Multimedia: Cultural Heritage Institutions

Another source of great quality content are cultural heritage institutions. There are many benefits to using content made available by cultural heritage institutions.

  • Quality: the content that cultural heritage institutions provide tends to be of very high quality, particularly when it comes to reproductions of artworks and archival material.
  • Reliability: cultural heritage institutions have workflows and processes in place for doing proper copyright clearance. This means that, when possible, they only make available content that they know for sure is free of all copyrights, or they indicate otherwise if the content is not freely available.
  • Cultural relevance: many cultural heritage institutions provide content that is relevant for the region, jurisdiction or country where they are based at. While this doesn’t mean that their content is not biased in some way, they tend to provide more culturally relevant content. 

Cultural heritage institutions take different approaches to how they provide content. Some offer their content through their website, through an aggregator 1, and on third-party platforms like Wikimedia Commons. But others only choose to offer their content on their website; others will only use aggregators; and others will only use third-party platforms like Wikimedia Commons or Flickr Commons. Approaches will vary, as well as in some cases their licensing practices.

Caveat: The reader might find this section biased towards North American, European or otherwise Western cultural heritage institutions. Collecting practices of cultural heritage institutions are heavily tinted by colonialist practices. Some of these institutions have “world class collections” by virtue of colonization and other similar practices. Their wealth of resources and knowledge has allowed them to enter speedily into the digital era, while the rest of the world is still unable to participate in a foot of equity. When possible, cultural heritage institutions from other parts of the world are signaled, but the copyright status of the resources being offered by these institutions is way less clear and reliable than the ones being highlighted.

1 Aggregators are websites that harvest or receive content from affiliated providing institutions, making it easier to search in one place for all the information. 


Cultural heritage institutions worldwide

Knowing which institutions have decided to release their digital reproductions of work around the world can be very challenging. Luckily, the Collections Manager of Europeana, Douglas McCarthy, and Dr. Andrea Wallace, Lecturer in Law at University of Exeter, have been maintaining a spreadsheet on “Survey of GLAM Open Access Policy and Practice” (GLAM means “Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums''). While the goal of the survey is to track policies, it also provides useful links that allow to discover the media repositories of these institutions.


Caption: this is a screenshot of the survey.

 At the time of this writing (November 2020), “Column R” offers the data “OPEN DATA SOURCE 1”. That’s the link where most of those media files can be accessed. Using the sorting functionalities of the Google spreadsheet, anyone can search, for example, all the cultural heritage institutions from COUNTRY (column A)  that have as OPEN DATA SOURCE 1 (column R) “”. 

 Importantly enough, this survey only tracks institutions that make their digital reproductions available under CC BY, CC BY-SA, Public Domain Mark, CC0 or No Known Copyright (a label by the RightsStatements consortium). Currently “Column K” offers the data “LICENCE/RIGHTS STATEMENT FOR DIGITAL SURROGATES OF PUBLIC DOMAIN OBJECTS”. In case of doubts on the scope of the policies being captured in the survey, you can read Douglas McCarthy summary of the survey in “Uncovering the global picture of Open GLAM”. 

 This survey is not a repository. Is only pointing to the repositories of institutions (currently in Column R). However, it tends to be a very good discovery tool if you want to understand where you can find the resources being made available by some of these cultural heritage institutions.


Aggregator: Europeana

Europeana is the aggregator of all the cultural heritage institutions from Europe. Europeana collects material with a “Publishing framework” that ranks institutions that openly license their content better than the ones that don’t, so whenever you are making a search, you are likely to get first the multimedia content that you can freely reuse. 

 However, this means that not all content you find in Europeana can be re-used. For that reason, Europeana has put together a set of search filters that allow you to search only for material that you can reuse. They explain more on their policies in this FAQ about Reusability. This is a very short FAQ that you can keep handy whenever you have doubts about reuse conditions.

 Using search filters on Europeana

 Europeana also holds different types of media, from images to drawings to videos and sounds, and much more. For that, they offer different search filters.

  1. Go to 
  2. On the top right corner, you will find the magnifying glass that symbolizes the search function.
  3. Type your keywords.
  4. That will give you the first search results. Then you can apply the different search filters using the dropdown menus:
    1. Collection
    2. Type of media
    3. Can I use this?
    4. Providing country
    5. More filters