Monday, 16 April 2012

Problems being addressed

The main purpose of Step change is to find a way for archive institutions to adopt Linked Data approaches when they otherwise face constraints of time, financial and personnel resources. Quite simply, Linked Data is unlikely to be adopted in the archives community if it is considered a potentially expensive add-on when apparently higher priorities can be identified such as cataloguing backlogs, problems with the continuity of digital data, the need for improved catalogues and search engine optimisation to make even the most basic descriptions available to the public for the first time.

Archivists need to be able to demonstrate to senior management improved productivity from using Linked Data approaches. Step change will try and do this by developing a workflow tool to enable archivists to analyse catalogues against various external services such as Geonames, and to capture the resulting RDF. The tool is being designed in such a way as to make cataloguing per se easier to carry out, for example by allowing consistent and accurate indexing through interrogation of UKAT. In this way, the creation of RDF will become a normal part of catalogue creation and management. The roll-out to CALM version 9.3 is designed to embed this approach across the CALM customer base.

The second problem is how to link archive catalogues effectively with other types of content such as bibliographic records, museum records, external databases and maps. The challenges here are considerable: the lack of availability of viable external services and APIs within the cultural sector; licensing issues with the reuse of map data out of contenxt; the lack of an available historical gazetteer to map antique placenames; discontinuities in describing name authorities; and the absence of user testing to determine which sources ought to be linked and at which levels of granularity. How much data is too much data for users to assimilate? The project is seeking to address this problem of usability by testing the mixing of several external data sets including the National Register of Archives, Historypin and Wikipedia and then user testing with CALM users and with local authority users in the north west of England. The key here is showing that publication of useful data side by side about a person, place or theme adds to the user experience, speeds up research or opens up new avenues of research.

Future work could include the blending of research datasets, the mapping of previously unmaped data and the use of the Workflow tool to crowdsource RDF creation using existing datasets, for example image metadata. These would all help support a stronger use-case for Linked Data in archives, libaries and museums.