Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

Introduction

Tracking exciting developments at the intersection of libraries, scholarship and technology. Read more

30 November 2022

Skills and Training Needs to Open Heritage Research Through Repositories: Scoping report and Repository Training Programme for cultural heritage professionals

Do you think the repository landscape is mature enough in the heritage sector? Are the policies, infrastructure and skills in place to open up heritage research through digital repositories? Our brief analysis shows that research activity in GLAMs needs better acknowledgement, established digital repositories for dissemination of outputs and empowered staff to make use of repository services. At the British Library, we published a report called Scoping Skills and Developing Training Programme for Managing Repository Services in Cultural Heritage Organisations. We looked at the roles and people involved in the research workflow in GLAMs, and their skills needs to share heritage research openly through digital repositories in order to develop a training program for cultural heritage professionals.

 

Making heritage research openly available

Making research openly available to everyone increases the reach and impact of the work, driving increased value for money in research investment, and helps to make research reusable for everyone. ‘Open’ in this context is not only about making research freely accessible but also about ensuring the research is shared with rich metadata, licensed for reuse, including persistent identifiers, and is discoverable. Communicating research in GLAM contexts goes beyond journal articles. Digital scholarship, practice-based and computational research approaches generate a wide range of complex objects that need to be shared, reused to inform practice, policy and future research, and cannot necessarily be assessed with common metrics and rankings of academia.

The array of research activity in GLAMs needs to be addressed in the context of research repositories. If you look at OpenDOAR and Re3data, the global directories of open repositories, the number of repositories in the cultural heritage sector is still small compared to academic institutions. There is an increasing need to establish repositories for heritage research and to empower cultural heritage professionals to make use of repository services. Staff who are involved in supporting research activities, managing digital collections, and providing research infrastructure in GLAM organisations must be supported with capacity development programmes to establish open scholarship activities and share their research outputs through research repositories.

 

Who is involved in the research activities and repository services?

This question is important considering that staff may not be explicitly research-active, yet research is regularly conducted in addition to day-to-day jobs in GLAMs. In addition, organisations are not primarily driven by a research agenda in the heritage sector. The study we undertook as part of an AHRC funded repository infrastructure project showed us that cultural heritage professionals are challenged by the invisibility of forms of research conducted in their day-to-day jobs as well as lack of dedicated time and staff to work around open scholarship.

In order to bring clarity to the personas involved in research activities and link them to competencies and training needs later on for the purpose of this work, we defined five profiles that carry out and contribute to research in cultural heritage organisations. These five profiles illustrate the researcher as a core player, alongside four other profiles involved in making research happen, and ensuring it can be published, shared, communicated and preserved.

 

A 5 column chart showing 'researchers', 'curators and content creators', 'infomediaries', 'infrastructure architects', and 'policy makers' as the key personas identified.
Figure 1. Profiles identified in the cultural heritage institutions to conduct, facilitate, and support research workflow.

 

 

Consultation on training needs for repository services

We explored the skill gaps and training needs of GLAM professionals from curation to rights management, and open scholarship to management of repository services. In addition to scanning the training landscape for competency frameworks, existing programmes and resources, we conducted interviews to explore training requirements relevant to repository services. Finally, we validated initial findings in a consultative workshop with cultural heritage professionals, to hear their experience and get input to a competency framework and training curriculum.

Interviews highlighted that there is a lack of knowledge and support in cultural heritage organisations, where institutional support and training is not guaranteed for research communication or open scholarship. In terms of types of research activities, the workshop brought interesting discussions about what constitutes ‘research’ in the cultural heritage context and what makes it different to research in a university context. The event underlined the fact that cultural heritage staff profiles for producing, supporting, and communicating the research are different to the higher education landscape at many levels.

 

Discussion board showing virtual post its stuck to a canvas with a river in the background, identifying three key areas: 'What skills and knowledge do we already have?', 'What training elements are required?', and 'What skills and knowledge do we need?' (with the second question acting as a metaphorical bridge over the river).
Figure 2: Discussion board from the Skills and Training Breakout Session in virtual Consultative Workshop held on 28/04/2022.

 

The interviews and the consultative workshop highlighted that the ways of research conducted and communicated in the cultural heritage sector (as opposed to academia) should be taken into account in identifying skills needed and developing training programmes in the areas of open scholarship.

 

Competency framework and curriculum for repository training programme

There is a wealth of information, valuable project outputs, and a number of good analytical works available to identify gaps and gain new skills, particularly in the areas of open science, scholarly communications and research data management. However, adjusting and adopting these works to the context of cultural heritage organisations and relevant professionals will increase their relevance and uptake. Derived from our desk research and workshop analysis, we developed a competency framework that sets out the knowledge and skills required to support open scholarship for the personas present in GLAM organisations. Topic clusters used in the framework are as follows:

  1. Repository Service management
  2. Curation & data stewardship
  3. Metadata management
  4. Preservation
  5. Scholarly publishing
  6. Assessment and impact
  7. Advocacy and communication
  8. Capacity development

The proposed curriculum was designed by considering the pathways to develop, accelerate and manage a repository service. It contains only the areas that we identify as a priority to deliver the most value to cultural heritage organisations. Five teaching modules are considered in this preliminary work: 

  1. Opening up heritage research
  2. Getting started with GLAM repositories
  3. Realising and expanding the benefits
  4. Exploring the scholarly communications ecosystem
  5. Topics for future development

A complete version of the competency framework and the curriculum can be found in the report and is also available as a Google spreadsheet. They will drive increased uptake and use of repositories across AHRC’s investments, increasing value for money from both research funding and infrastructure funding.

 

What is next?

From January to July2023, we, at the British Library, will prepare a core set of materials based on this curriculum and deliver training events in a combination of online and in-person workshops. Training events are being planned to take place in Scotland, North England, Wales in person in addition to several online sessions. Both the framework and the training curriculum will be refined as we receive feedback and input from the participants of these events throughout next year. Event details will be announced in collaboration with host institutions in this blog as well as on our social media channels. Watch this space for more information.

If you have any feedback or questions, please contact us at openaccess@bl.uk.

29 November 2022

My AHRC-RLUK Professional Practice Fellowship: Four months on

In August 2022 I started work on a project to investigate the legacies of curatorial voice in the descriptions of incunabula collections at the British Library and their future reuse. My research is funded by the collaborative AHRC-RLUK Professional Practice Fellowship Scheme for academic and research libraries which launched in 2021. As part of the first cohort of ten Fellows I embraced this opportunity to engage in practitioner research that benefits my institution and the wider sector, and to promote the role of library professionals as important research partners.

The overall aim of my Fellowship is to demonstrate new ways of working with digitised catalogues that would also improve the discoverability and usability of the collections they describe. The focus of my research is the Catalogue of books printed in the 15th century now at the British Museum (or BMC) published between 1908 and 2007 which describes over 12,700 volumes from the British Library incunabula collection. By using computational approaches and tools with the data derived from the catalogue I will gain new insights into and interpretations of this valuable resource and enable its reuse in contemporary online resources. 

Titlepage to volume 2 of the Catalogue of books printed in the fifteenth century now in the British Museum, part 2, Germany, Eltvil-Trier
BMC volume 2 titlepage


This research idea was inspired by a recent collaboration with Dr James Baker, who is also my mentor for this Fellowship, and was further developed in conversations with Dr Karen Limper-Herz, Lead Curator for Incunabula, Adrian Edwards, Head of Printed Heritage Collections, and Alan Danskin, Collections Metadata Standards Manager, who support my research at the Library.

My Fellowship runs until July 2023 with Fridays being my main research days. I began by studying the history of the catalogue, its arrangement and the structure of the item descriptions and their relationship with different online resources. Overall, the main focus of this first phase has been on generating the text data required for the computational analysis and investigations into curatorial and cataloguing practice. This work involved new digitisation of the catalogue and a lot of experimentation using the Transkribus AI-empowered platform that proved best-suited for improving the layout and text recognition for the digitised images. During the last two months I have hugely benefited from the expertise of my colleague Tom Derrick, as we worked together on creating the training data and building structure models for the incunabula catalogue images.

An image from Transkribus Lite showing a page from the catalogue with separate regions drawn around columns 1 and 2, and the text baselines highlighted in purple
Layout recognition output for pages with only two columns, including text baselines, viewed on Transkribus Lite

 

An image from Transkribus Lite showing a page from the catalogue alongside the text lines
Text recognition output after applying the model trained with annotations for 2 columns on the page, viewed on Transkribus Lite

 

An image from Transkribus Lite showing a page from the catalogue with separate regions drawn around 4 columns of text separated by a single text block
Layout recognition output for pages with mixed layout of single text block and text in columns, viewed on Transkribus Lite

Whilst the data preparation phase has taken longer than I had planned due to the varied layout of the catalogue, this has been an important part of the process as the project outcomes are dependent on using the best quality text data for the incunabula descriptions. The next phase of the research will involve the segmentation of the records and extraction of relevant information to use with a range of computational tools. I will report on the progress with this work and the next steps early next year. Watch this space and do get in touch if you would like to learn more about my research.

This blogpost is by Dr Rossitza Atanassova, Digital Curator for Digitisation, British Library. She is on Twitter @RossiAtanassova  and Mastodon @ratanass@glammr.us

10 November 2022

'Expanding Voices, Expanding Access: Social and Community Centered Metadata'

Digital Curator Mia Ridge writes...Following a twitter conversation with Jessica BrodeFrank and Isabel Brador in mid-2021, I collaborated with them and Bri Watson on two conference panels. Our first was ' Expanding and Enriching Metadata through Engagement with Communities' for the Museum Computer Network (MCN) conference in October 2021:

'This panel discusses how cultural institutions are engaging various communities to co-create academic research and/or object metadata in order to increase representation and access to collections; highlighting how this is done in different ways to engage specific audiences and goals, i.e. graduate student assistantships, museum interactive experiences, crowdsourcing, and professional action groups'.

Earlier this year we got together again to record a panel for the National Council on Public History (NCPH) conference held in May 2022.

'As social justice movements challenge power structures, the ways in which public historians and cultural institutions create expert knowledge are also under scrutiny. Instead of using traditional top-down approaches to cataloguing, public historians and cultural institutions should be actively co-creating object metadata and research with the public. Discussion centers on how public involvement enriches the narratives we share, building transparency and trust within organizations and the surrounding communities. We hope to present various ways in which institutions are beginning this work and focus on a variety of audiences from graduate students and emerging professionals, to online citizen science communities and onsite museum audiences'.

Panelists:

"Collaboration and Citizen Science Approaches to Enriching Access to Scientific Collections," Jessica BrodeFrank, Adler Planetarium and University of London

"creating names together: homosaurus international thesaurus & the trans metadata collective," B.M. Watson, University of British Columbia iSchool; Homosaurus; Trans Metadata Collective

"Embedding Crowdsourcing in a Collaborative Data Science Project", Mia Ridge, British Library

Isabel Brador Sanz, Wolfsonian-FIU

We're sharing the video we pre-recorded for the NCPH conference so that we can include more people in the discussion: Expanding Voices, Expanding Access: Social and Community Centered Metadata.