By the end of this section, you should be able to….

  • Understand some of the differences the emerging research infrastructures and their counterparts in the cultural heritage community
  • Be aware of the issues that complicate collaborations between these two communities

One might think there would be a natural relationship between emerging forms of virtual research infrastructure and the traditional forms of knowledge infrastructure, the cultural heritage, or memory institutions.

Unfortunately, however, in spite of a long-standing, almost symbiotic relationship between researchers and librarians/archivists, the methodology-driven infrastructures and the collections-driven ones do not always have an easy time working together.

The fact that they stem from different founding propositions (the interpretation of sources versus their preservation) is a large contributor to the mismatch that can occur.  But this disconnect between the goals and values of these two approaches has a number of specific, highly contemporary contributors as well, namely:

Problem 1 – Goals, mission, motivations

Cultural heritage institutions often have national funding and remits, where are researchers are often looking to new forms of research infrastructure to assist them with work that is transnational or thematic.

Problem 2 – Data and Metadata

Individual institutions will commonly apply their own internal organisational schemata, which may or may not make their data easy to federate with other collections.  Adopting open and recognised standard has a number of benefits, for the data and for the institutions, but the investment required to bring them in may be a major disincentive.

Problem 3 – Wildly different levels of digital preparedness

National archives and libraries will have better digitisation programmes than local or regional ones; Western European institutions generally have better digitisation programmes than in the East.  Does this mean that one kind of collection is more important for research than another, in particular in the context of transnational or thematic research questions?

Problem 4 – Structures, Hierarchies and (Analogue) Knowledge Organisation Frameworks

Different organisations will have different divisions of labour.  In a traditional archive, for example, knowledge of the collections, knowledge of the technical systems that manage catalogue metadata, and executive authority to commit to a collaborative venture will commonly be very distinct roles, inhabited by very different people.  In addition, much tacit knowledge can be held about collections by the people who work with them.  This tacit knowledge can be accessed by visitors to a bricks and mortar institution, but can be very difficult to capture and deliver in a virtual environment.

Problem 5 – Risks and Trust

In the end of the day, the different priorities can lead traditional CHIs not to trust emerging models.  Key elements of their mission, such as protecting the provenance and accessibility of data, protecting the public ownership and value of their materials, and indeed of protecting persons or the families of persons mentioned in the data, may seem to become under threat.  Developing a dialogue that builds this trust can be a time-consuming process,

This may seem an impossible set of barriers to overcome, and it is a certainly a challenging basis for collaboration.  But there are many opportunities and external pressures in the macro-environment that should help to move this discussion forward, such as: the policy emphasis on open science and open data; the increasing demand for and success of open APIs to deliver cultural data; scraper technologies that could enable data currently in institutional silos to be grabbed and shared by users; and other developments.

To learn about these issues in more depth, watch the associated lecture below.

You can download the slides in this video lecture from our SlideShare profile, or the Training Resources section


Beneš, Jakub,  Nataša Bulatović, Jennifer Edmond, Milica Knežević, Jörg Lehmann, Francesca Morselli, and Andrei Zamoiski. The CENDARI White Book of Archives. Available at: http://www.tara.tcd.ie/handle/2262/75683

Vanden Daelen Veerle, Jennifer Edmond, Petra Links, Mike Priddy, Linda Reijnhoudt, Václav Tollar and Annelies Van Nispen. Sustainable Digital Publishing of Archival Catalogues of Twentieth-Century History Archives. Available at: https://hal.inria.fr/hal-01281442


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