10 March 2022
Scoping the connections between trusted arts and humanities data repositories
CONNECTED: Connecting trusted Arts and Humanities data repositories is a newly funded activity, supported by AHRC. It is led by the British Library, with the Archaeology Data Service and the Oxford Text Archive as co-investigators, and is supported by consultants from MoreBrains Cooperative.The CONNECTED team believes that improving discovery and curation of heritage and emergent content types in the arts and humanities will increase the impact of cultural resources, and enhance equity. Great work is already being done on discovery services for the sector, so we decided to look upstream, and focus on facilitating repository and archive deposit.
The UK boasts a dynamic institutional repository environment in the HE sector, as well as a range of subject- or field-specific repositories. With a distributed repository landscape now firmly established, challenges and inefficiencies still remain that reduce its impact. These include issues around discovery and access, but also questions around interoperability, the relationship of specialised vs general infrastructures, and potential duplication of effort from an author/depositor perspective. Greater coherence and interoperability will effectively unite different trusted repository services to form a resilient distributed data service, which can grow over time as new individual services are required and developed. Alongside the other projects funded as part of ‘Scoping future data services for the arts and humanities’, CONNECTED will help to deliver this unified network.
As practice in the creative arts becomes more digital and the digital humanities continue to thrive, the diversity of ways in which this research is expressed continues to grow. Researchers are increasingly able to combine artefacts, documents, and materials in new and innovative ways; practice-based research in the arts is creating a diverse range of (often complex) outputs, creating new curation and discovery needs; and heritage collections often contain artefacts with large amounts of annotation and commentary amassed over years or centuries, across multiple formats, and with rich contextual information. This expansion is already exposing the limitations of our current information systems, with the potential for vital context and provenance to become invisible. Without additional, careful, future-proofing, the risks of information loss and limits on access will only expand. In addition, metadata creation, deposit, preservation, and discovery strategies should, therefore, be tailored to meet the very different needs of the arts and humanities.
A number of initiatives are aimed at improving interoperability between metadata sources in ways that are more oriented towards the needs of the arts and humanities. Drawing these together with the insights to be gained from the abilities (and limitations) of bibliographic and data-centric metadata and discovery systems, will help to generate robust services in the complex, evolving landscape of arts and humanities research and creation.
The CONNECTED project will assemble experts, practitioners, and researchers to map current gaps in the content curation and discovery ecosystem and weave together the strengths and potentials of a range of platforms, standards, and technologies in the service of the arts and humanities community. Our activities will run until the end of May, and will comprise three phases:
Phase 1 - Discovery
We will focus on repository or archive deposit as a foundation for the discovery and preservation of diverse outputs, and also as a way to help capture the connections between those objects and the commentary, annotation, and other associated artefacts.
A data service for the arts and humanities must be developed with researcher needs as a priority, so the project team will engage in a series of semi-structured interviews with a variety of stakeholders including researchers, librarians, curators, and information technologists. The interviews will explore the following ideas:
- What do researchers need when engaging in discovery of both heritage materials and new outputs?
- Are there specific needs that relate to different types of content or use-cases? For example, research involving multimedia or structured information processing at scale?
- What can the current infrastructure support, and where are the gaps between what we have and what we need?
- What are the feasible technical approaches to transform information discovery?
Phase 2 - Data service programme scoping and planning
The findings from phase 1 will be synthesised using a commercial product strategy approach known as a canvas analysis. Based on the initial impressions from the semi-structured interviews, it is likely that an agile, product, or value proposition canvas will be used to synthesise the findings and structure thinking so that a coherent and robust strategy can be developed. Outputs from the strategy canvas exercise will then be applied to a fully costed and scoped product roadmap and budget for a national data deposit service for the arts and humanities.
Phase 3 - Scoping a unified archiving solution
Building on the partnerships and conversations from the previous phases, the feasibility of a unified ‘deposit switchboard’ will be explored. The purpose of such a switchboard is to enable researchers, curators, and creators to easily deposit items in the most appropriate repository or archive in their field for the object type they are uploading. Using insights gained from the landscaping interviews in phase 1, the team will identify potential pathways to developing a routing service for channelling content to the most appropriate home.
We will conclude with a virtual community workshop to explore the challenges and desirability of the switchboard approach, with a special focus on the benefits this could bring to the uploader of new content and resources.
This is an ambitious project, through which we hope to deliver:
- A fully costed and scoped technical and organisational roadmap to build the required components and framework for the National Collection
- Improved usage of resources in the wider GLAM and institutional network, including of course the Archaeology Data Service, The British Library's Shared Research Repository, and the Oxford Text Archive
- Steps towards a truly community-governed data infrastructure for the arts and humanities as part of the National Collection
As a result of this work, access to UK cultural heritage and outputs will be accelerated and simplified, the impact of the arts and humanities will be enhanced, and we will help the community to consolidate the UK's position as a global leader in digital humanities and infrastructure.
This post is from Rachael Kotarski (@RachPK), Principal Investigator for CONNECTED, and Josh Brown from MoreBrains.