Research: Mapping Open Source

A study of museums’ participation in open source software development

Detail of network diagram from Mapping Open Source in Museums website.

November 15, 2018 | MCN | Denver

Sparked by a brief Twitter conversation in the spring of 2018, this project was an effort to understand the use and creation of open source code within the museum community. It focused specifically on exploring code written by museums and used by other museums, rather than on museums’ use of other open source projects. The study included a survey distributed to museum technologists, and a comprehensive analysis of public GitHub data, visualized at

This project was presented in the talk “‘We’re Open Sourcing It’: Mapping the Creation and Reuse of Open Source Code within the Museum Sector”, at MCN 2018 in Denver, and updated the following year.

Original Talk & Project Description

In the past several years, we have seen the rise of open access content in the sector, as museums are increasingly publishing text and sharing images for public use under permissive, open licenses. The creation and reuse of open source code is following a similar trajectory with the rise of the sharing economy and of sites like GitHub which have mainstreamed the sharing of code. A list of museums and open source projects on GitHub included just a dozen institutions in 2015, whereas today, an updated version of the same list identifies nearly seventy. Indeed, declarations of the value of creating and sharing open source software for and with one another have become a sort of mantra in the field. But is this actually happening? Are museums re-using one another’s code? What are the pitfalls and opportunities this presents? What does it mean for museums to be a software publishers?

This presentation will share the results of a detailed survey on open source software originating in the museum sector, which seeks to map and analyze who is publishing open source projects and whether these projects are used by other museums.

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