Today is a big day for Amina, age 11. She has already analyzed the cracks in 5th-century sculptures of the Buddha to learn about climate change in central Asia. She has also compared 3D printed dinosaur and bird pelvises to track evolution. Once she even became an ancient Greek sculptor by digitally remixing kouroi to create her very own. Her favorite video game—set in a series of Renaissance cathedrals—is built around puzzles made up of column capitals, gargoyles, and church portals.

In fact, she has interacted with hundreds of different cultural resources from museum collections all over the world. But today is different. Today she is going to the City Museum to see the original objects for herself, in person.

Amina’s story is the result of two powerful trends shaping the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums (GLAM) community. The first is digital content creation: the process of freeing pieces of a collection from the limits of their physical materiality and enabling them to exist in a virtual space. The second is Open Access: making those digitized cultural resources available for everyone to use without restriction..

1.1 What This Publication Will Help You Achieve

This publication is designed to help you implement an Open Access program for the 3D digitization of cultural resources (e.g., human- and natural-made objects; events; and environments). In most cases, it assumes “you” are working at a GLAM institution and are interested in implementing a 3D Open Access program there. It provides you with the tools to identify technical and legal characteristics of cultural resources that will lend themselves to digitization. The publication describes the steps required to actually create these resources, helping you approach the digital content creation process with confidence. Finally, this paper will explain how you can launch a successful Open Access program, allowing the public to engage with digitized versions of the works in your collection at a broad scale.

Open Access is critical to this process. Digital and digitized cultural resources do not merely serve as archives and records: they exist as digital objects in and of themselves, as well as in relationship with hardware and software environments that present and represent them to us. The greater aim is to make use of cultural resources in contemporary life for accessible,1 creative, commercial, and learning purposes with a vital agency. Digital cultural resources should enable and empower a broad spectrum of users, now and in the future, to fashion new cultural production without undue burden or restrictions. Open Access is a baseline requirement when creating born digital and digitized content in the 21st century.

Starting your digital content creation process with Open Access approaches and methods will help in decision-making and taking actionable steps as you advance your creation, production, and distribution efforts. As such, openness, in its most equitable, expansive, and optimistic sense, is a guiding ethos and ethical principle when undertaking this work. Open Access may be new to you, but that does not make it an impossible goal. Others have come before you, paved the way, and demonstrated best practices. The approaches and examples in this publication will inform and inspire you on your Open Access journey.

1.2 How This Publication Is Structured

This publication is designed to be both an introduction and reference to your digital 3D content creation process. An initial reading will give you a grounding in how to begin to approach your Open Access program. As you start to implement the program, this publication can serve as a reference to return to in order to understand specific points that suddenly become relevant.

Once you move beyond this introduction, this paper begins by providing you context around Open Access. That section explains what Open Access is and how using an Open Access approach can help you structure your successful digital content program. It will also help you appreciate why Open Access is critical to a successful digital content process.

From there the publication moves into important technical background about digital 3D models. Understanding—or at least being familiar with—the technical characteristics of 3D models will help you understand what kinds of environments, events, and objects lend themselves most readily to the types of digitization described in this publication. It will also help you start to appreciate the various options for how to technically approach the digital content process, as well as identify specific use cases and audiences for the 3D models.

At that point, the publication begins to focus on the process itself. These sections will help you structure your approach so that it is a success. That includes understanding use cases and audiences for 3D models; the creation, storage, and preservation of the 3D models themselves; and making those 3D models available to the public.

The technology and practices related to Open Access 3D digital content creation and its release under Open Access principles are rapidly evolving. We hope to regularly update this resource in order to give you confidence that the information you are receiving is as relevant and timely as possible.

1.3 How to Approach Your Open Access Program

Your Open Access program involves a number of steps. Each of the steps summarized below is explored more fully in its corresponding section.2

1.3.1 Set Goals

Identify the key objectives, routes to, and measure of success for your 3D digital content creation and publishing project. This includes identifying potential users and those users’ needs. Creating and distributing 3D digital content involves a number of choices and tradeoffs. Having concrete goals will help you evaluate your options and make decisions to match your intended outcomes. When setting goals, be sure to keep in mind the distinction between project outputs (e.g., “X number of 3D models published online”) and outcomes (e.g., “Increased engagement with our organization’s online collection records”).

1.3.2 Identify

Select cultural resources for digital content creation that align with your project goals and assess their suitability for digital 3D creation methods based on technical, legal, and ethical grounds.

1.3.3 Digitize

Create digital content of the cultural resource in 3D through born digital or digitization methods, record metadata, paradata, structured data, and document the process openly.3

1.3.4 Disseminate

Deliver the output 3D files to your identified audience in the best way possible. This includes making the files viewable to users and making various versions of the files available to users, as well as associated para and metadata about the object, the files, and provenance for both.

1.3.5 Evaluate

Having established goals and implemented the Open Access program, it is time to reflect upon what worked, what did not, and what is left to do. Whenever possible, this evaluation should be shared publicly and with open licenses to the wider Open GLAM sector so that others can learn from your successes.

NEXT SECTION What is Open Access?


  1. See e.g., NeuroDigital Technologies, Touching Masterpieces,, last accessed April 14, 2020. 

  2. The Europeana Network Association’s 3D Content in Europeana Task Force report provides a wealth of information about current practices by European cultural institutions and suggestions for future standardization and harmonization. 3D Content in Europeana Task Force, Europeana Pro (January 28, 2019), project/3d-content-in-europeana 

  3. The London Charter, see and ReACH Technical Appendix, see 326776418Technical_Appendix ReACH_Declaration provide additional information about digitizing cultural objects.