Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Business Planning for Cultural Heritage Institutions

A framework and resource guide to assist cultural heritage institutions with business planning for sustainability of digital asset management programs

by Liz Bishoff and Nancy Allen
January 2004

Copyright 2004 by the Council on Library and Information Resources. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transcribed in any form without permission of the publisher. Requests for reproduction should be submitted to the Director of Communications at the Council on Library and Information Resources.

About the Authors




Planning Framework

Mission and Business Practices
Modes and Models for Organizational Planning
Organizations and Community Involvement in Planning
Planning: Models for Sustainability
Identifying a Sustainable Competitive Advantage
Planning Sustainability
Sponsorship and Advertising
Foundations and Donors
Business Dilemmas

General Principles and Practices

Environmental Scanning
Successful Products and Businesses in the Digital Asset Environment
“Build or Buy” and Outsourcing
Rate of Creation and Persistence of Information
Pricing Strategies Related to Value
Web-Based Business Processes
Branding and Credibility

Current Practices in Business Planning: A Report of a Case Survey Analysis

Summary of Trends

Sales and Marketing
Organizational Structure
Trends in the Two Major Current Models for Digital Asset Development and Management in Cultural Heritage Institutions
Sustainability through Making Digital Asset Management a Core Function

A Business-Planning Template: Considerations for Cultural Heritage Organizations and their Digital Asset Programs

Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals
Executive Summary of the Business Plan

Strategic or Market Opportunity
Service or Product to be Developed
Product or Service Description
Needs Assessment or Market Research
Environment and Competition
Markets and Services
Organizational Structure

Facilities and Equipment
Management and Staffing
Legal Issues
Financial Plans
Product Evaluation and Usability Assessment



Appendix A: Institutions Participating in the Survey
Appendix B: Framework for Sustainable Web Access to Cultural Heritage Collections—Interview Questions

About the Authors

Nancy Allen is dean and director of Penrose Library at the University of Denver. She was previously assistant director for public services at Colorado State University, Fort Collins. She has also served as associate director for services at Wayne State University, and has held a variety of administrative positions at the University of Illinois, Urbana.

Ms. Allen has been the principal investigator for three major Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grants for the Colorado Digitization Program. Her experience in large research libraries has enabled her to explore a number of initiatives testing the role of both collections and information technologies to benefit all library users, from undergraduates to specialized scholars.

Ms. Allen received her MLS degree from the University of Illinois, Urbana.

Liz Bishoff is executive director of the Colorado Digitization Program (CDP) and owner of The Bishoff Group. Previously, she held a variety of positions at OCLC, including vice president of member services and director of online union catalog product management. Ms. Bishoff has also held a variety of positions in public libraries and has managed many collaborative automation initiatives.

Ms. Bishoff has been the project manager for three major IMLS grants, three Colorado Library Services and Technology Act grants, and a series of smaller grants that support the CDP initiatives. She has also served as project consultant on many statewide digitization initiatives.

Ms. Bishoff received her MLS degree from Rosary College and has done postgraduate work in public administration at Roosevelt University.


The authors wish to acknowledge the work of David L. Rodgers, Business Analysis, Strategy, and Planning for Sustainable Web Access to Cultural Heritage Collections. Rodger’s work was commissioned by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and served as a foundation for the planning section of this document.

Particular thanks go to the survey participants, for without their contributions we could not have provided such a close look at current business models or the business-planning examples. They were generous with both their time and their objective assessment of their projects and programs. Thanks to Thomas Hickerson and Oya Rieger, Cornell University Library; Richard Reinhart, University of California, Berkeley, and the Museum Online Archive of California; Larry Alford, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Library; Kris Haglund, Denver Museum of Nature and Science; Leah Davis Withrow, Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum; Greg Colati, Tufts University; Betsy Wilson, University of Washington Library; Lizanne Payne, Washington Research Library Consortium; Jill Koelling, Nebraska Historical Society; Karin Wittenborg, University of Virginia Library; John Price Wilkin, University of Michigan Library; Marianne Afife, University of Southern California Library; and Kristine Brancolini, Indiana University, Bloomington, Library.

We would like to particularly thank Darryl Lang, of Lang Associates, for assistance in developing and executing the survey. Last, we want to thank Abby Smith of CLIR for her guidance throughout this project.


Collections-based institutions are facing unimagined opportunities and unprecedented challenges as they enter fully into the digital arena. Libraries, museums, archives, and historical societies—often referred to collectively as cultural heritage institutions—have amassed physical artifacts and information recorded on physical media for the purpose of providing long-term access to them. Collections-based institutions carefully choose objects of value and interest to some intended audience. They preserve or stabilize these objects, arrange them, curate them, and present them to the public in reading rooms, galleries, and traveling exhibitions, as well as through various forms of surrogacy such as photographs and microfilm.

The work of collecting and serving can be labor- and resource-intensive, but the role that collections-based institutions have played over time in providing access to information, sites for cultural enrichment, and forums for civic engagement are deemed to be absolutely critical to society. The value of these institutions is so high in the public mind that most libraries and museums are able to rely on various forms of subsidy, from both the private and public sectors, to ensure continuity of mission and service. But these forms of support are evolving rapidly in the digital domain, causing some institutions to look anew at models for sustaining their work.

Before the advent of new information technologies, libraries and museums operated under significant constraints in providing access to their collections. Opportunities for use of their collections have been limited by time and space, with surrogate use through photographs, document delivery, and other forms of reformatting often filling the need to serve materials remotely and at times other than core operating hours. Libraries and archives, and museums and historical societies in particular, have been able to parlay that scarcity of access into value and branding. Economic models, together with the cultural and legal policies needed to reinforce behaviors supporting those models, have been crafted and honed over the decades to encourage philanthropic and public-sector support. This support has kept libraries and museums open and accessible to their varied publics without making the users bear the brunt of the operating costs directly.

Now, with the power of technology to widen access, library and museum missions of access are suddenly much more easily achieved. But the policies, business models, and ethical and other professional assumptions that have regulated the analog realm are not sufficient for the digital age. While new funds are available to put collections online from a number of public and private sources, most of the institutions that are reaching out to new audiences find themselves facing organizational challenges that they are unprepared to meet. Among the frequently cited problems is that of developing a sustainable business model. How, museums and library managers ask, can we provide digital services within our traditional business model? And if we cannot provide these services under our present model, then what model should we adopt? How do we compete with for-profit providers online?

At a meeting funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and convened by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and the National Institute for a Networked Cultural Heritage in February 2001, participants mapped the gaps between mission-related ambitions and current models for sustainable digital enterprises. Specific recommendations to address some of these gaps emerged from those deliberations. As reflected in the report of that meeting, Building and Sustaining Digital Collections: Models for Libraries and Museums, these recommendations are to

  • study the costs and benefits of interinstitutional collaboration through case studies;
  • develop criteria to assess institutional readiness to engage in digital projects and programs; and
  • develop a framework for business planning, a template that lays out the major elements of that framework, and a guide to applying the template in the context of cultural heritage institutions.

To follow up, CLIR, with generous support from IMLS, commissioned a guide to business planning aimed at those cultural heritage institutions not used to doing such planning in the explicit and systematic ways common among for-profit enterprises. To prepare the guide, CLIR turned to Liz Bishoff and Nancy Allen, both distinguished in the digital heritage community as a result of their leadership in building one of the most successful collaborations in this arena, the Colorado Digitization Program. Taking as a starting point a business-planning model developed for CLIR by business consultant David Rodgers, Bishoff and Allen refashioned and refined the template for the museum and library context. They also conducted a series of case studies to “test drive” the template and to glean the qualitative information that makes any planning document useful to those in the field. The result is a richly detailed report that provides many insights into the barriers libraries and museums face in matching aspirations to resources.

When Bishoff and Allen looked at the original business-planning template, they quickly realized that most libraries and museums routinely carry out some or all of the activities that are part of a sound plan. But these institutions, the authors realized, have often arrived at their particular way of doing business in an ad hoc manner. Furthermore, the language of most business planning is foreign, and frankly off-putting, to many in museums and libraries. Bishoff and Allen have paid special attention to this “translation problem” and have taken pains to point out the many ways in which libraries and museums are already implementing many key elements of sound business planning.

One of the signal contributions that these authors have brought to this endeavor is an ability and willingness to articulate what can be learned from experiments that fall short of their targets. Learning from failure is not much talked about in cultural heritage professions, oriented as they are toward service. But libraries and museums embark on a great experiment when they venture online with their collections, their curatorial expertise, and their institutional reputation and good name. The fine sensibilities that Bishoff and Allen have brought to this study were crucial in encouraging many institutions and individuals to volunteer their time and energy to be interviewed.

CLIR is deeply grateful to Nancy Allen and Liz Bishoff, to the many individuals who agreed to be interviewed, and to the leaders of IMLS, who are committed to ensuring that the grants they give to advance digital heritage development are sustained and supported over time.

Abby Smith
Director of Programs, CLIR

Skip to content