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GRIPHOS (General Retrieval and Information Processor for Humanities Oriented Studies) is a historically important suite of programs used extensively within the Museum Computer Network, a shared information management system developed jointly by fifteen New York area museums. Designed by Dr. Jack Heller of New York University's Institute for Computer Research in the Humanities (ICRH) and debuting in 1967, GRIPHOS enabled museums to store, retrieve and apply textual markup to their records.
GRIPHOS was a foundational part of the Museum Computer Network, and is still discussed today. More information is available in the following resources:
Heller, Jack, and Fullerton. Div. of Library Science. California State Univ. "On Logical Data Organization, Card Catalogs, And The GRIPHOS Management Information System. Museum Data Bank Research Report No. 3." (1974): ERIC. Print.
Johnston, Leslie. "Before You Were Born...Museums had Networks." The Signal: Digital Preservation. 9 Nov. 2012. Web.
Misunas, Marla and Richard Urban. "A Brief History of the Museum Computer Network." Museum Computer Network. Web.
Urban, Richard. "Happy Birthday Museum Computer Network!" Musematic. 9 Jul. 2007. Web.
Vance, David. Manual for Museum Computer Network GRIPHOS Application. Stony Brook, NY: Museum Computer Network, Inc., 1976. Print.
Vance, David, and Stony Brook, NY. Museum Computer Network, Inc. "Museum Computer Network, Inc." (1975): ERIC. Print.
Williams, David. "A Brief History of Museum Computerization." Museums in a Digital Age. Ed. Ross Parry. New York: Routledge, 2010. 15-21. Print.
GRIPHOS, the General Retrieval and Information Processor for Humanities Oriented Studies, is a suite of programs developed by Dr. Jack Heller in the late 1960s best known as the foundation of the Museum Computer Network (MCN) (Misunas and Urban).
Dr. Heller developed the GRIPHOS system in collaboration with the Dag Hammarskjöld Library (Misunas and Urban). It was "used for library bibliographic record keeping at the Indexing and Retrieval Division of the United Nations," located within the Library, "[and] was first adapted for museum use in 1968" (Williams 17).
While "GRIPHOS allowed direct access to records and provided for the creation of indexed files on items in the collection," it also "required access to a large computer system" to run (Williams 17). According to Richard Urban, the timing of Heller's work on the GRIPHOS system, and the MCN's subsequent development, was no coincidence:
[a] major watershed came in 1964 when IBM introduced its third generation of computers. Earlier computers had required programming with 'assembly languages,' but the IBM 360 included an operating system that allowed for more human-readable programming. Computers could now be programmed by a broader range of people. (Urban)
The seed for the MCN, which made extensive use of GRIPHOS, came in the Institute for Computing Research in the Humanities' 1967 spring colloquium where Dr. Kenneth C. Lindsay "articulated the need for an international visual arts centre that would create a unified index of all the world's artworks" (Urban). After the colloquium, Dr. Lindsay's proposal provided a focus for related ideas already under discussion (Urban), and this led to the formation of the MCN by "a group of New York Museums...to serve as a clearing-house of information on museum computerization" (Williams 17).
was born out of a cooperative computing project in the New York City area in 1967, under the direction of Dr. Jack Heller. Fifteen New York-area museums joined forces to explore ways that an electronic index of the Metropolitan Museum’s collections could be used beyond the Met. With funding from the New York Council of the Arts and the Old Dominion Foundation, the consortium formed the Museum Computer Network to create a prototype system for a shared museum “data-bank.” (Johnson)
Under the direction of Everett Ellin, the MCN selected "Heller's GRIPHOS system [to provide] the information storage, search, and retrieval infrastructures for [its] records" (Misunas and Urban). Within the MCN, the "GRIPHOS system provided the information storage, search and retrieval infrastructures for the records" (Misunas and Urban).
GRIPHOS was well suited to the needs of the MCN as it
was based on a data dictionary that could accommodate the diverse institutions participating in the project: a tagged record format that allowed for the description of individual objects with separate, linked records for artist biographical information and for reference citations. (Johnson)
By the end of the 1970s, GRIPHOS' reliance on the operating systems used by IBM's mainframe computers had become a liability (Misunas and Urban). Support for the system quickly became a problem for the institutions reliant on it, as the
tight integration had already limited the adoption of GRIPHOS in environments that used non-IBM hardware, a problem for museums who often relied on local university computing centers. Updated packages and user manuals continued to be released, but fewer MCN members were able to support the GRIPHOS software. [MCN President David] Vance and Heller worked on migrating GRIPHOS to emerging mini-computers in 1981, but these efforts were soon overshadowed by the micro-computer revolution. (Misunas and Heller)
David Williams, writing in 2010, found that "[t]he package is still in use today in some museums, but its popularity has decreased significantly in light of technological advancements and of the failure of attempts to establish a national network of GRIPHOS users (Williams 18).
Johnston, Leslie. "Before You Were Born...Museums had Networks." The Signal: Digital Preservation. 9 Nov. 2012. Web. 27 May 2014.
Misunas, Marla and Richard Urban. "A Brief History of the Museum Computer Network." Museum Computer Network. Aug. 2007. Web. 28 May 2014.
Urban, Richard. "Happy Birthday Museum Computer Network!" Musematic. 9 Jul. 2007. Web. 28 May 2014.
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