Mexicana. Repository of cultural heritage of Mexico. Towards a new management model

Alberto Pacheco Pedraza, Alejandra Medellín de la Pedra

Mexicana. Repository of the Cultural Heritage of Mexico is the aggregating repository of cultural collections of the institutions coordinated by the Secretariat of Culture of Mexico. The strength of this project lies in its inclusive spirit to promote the interoperability of information on cultural heritage. However, its creation was characterized by a vertical management model that failed to respond to major institutional challenges that must be resolved to ensure its growth and consolidation. These are:

1) The lack of an inventory of the collections safeguarded by the Secretariat.
2) The lack of institutional agreements and work methodologies that harmonize the different cataloging schemes.
3) The lack or little use of standards adhering to best practices for the documentation of cultural heritage.
4) Unequal access to digital platforms to manage information and digital assets.
5) As a consequence of all of the above, the difficulty to articulate an information aggregation network.

In this work we will delve into the characteristics of the strategy implemented by Mexicana to face these challenges.


The Secretariat of Culture was created in 2015 by the federal govenrment to coordinate the design and implementation of public policies for culture. In 2018, the Secretariat published the Digital Agenda for Culture (ADC), a strategy to articulate efforts in the use and exploitation of digital technologies and to promote the creation, research, dissemination and preservation of cultural expressions.

Mexicana was conceived, within the framework of the ADC, as an aggregating repository of the collections from the agencies coordinated by the Secretariat of Culture. Two years after its creation, we reviewed the project and its initial results, which led us to reorient its direction. Mexicana is coordinated by the General Directorate of Information and Communication Technologies and its mission is to integrate, disseminate and preserve information from a broad set of cultural heritage organizations like museums, libraries and documentation centers that manage a diverse and complex universe of objects of artistic, cultural and historical interest.

As Trilce Navarrete suggests, online collections are our common knowledge, which is generated from a heritage perspective, that is, it belongs to all of us and contributes to shaping our way of conceiving the world (Navarrete 2020, p. 4).
Navarrete (2020, p. 2) is correct in pointing out that “Museums have carefully assembled their collections through generations. They have collected, curated and researched these objects, generating a world of information. In fact, this information is their main capital.”

Perhaps that is a wealth that neither Mexican museums in particular, nor the broader set of cultural organizations, have assumed or exploited. This could be the reason that explains why the online publication of objects of cultural interest and their information have not been part of a comprehensive and coordinated public policy.

In this context, Mexicana represents an important effort to promote the online publication of cultural heritage information.

Mexicana subscribes to the principles of open access; we insist on the need for a public policy that achieves to give use value to information on cultural heritage. Transforming this commitment into a reality requires the articulation of three fields of action:
1. Technological development: information architecture and services for the management of information and digital assets
2. Theoretical-conceptual foundation: a data model that incorporates the use of standards, authority controls, controlled vocabularies, etc.
3. Strategic management that promotes the creation of intra and inter-institutional collaboration networks to create shared frameworks.

The documentation of cultural objects must be robust and systematic and have in mind the possibility of relating, contextualizing and enriching them through national or thematic aggregators. This effort requires native systems that make up an authentic network of information providers with the capacity to manage their information in accordance with standards and best practices.

Pedro Ángeles distinguishes two approaches in the management of aggregation systems: the first one is a top-down model, which is characterized by the design of general policies from the domain of the central organizations or higher hierarchical levels, to promote documentation based on the best practices and general guidelines that focus mainly in interoperability and quantitative goals. The second approach, the bottom-up model, has a more local scope and dedicates more efforts to analyze and solve the problems of standardization in the documentation of the description of cultural heritage in its sources of origin (Ángeles 2019, p. 48).

The top-down model guided the creation of Mexicana, and there was every reason to do so because the project was conceptualized and developed in a relatively short period of time: the last two years of the government period that ended in December 2018. For its creation, the project had a large team and sufficient financial resources. But this institutional context was modified with the change of government and we are convinced that the bottom-up approach is more suitable to achieve the growth and sustainability of the repository. Our intention is to articulate an ecosystem that facilitates the interoperability of information on Mexican cultural heritage and broadens the possibilities of open access and, at the same time, strengthens the capacities of our data providers and recover the experience that already exists within Mexican cultural institutions.

Information provision models

A joint study carried out in the United Kingdom that analyzes the delivery, management and access models for electronic publications and open access journals in higher education through open access repositories, identifies three possible models:
1. Centralized model, in which resources are deposited directly in a national depository and then made available to users
2. Distributed model, in which the resources are deposited in a distributed network of institutional, thematic and open access files, which complies with the OAI protocol and whose metadata are collected and made available to users; and
3. “Harvesting” model, which is a variant of the distributed model, in which metadata is collected, enhanced, and standardized before being accessible to users. (Swan et al. 2005).

These provision models are useful to understand the context and the modes of aggregation of information in Mexicana, a repository which features all three.

The first set of data providers are those that do not have a digital repository to organize, manage and share information through the OAI protocol with other aggregating repositories. These providers, which are the majority of those who currently collaborate with Mexicana, delivered their information in a database directly to the Mexicana team. In some cases, we generated the databases from the information and documentary sources they provided; we configured the metadata, normalized it and ingested it in the repository and we did not make any returns or feedback to the source of origin.[1]

The second set of data providers were seven museums that, within the framework of the ADC, developed their own repository with the idea of articulating a decentralized aggregation network to manage the information of their collections and interoperate with Mexicana.[2] However, there was only an initial harvest. Unfortunately, museums were unable to appropriate this tool due to insufficient knowledge transfer and training to use the platform. One of the museums even had the opportunity to undertake a digitization project but was unable to incorporate it into its online collection.

Finally, Mexicana has a third set of data providers with whom the relationship for the provision of information was carried out according to the “harvesting” model. These are three institutions that already had their own repository from which data was collected through the OAI protocol and was mapped and normalized according to Mexicana’s data model.[3]

Executive management strongly influences information provision models; reorienting both is one of the project’s priorities at this stage.

Mexicana 2020: towards a decentralized management of collections

When the authors of this article were appointed to coordinate Mexicana in early 2020, circumstances changed dramatically. The project must overcome the financial austerity measures dictated by the federal government and we also have to face the Covid-19 pandemic, a great challenge for GLAMs which must accelerate their digital transformation processes to communicate with their audiences. Therefore, it is essential for Mexicana”s data providers to have digital tools that they can easily appropriate, not only so that we have a robust aggregator, but also so that they can manage their information more efficiently and generate added value through its administration, diffusion and reuse.

Before the pandemic forced the closure of face-to-face activities, we had already outlined a new strategy called Mexicana 2020: towards a decentralized management of assets, which has a bottom-up approach. It has a pilot character and is being developed with the participation of the National Museum of Popular Cultures, the National Museum of Mexican Railways and the National Museum of Printing.

In this strategy our allies are Pedro Ángeles and Claudio Molina from the Institute for Aesthetic Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and the Tainacan project team coordinated by Dalton Martins from the University of Brasilia.

The methodology of the Mexicana 2020 strategy comprises three stages:
1) Diagnosis of technological appropriation and status of digital collections through a questionnaire applied to the three museums.
2) Standardization of information from its collections.
3) Implementation of a digital repository for each one of the three museums.

The strategy began with the design of a Questionnaire to evaluate the level of technological maturity in the management of collections in museums in Mexico that was applied in May 2020 in the three museums that participate in the pilot.[4] Even though the sample is small, the results are useful to get to know the problems that museums face and to design a service model that provides strategies to solve them.

The complete results of the Questionnaire are available online, but for the purposes of this article we highlight the findings related to three of the seven variables analyzed[5]. These three variables are: Information management, Information technology infrastructure (ICT) and Media and communication.

a) Information management

This dimension was designed to identify the museological documentation practices in the museums. The most relevant findings are:
– Two museums have inventoried more than 50% of their collection.
– The components of the documentation system most used by the three museums are: digitization of the collection, location control of the items, catalog and inventory.
– None of the museums uses standardization procedures or controlled vocabularies.
– Only one museum responded that it tried to use a conceptual/ontology model.
– Two of the three museums indicated that they do not use any metadata standard and another indicated that it partially uses it.
– One museum has digitized between 26 and 50% of its collection, another has digitized between 11 and 25% and the third has digitized less than 10%.
– Although all three museums use software to manage their documentation systems, it is not specialized software. It is used for inventory, cataloging, and internal reporting tasks.

b) Information technology infrastructure (ICT)

The most relevant finding in this dimension is that none of the three museums has personnel specialized in ICT. As they do not have a budget that allows them to outsource these services, they depend on the support of other instances of the same institution to carry out digital projects and this usually means long waiting times and poor efficiency.

Regarding infrastructure, the three museums have computer equipment, have a good internet connection and, although they do not have their own server, they have servers managed by the IT areas of their institutions.

c) Media and communication

In this dimension, we evaluate the existence and quality of the museum’s interaction on the internet. The most relevant findings are:

– Museums provide partial access to their collections on the internet: two out of three share an image and partial information of the items in the collection and one indicated that they only share the image.

– The three museums share information about their collections on the institutional website, two of them share this information also through social media and one of them indicated that they also share it through a third-party website.

– The most used social media platforms are Facebook and Twitter, followed by Instagram.

– The types of content that they share through social media are: information about their collections, events and institutional and allied news. Two museums indicated that they also organize streaming events and one of them indicated that it offers virtual tours.

– The three museums share part of their collections through Mexicana. The two museums that had Collective Access installed in 2018 no longer use it.

Two of the museums have institutional websites but their information is not up-to-date and neither do they have direct access to the contents or the collections, which constitutes a limitation to give access to and disseminate them. Among the reasons that prevent updating the information on institutional websites are lack of skills to do it, lack of trained personnel, technical problems in the platforms they use to manage their content as well as their dependence on other instances.

In the absence of other options, social media have become their only option for sharing content.

Altogether, the results of the Questionnaire corroborate that:
– It is necessary to provide museums with tools to manage the platforms they use.
– It is a priority to incorporate metadata standards, controlled vocabularies, and eventually ontologies.
– The cataloging and digitization processes of collections must be strengthened.
– It is necessary to increase the quantity and quality of information of the collections that is shared through the internet.

The second and third stages of Mexicana 2020 

The second stage of the pilot is the normalization of information. As part of this process, the museums’ staff participated in a Seminar on data refinement for the cultural sector imparted by Claudio Molina Salinas. In addition to training them in the use of Open Refine to improve their databases and reconcile their information through terminological authority controls, during the Seminar each museum redesigned their metadata templates, which will be the base for cataloging the collections they will ingest in their new repositories. This seminar gave rise to the creation of a space for collaboration between peers that was very well received by the museums’ staff.

The third stage consists of the implementation of new repositories for the museums, and is currently in process with the collaboration of Tainacan, a Brazilian project for the management of collections. Although we had the possibility of opting for other solutions, we decided to work with Tainacan because we have a shared vision and similar aspirations, and the questionnaire we applied in both countries showed us very similar conditions between the Mexican and Brazilian museums. Once the information from the museums is normalized and ingested in their repositories, Mexicana will harvest it through the OAI-PHM interoperability protocol. In this way, we hope to increase our data as museums increase information or have new digitizations of their collections.


The results obtained so far show us that there is a genuine interest on the part of the museum to participate in activities that help them manage their collections more efficiently. There has also been a remarkable disposition to create spaces for dialogue between peers that did not exist before. The main motivation for museums is the possibility of sharing their collections online and, so far, it seems that Mexicana’s strategy is being successful.

This strategy will be replicated with other data providers in order to lay the foundations of a decentralized and distributed governance model whose pillars must be: capacity building, technological appropriation and a policy of open, standardized and interoperable data.

Although each museum has to strengthen its internal processes, the Secretariat of Culture, as the governing institution, must provide the regulatory framework and the tools to advance towards the construction of a new culture of cultural heritage documentation.

[1] These are: Dirección General de Bibliotecas; Dirección General de Publicaciones; Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de las Revoluciones de México; Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía; Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica; Radio Educación, Centro Nacional de las Artes; Centro de la Imagen; Canal 22; Centro Nacional para la Preservación del Patrimonio Cultural Ferrocarrilero (Museo Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Mexicanos), Coordinación Nacional de Desarrollo Cultural Infantil (Alas y Raíces); Biblioteca Vasconcelos; Festival Internacional Cervantino.

[2] Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares, Museo Nacional de San Carlos, Museo de Arte Moderno, Museo Nacional de la Estampa, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Museo Nacional de Historia y Museo Nacional del Virreinato.

[3] These were INBA Digital from the National Institute of Fine Arts (INBAL), Mediateca-INAH from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and the Collection of National Indigenous Languages (ALIN) from the National Institute of Indigenous Languages (INALI).

[4] The Questionnaire is the product of the joint work between the teams of Mexicana, of the Secretariat of Culture, and Dalton Martins, Luciana Conrado and Danielle Do Carmo, of the Tainacan project. The Tainacan team applied the same questionnaire in Brazil to the Museu das Telecomunicações, the Museu Major Levy Sobrinho and the Museu do Índio, all dependent on the Instituto Brasileiro de Museus.

[5] The seven dimensions of analysis are: Characterization of the institution, Information management, Human resources, Information technology infrastructure, Media and communication, Institutional management and Governance.


Ángeles Jiménez, P. (2019) Arte, museos, documentación y objetos culturales. Gaceta de Museos 73 (Third Epoch), April-July.

Navarrete, T. (2020) Documentación en museos del futuro. Más Museos Revista Digital 2/1, January-June. [Available at:].

Swan, A. et al. (2005) Delivery, Management and Access Model for E-prints and Open Access Journals within Further and Higher Education. [Available at:].


Alberto Pacheco Pedraza

He studied Political Science at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and has a master's degree in Regional Development from the Colegio de la Frontera Norte. He attended a training program for emerging leaders in museums and cultural management by the Institute of Leadership in Museums and the Universidad Iberoamericana. He was general coordinator of the Mexican Federation of Friends of Museums. He currently coordinates Mexicana. Repository of the cultural heritage of Mexico.


Alejandra Medellín de la Piedra

She has a master's degree in performing arts from the University of British Columbia, Canada. For many years she worked as a researcher at the “Rodolfo Usigli” Theater Research Center and the “José Limón” Dance Research Center, both belonging to the National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature (INBAL). She coordinated the creation of INBA Digital, an open access repository. She currently coordinates Mexicana. Repository of Cultural Heritage of Mexico.