Many of the issues discussed elsewhere in this module directly relate to the issues that Cultural Heritage Institutions face in managing their data. A movement towards more Open Data, while still ensuring that they provide a trusted repository for those who are contributing their assets can sometimes come into conflict. For this reason, CHIs need to continually revise and review their activities to make sure they are fulfilling as many needs as they can for all their stakeholders.
Optimising Digital Cultural Heritage Assets for Stakeholders
But who are the ‘stakeholders’ for CHIs? The term ‘research communities’ is used widely, but often, even if viewed in disciplinary terms, this can be somewhat nebulous. Perhaps it comes down to methodology, or maybe the stage in your career could make you a member of one community or another.
What is important to remember is that these “communities” cannot always be regarded as a single “stakeholder” or “actor”, since the communities rarely act as one entity or group; more often than not, individual researchers or research projects will be the actors whose needs and questions in the field of repository and (meta)data quality will have to be addressed.
Still, communities as a whole can sometimes become powerful entities which function in a way similar to Research Infrastructures (see below) and develop binding standards. One example of this is the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). “Repository quality” can mean quite different things to different research communities or individual researchers and its interpretation strongly depends on the conventions within a certain community, the nature of the data or the goals of the project.
As mentioned, there are also different perspectives between disciplines and even within disciplines. They are, on the one hand, caused by different approaches and traditions as well as different levels of familiarity with digital methods, and on the other by the different types of data produced and used. An example would be the audio / video data produced by social scientists and linguists versus the data on artefacts. It also makes a difference whether researchers work in smaller projects applying digital methods or whether their work is done in the context of (larger) Research Infrastructures.
For smaller projects, the quality of the immediate outcome at the end of the project may be more important than a long-term perspective for the data produced. This, in turn, might lead to larger amounts of lower quality data rather than smaller amounts of detailed data with proper metadata, and complex visualisations rather than proper archiving. For data archives and RIs, this can make the data difficult to store and to preserve; for the other members of the research community, it can discourage the reuse of existing data.
Of course, “research communities” are not the only stakeholders for CHIs. Research Infrastructures (such as CLARIN or DARIAH) represent and support certain research communities and provide those communities with the means to archive their data (as well as access data and provide tools and services for its analysis).
Reviewing practices, tools and services within a Cultural Heritage Institution
In order for CHIs to ensure that their data is meeting the needs of stakeholders, they have to go through a period of review and analysis on a reasonably frequent basis. As methods change and tools improve, the services provided by CHIs have to update.
This could mean updating background services such as APIs to ensure that the formats in which data is retrieved are still the most relevant to the tools being used, or that the data provided is of the highest quality for researchers.
Trying to predict and ‘future proof’ data is difficult without extensive conversations with users who already engage with the data in a CHI. However, it is equally important to conduct a review with people who DON’T yet use the data, to find out what the barriers are that prevent them from engaging. Reviews and re-evaluation should be built in at a strategic level.
An example of this in practice is the Europeana 2020 Strategy.
Europeana is Europe’s platform for digital cultural heritage with a mission to ‘transform the world with culture’. It builds on Europe’s rich cultural heritage and makes it easier for people to use for work, learning or pleasure. Europeana Collections is the digital library, museum, gallery and archive that presents aggregated metadata and allows people to link through to the holding institution’s own catalogues, and where possible, access the full digital item.
In 2014, Europeana launched its five-year strategy “We transform the world with culture”: Europeana Strategy 2015-2020. In it, they declared three key priorities for the Foundation to focus on:
- Improve data quality
- Open the data
- Create value for partners
The purpose of these priorities was to attract more institutions who hold Digital Cultural Heritage Assets to share their best materials with Europeana in a way that promotes trust between them and the Cultural Heritage Institutions that are sharing the data, while ensuring that users are able to access the data easily in order to make use of it. This would thus create value for Europeana Partners, who would be further supported through a ‘Commons’ space where information and value ‘flows in all directions through the system’.
To this end, Europeana has been dedicated to ensuring open access, and promoting the use of Creative Commons licences for all its assets.
Since creating this Strategy, Europeana has undergone a mid-term review to look at what is working, and where they need to improve. The results of this have been published in “A Call to Culture: Europeana 2020 Strategic Update”. They discovered three ‘pain points’ that have informed three further priorities:
- Make it easy and rewarding for Cultural Heritage Institutions to share high-quality content
- Scale with partners to reach target markets and audiences
- Engage people on Europeana websites and via participatory campaigns.
Listening to users and being objectively critical of their approach has allowed Europeana to review and adjust the way they manage their Digital Cultural Heritage Assets.
The Europeana Data Model
The Europeana Data Model (EDM) has been used by Cultural Heritage Institutions across Europe since it was created in the ’00s. It is designed to pull together multiple metadata standards using Linked Open Data, while maintaining the complex and rich nature of the metadata used and held within CHIs, although it is important to note that the EDM is not built on any one community standard. This allows users to access the information, and for Europeana and CHIs to forge more meaningful links to data in other European CHIs.
The EDM was designed by technical experts from CHIs to accommodate a wide range of metadata standards, including DC, METS, EAD, and LIDO.
How can this help my data?
For Cultural Heritage practitioners, the EDM can bring together information about items in your collections. For example, if a library in Ireland has information in the METS metadata standard for one object – let’s say a folio of works by Beckett – and an archive in France has information on other folios that exist written by Beckett or his contemporaries, but that information is in a different metadata format (for example, LIDO), then the EDM can bring those two records together to mutually contextualise the items held by both the Irish library, and the French archive. This helps researchers as well as CHIs, and opens up collections further for use.
You can download the EDM Factsheet from Europeana here: EDM factsheet 129KB
- Europeana Strategy 2015-2020: ‘We transform the world with culture’. Available from https://pro.europeana.eu/files/Europeana_Professional/Publications/Europeana%20Strategy%202020.pdf (accessed 1st Nov 2017)
‘A Call to Culture’ Europeana 2020 Strategic Update. Website, available at http://strategy2020.europeana.eu/update/ (accessed 1st Nov 2017)
- Charles, V. (2016) “Building a framework for semantic cultural heritage data”, presentation given at VALA2016 – CC BY-SA https://www.vala.org.au/direct-download/vala2016-proceedings/vala2016-slides/734-vala2016-plenary-3-charles-slides/file (accessed 27th Nov 2017)
- Europeana Data Model Primer (published 14 July 2013) https://pro.europeana.eu/files/Europeana_Professional/Share_your_data/Technical_requirements/EDM_Documentation/EDM_Primer_130714.pdf (accessed 29th Nov 2017)
- Europeana Data Model Documentation (Published 18th Nov 2014) https://pro.europeana.eu/page/edm-documentation (accessed 29th Nov 2017)