‘Sector-wide initiatives’ at ‘UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008’

Session 2, ‘Sector-wide initiatives’, of the UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008 was chaired by Bridget McKenzie.

In the interests of getting my notes up quickly I’m putting them up pretty much ‘as is’, so they’re still rough around the edges. There are quite a few sections below which need to be updated when the presentations or photos of slides go online. Updated posts should show in your RSS feed but you might need to check your settings.

[I hope Bridget puts some notes from her paper on her blog because I didn’t get all of it down.]

The session was introduced as case studies on how cross institutional projects can be organised and delivered. She mentioned resistance to bottom-up or experimental approach, institutional constraints; and building on emerging frames of web.

Does the frame of ‘the museum’ make sense anymore, particularly on the web? What’s our responsibilities when we collaborate? Contextual spaces – chance to share expertise in meaningful ways.

It’s easy to revert to ways previous projects have been delivered. Funding plans don’t allow for iterative, new and emergent technologies.

Carolyn Royston and Richard Morgan, V&A and NMOLP.
The project is funded by the ‘invest to save’ program, Treasury.

Aims:
Increase use of the digital collections of the 9 museums (no new website)
No new digitisation or curatorial content.
Encourage creative and critical use of online resources.
[missed one]
Sustainable high-quality online resource for partners.

The reality – it’s like herding cats.

They had to address issue of partnership to avoid problems later in project.

Focussed on developing common vision, set of principles on working together, identify things uniquely achievable through partnership, barriers to success, what added value for users.

Three levels of barriers to success – one of working in an inter-museum collaborative way, which was first for those nationals; organisational issues – working inter-departmentally (people are learning or web or whatever people and not used to working together); personal issues – people involved who may not think they are web or learning people.

These things aren’t necessary built in to project plan.

Deliverables: web quests, ‘creative journeys’, federated search, [something I missed], new ways of engaging with audiences.

Web Quests – online learning challenge, flexible learning tool mapped to curriculum. They developed a framework. It supports user research, analysis and synthesis of information. Users learn to use collections in research.

Challenges: creating meaningful collection links; sending people to collections sites knowing that content they’d find there wasn’t written for those audiences; provide support for pupils when searching collections. Sustainable content authoring tool and process.

[I wondered if the Web Quest development tools are extendible, and had a chance to ask Carolyn in one of the breaks – she was able to confirm that they were.]

Framework stays on top to support and structure.

Creative journeys:
[see slide]

They’re using Drupal. [Cool!]

[I also wondered about the user testing for creative journeys, whether there was evidence that people will do it there and not on their blogs, Zotero, in Word documents or hard drives – Carolyn also had some information on this.]

Museums can push relevant content.

What are the challenges?
How to build and sustain the Creative Journeys (user-generated content) communities, individually and as a partnership?
Challenge to curatorial authority and reputation
Work with messiness and complexity around new ways of communicating and using collections
Copyright and moderation issues

But partners are still having a go – shared risk, shared success.

Federated search
Wasn’t part of original implementation plan
[slide on reasons for developing]
Project uses a cross collection search, not a cross collection search project. The distinction can be important.

The technical solution was driven by project objectives [choices were made in that context, not in a constraint-free environment.]

Richard, Technical Solution
The back-end is de-coupled from front end applications
A feed syndicates user actions.

Federated search – a system for creating machine readable search results and syndicating them out.
Real time search or harvester. [IMO, ‘real time’ should always be in scare quotes for federated searches – sometimes Google creates expectations of instantaneous results that other searches can’t deliver, though the difference may only be a matter of seconds.]

Data manipulation isn’t the difficult bit

Creative Journeys – more machine readable data

Syndicated user interactions with collections.
Drupal [slide]

Human factor – how to sell to board
Deploy lightweight solutions. RAD. Develop in house, don’t need to go to agency.

[I’d love it if the NMOLP should have a blog, or a holding page, or something, where they could share the lessons they’ve learnt, the research they’ve done and generally engage with the digital museum community. Generally a lot of these big infrastructure projects would benefit from greater transparency, as scary as this is for traditional organisations like museums. The open source model shows that many eyeballs mean robust applications.]

Jeremy Ottevanger and Europeana/the European Digital Library
[I have to confess I was getting very hungry by this point so you might get more detailed information from Jeremy’s blog when he adds his notes.]
Some background on his involvement in it, hopes and concerns.
“cross-domain access to Europe’s cultural heritage”
Our content is more valuable together than scattered around.

Partnership, planning and prototyping
Not enough members from the UK, not very many museums.
Launch November this year
Won’t build all of planned functionality – user-generated content and stuff planned but not for prototype.

Won’t build an API or all levels of multiple linguality (in first release). Interface layer may have 3 or 4 major languages; object metadata (maybe a bit) and original content of digitised documents.

Originals on content contributors site, so traffic ends up there. That’s not necessarily clear in the maquette (prototype). [But that knowledge might help address some concerns generally out there about off-site searches]

Search, various modes of browsing, timeline and stuff.

Jeremy wants to hear ideas, concerns, ambitions, etc to take to plenary meeting.

He’d always wanted personal place to play with stuff.

[Similarly to my question above, I’ve always wondered whether users would rely on a cultural heritage sector site to collate their data? What unique benefits might a user see in this functionality – authority by association? live updates of data? Would they think about data ownership issues or the longevity of their data and the reliability of the service?]

Why are there so few UK museums involved in this? [Based on comments I’ve heard, it’s about no clear benefits, yet another project, no API, no clear user need] Jeremy had some ideas but getting in contact and telling him is the best way to sort it out.

Some benefits include common data standards, a big pool of content that search engines would pay attention to in a way they wouldn’t on our individual sites. Sophisticated search. Will be open source. Multi-lingual technology.

Good news:
“API was always in plans”.

EDLocal – PNDS. EU projects will be feeding in technologies.

Bad news: API won’t be in website prototype. Is EDLocal enough? Sustainability problems.
‘Wouldn’t need website at all if had API’. Natural history collections are poorly represented.

Is OAI a barrier too far? You should be able to upload from spreadsheet. [You can! But I guess not many people know this – I’m going to talk to the people who coded the PNDS about writing up their ‘upload’ tool, which is a bit like Flickr’s Uploadr but for collections data.]

Questions
Jim O’Donnell: regarding the issue of lack of participation. People often won’t implement their own OAI repository so that requirement puts people off.

Dan Zambonini: aggregation fatigue. ‘how many more of these things do we have to participate in’. His suggestion: tell museums to build APIs so that projects can use their data, should be other way around. Jeremy responded that that’s difficult for smaller museums. [Really good point, and the PNDS/EDL probably has the most benefits for smaller museums; bigger museums have the infrastructure not to need the functionality of the PNDS though they might benefit from cross-sector searching and better data indexing.]

Gordon McKenna commented: EDLocal starts on Wednesday next week, for three years.

George Oates: what’s been most surprising in collaboration process? Carolyn: that we’ve managed to work together. Knowledge sharing.

Notes from ‘Museums and Europeana – the European Digital Library’ at MCG’s Spring Conference

These are my notes from David Dawson’ presentation ‘Europeana – Museums and the European Digital Library’ at the MCG Spring Conference. There’s some background to my notes about the conference in a previous post. If I’ve made any comments below they’re in [square brackets].

David’s slides for ‘Europeana – Museums and the European Digital Library’ are online.

Europeana is new name for the European Digital Library (EDL).

The EDL is a political initiative – part of i2010 Eu’s IT strategy. It will provide a common point of multilingual access to online ‘stuff’. It includes the TEL project (The European Library – catalogue records of national libraries) and MICHAEL.

The Europeana ‘maquette’ was launched in February, showing how might work in a few years time. ‘One or two little issues still need working on’. ‘Themes’ aren’t really being taken forward. It has social tagging (going into faceted browsing [did I get that right?]). Works around who, what, where and when, and includes a timeline. It will have 7 million pieces of content.

Europeana and MICHAEL (multilingual websites/digital collections from cultural heritage sector across Europe).
MICHAEL doesn’t reach to item level, just collection descriptions. It also relates to collection descriptions in TEL.

Why are service registries needed?
Map of where content is and how it is managed.
Information Environment Service Registry
Machine to machine services; will know what schemas and terminologies have been used. Interoperability protocols.
(Translated subject terminology and screen material into Welsh.)

EDLNet project. Interoperability Working Group.
MinervaEC – the Minerva technical guidleines are being revised/updated. The previous guidelines were downloaded 60,000 times in 9 languages – this indicates the appetite for guidelines.

Slide 14 shows the path from institutional databases to national or theme/topic-based portals , from there into the EDL. [The metadata storage diagram on slide 15 is what’s currently being built, slide 14 is a year old.]

It will support RDF triples. It will offer simple, advanced and faceted search [faceted search as browsing].

APIs would provide the mechanism to enable many different uses of the metadata. The benefit is then in the underlying services, not just website. [But if we want APIs, we have to ask for them or they might not happen.]

How to promote your content in Europeana?
Create your content using open standards. If you are already using the Minerva technical standards, then you should be able to supply your metadata so it they can link into something that will go into Europeana.

You should use your existing metadata standards and prepare to map your data to domain-specific Dublic Core Application Profiles. [Does domain specific mean there won’t be one schema for museums, libraries, and archives; but possibly schemas for each? A really usable schema for museum data is the other thing we need to make APIs the truly useful tool they could be, even if different types of museums have slightly different requirements from a schema.]

Terminologies – prepare to take advantage of the semantic web. Publish terminologies and thesauri using SKOS – it’s machine readable, can be used by search engines. [Using computers to match ontologies? Semweb FTW! Sorry, got a bit excited.]

Register your content and services with existing registries like TEL and MICHAEL.

All EU member states must: increase digitisation, tackle access, sort IPR, enable preservation.

Practicalities: in the UK the People’s Network Discover Service (PNDS) currently harvests 500,000 digital objects. All MLA funded activity requires participation. Other projects, like Exploring 20th Century London, are using the PNDS infrastructure. The PNDS will contain an estimated 4 million digital objects by [the end of] 2008. It will be integrated into Culture 24 and the Collections Trust Subject Specialist Networks; part of same national infrastructure.

eContentPlus and EDLocal – support for institutions to get metadata into PNDS.

Timetable (slide 20): May 23, project conference launch [ask for information if you want to have your say]; June 4th, launch of Due Diligence Guidelines on Orphan Works [which will be useful for recent discussions about copyright and the cultural heritage sector].

23rd, 24th June – Europeana initial prototype reviewed – call for volunteers?
It’s important to have museums people at the conference in order to represent museum-specific requirements, including the need for an API. It might be possible to fund museum people to get there.

November 2008: high profile launch.

After May 23rd David will be on the other side of the fence, and his question will be ‘how can I get my content into the PNDS, Culture 24, Europeana?’.

Questions
Mike: is the API a must? David: it is for him, for the project managers it might be a maybe. Mike: without an API it will die a death.

Andrew: thanks to David for his work at the MLA (and the MCG). From May 24th [after David leaves], how does the MLA support this work? David: expecting announcment would have been made but as they haven’t yet it’s difficult to answer that.

Me: how can we as museums advocate or evangelise about the need for an API? David: go to the conference, represent views of institutions.

This session ended with thanks from Debbie and a round of applause for David’s contributions to the Museums Computer Group.