Digital scholarship blog

10 December 2021

Legacies of Catalogue Descriptions: prioritising agendas and actions

The Legacies of Catalogue Descriptions and curatorial Voice project: Opportunities for Digital Scholarship is enabling transformational impacts in digital scholarship within cultural institutions by opening up new and important directions for computational, critical and curatorial analysis of collection catalogues. Over the past year and a half the project has actively engaged with colleagues across the cultural heritage sector to discuss the project approach and develop training materials for the computational analysis of legacy catalogue data.

As the project draws to a close, we invite members of the community to join the final project workshops in February 2022 to set shared agendas and agree next steps. The UK-based event will be hosted by the Digital Humanities Hub, University of Southampton (Covid-19 situation permitting) and the US-based event will be held online. Both workshops will work towards a single co-produced output: an infographic explaining the problem area, our shared priorities and next steps for action.

In anticipation of these events we thought we would share a summary of our July workshop which was attended by over 40 participants from our target beneficiary communities in the UK and US. At the event members of the project team spoke briefly on aspects of their research, before leading participatory breakout sessions that explored the themes in greater detail.

James Baker (Southampton) argued that historical research into legacy cataloguing can usefully form the basis for reparative re-description and social justice work in cultural institutions. Rossitza Atanassova (British Library) reported on the utility of the project methodology and tools for accelerating institutional responses to contemporary challenges and how the capacity building work aligns with the Library’s Anti-Racism Project action plan.

Cynthia Roman (Lewis Walpole Library) discussed her investigations into the history of cataloguing at the Library in relation to the transmission of curatorial voice from the British Museum to the Lewis Walpole Library records for Georgian satirical prints. Andrew Salway (Sussex) described what computational methods and process were used to detect the spatial and temporal transmission of the satirical prints data between catalogues.

Peter Leonard (Yale University Library DH Laboratory) introduced experimental computational work that uses machine learning techniques to produce new texts and images based on historic catalogue data and prints, thus opening up further possibilities for studying features in the real data. In the breakout sessions there was a demonstration of some of the tools developed by the project and an exploration of how to present legacy descriptions in collection catalogues and flag up any issues with users. These tools and other resources are included in the workshop report aimed to encourage and enable further critical reflections on catalogues’ legacies.

We hope that some of you will be interested in joining the final project events. To book your place please use the contact details on the events page.

Rossitza Atanassova, James Baker, Cynthia Roman