last two questions, but recognize the need for a "waiting list" of AMICO applicants. We hope the Executive Committee will recruit potential members to join.

We have drafted a letter of intent for the Hitachi Foundation for funding of a portion of the AMICO test-bed project. This is only the first, and far from the most promising, of the outside funding opportunities we will pursue to support specific project activity of AMICO.

Immediate Priorities:
Three issues of crucial importance to AMICO have not yet been attended to and must be completed before the Board meeting in January.

  1. The first of these involve establishing the legal basis for AMICO and its activities. Specifically, we need to have counsel draft:

      - a membership agreement

      - AMICO by-laws

      - a License to AMICO

      - a License from AMICO to Universities

      - a License from AMICO to Museums

  2. AMICO needs to acquire multimedia liability coverage and directors/trustees liability coverage for the testbed year. We are investigating this coverage, which is available from Chubb among others.

  3. We must ensure that AMICO members fulfill their commitments and meet schedules. RLG and the Mellon Foundation are not convinced that AMICO members will contribute the data promised on time and in a usable fashion. We are also a bit nervous because a sizable fraction of the AMICO membership does not participate in the on-line discussions or and has missed deadlines to contribute the information we have requested in the past. The AMICO Executive Committee needs to find a means to ensure that AMICO members fulfill their commitments to AMICO.

Strategic Issues:
In order to obtain funding from the Mellon Foundation, and to convince distributors that we will have a product of value to distribute, we need to be able to demonstrate that museums want to join AMICO and that they are prepared to contribute content to the library. Both the Mellon and RLG would like to see a quite a few new members wanting to join AMICO after the January AAMD meeting in order to give them the confidence to proceed.

We believe that both for existing members to perceive a benefit and for new members to want to join, will require that AMICO provide concrete benefits to those who have taken the risk of joining. We also suspect that the risk of losing such benefits may be the strongest means available to AMICO to ensure that members meet their commitment to the Consortium. We see these benefits taking the form of access to better content and assistance in compiling and validating their data. While the AMICO staff will ultimately provide this kind of assistance, it will probably take several years before members believe that this has substantial value. There are two opportunities on our current horizon to demonstrate the benefits of AMICO Membership:

  • negotiations with Macmillan Reference Ltd. could result in all members of AMICO having access to the Grove Dictionary of Art and all Founding Members of AMICO receiving a share of royalties . Financing from a licensing opportunity, which was not available to individual AMICO members, would enable AMICO to establish support structures for members immediately rather than in two years as planned.

  • negotiations with the Joint Information Steering Committee in the UK towards the end of providing all UK Higher Education institutions with access to AMICO and developing software for enhanced access to The AMICO Library, could ensure licensing income for AMICO in a deal that also gets The AMICO Library positioned in Europe as the beginning of a major push for European content and access.

Previously Reported Issues:
We have considered the response by the GII to our request that they work with us to extend their vocabulary resources and incorporate AMICO data. In the light of their unwillingness to commit to any concrete support for data matching or provide specific time frames for turning data around even if we invested in the matching process, we recommend that AMICO remove plans to use the GII vocabularies from its critical path.

As reported in October, current plans do not detail how the data contributed by member museums will be collated into a single coherent format for transmission to the distributors. We have taken initial steps of determining the costs of this service (budgeted at $46,000) and will need to sign contracts by the end of January.

We continue to believe that AMICO's standing in the community would be enhanced by joining several cultural heritage networking organizations and recruiting a high level advisory board to advise the Executive Committee. The organizations we would propose having AMICO join are: the National Initiative for Network Cultural Heritage (NINCH), the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) and the Consortium for Computer interchange of Museum Information (CIMI).

Budget:
Over the first three months of its operations, AMICO expenses are almost exactly on budget. We expect other operational costs for the remaining nine months to be on budget as well. Major areas of concern are:

  • obtaining pro-bono legal help to draft the agreements required to establish AMICO properly

  • abandoning most data enhancement in the absence of assistance from the GII

AMICO income projections for 1997/98 may be low. While we will bring in $10,000 more income from members than was projected (c.$94,000 as opposed to $84,000), we are unlikely to obtain the scheduled $120,000 in outside funding budgeted this fiscal year. The timing of grant proposal cycles is such that none of the grant funding proposals is likely to be successful in this fiscal year. [On the other hand, if the discussions with the Mellon Foundation are successful, they will bring in funding this fiscal year and beyond which is adequate to pay all of AMICO's budgeted shortfalls.]

In the approved AMICO budgets, we projected a spring meeting with university testbed participants and AMICO members that would break even in its costs. While this has no budgetary consequences, we are still holding off on organizing the meeting in order to assess whether the effort that would be involved would be worth the benefits we hope would accrue. We anticipate that this decision will be made in February, after discussions with the accepted university test-bed participants.


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