Linked Conservation Data

Lead Research Organisation: University of the Arts London
Department Name: CCW Grad School

Abstract

This project focuses on improving access to knowledge about collections in memory institutions (e.g. museums, galleries, libraries). Much of this knowledge is held in documentation about conservation: this includes records/data created when a) making observations about the production and condition of an object, and b) treating an object as part of conservation work. Conservation Documentation also includes records created as part of scientific analysis of the materials, planning for storage of objects and assessing related risks.

Conservation records are rich in technical detail and observations of historical evidence. However, these records are not accessible to either researchers or visitors to memory institutions. Researchers require access to such records. For example, a researcher investigating the origin (provenance) of a book is likely to find information in conservation documentation helpful, as previous treatment documentation may contain binding descriptions, scientific analysis, or other material documentation which indicates provenance. In addition, memory institutions require new ways of engaging with audiences both online and on-site and unlocking conservation data can provide new ways in which to do this.

This project establishes a Network of experts working on Conservation Documentation. The Network includes primarily conservators and computer/data scientists but also philosophers, scientists, archaeologists, librarians. They are recognised professionals working in leading memory institutions primarily from the UK and the US as well as from other countries.

The Network will investigate current web technologies known as Linked Data to enable accessibility to conservation records. Linked Data (https://www.w3.org/standards/semanticweb/data) technologies allow the publication of records/data in such a way that they can be linked to other resources and enable re-use and discovery. By re-using conservation data, researchers can extract better conclusions because they have access to larger samples and material evidence from expert observations. We believe this will lead to transformative research projects in a) conservation, for assessing the impact of methods and materials, b) history/archaeology, for enabling provenance studies based on material evidence and c) curation/museology, for enabling new ways of engagement based on rich content. By re-using conservation data, memory institutions will be able to tell new stories about their collections to the wider public and engage with audiences through material evidence of objects.

The Network will focus on two areas which are essential for implementing Linked Data solutions:
a) Terminology, i.e. discussions on agreeing and naming the types of records created (e.g. lists of terms describing possible materials for paintings). An important standard for this work is the Simple Knowledge Organisation System (SKOS - https://www.w3.org/TR/2009/REC-skos-reference-20090818/).
b) Modelling, i.e. discussions on how best to store/encode data so that they reflect real-life observations and therefore are reliable sources for research and engagement. The Network will examine existing work in these areas and identify gaps in research which can be addressed in future work. An important standard for this work is the Conceptual Reference Model (CRM - Information and documentation: a reference ontology for the interchange of cultural heritage information, ISO 21127) maintained by a special interest group (CRM-SIG) of the Committee of Documentation (CIDOC) of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).

The Network will disseminate its findings through engagement with stakeholders which include conservation professional bodies and relevant departments in partner institutions.

Planned Impact

The Network includes two dissemination partners, both of which are leading professional bodies in the field:

a) the International Institute for Conservation (IIC, international remit) and
b) the Institute of Conservation (ICON, UK).

The Network also has access to dissemination avenue of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC, US).
Collectively, these bodies represent thousands of members, both conservation professionals and the interested public, and have a huge online presence (the IIC Facebook account alone features more the 40,000 followers). These organisations will advertise the Network activities and feature the Network and its outputs in their publications ensuring that the Network's work reaches relevant audiences in the profession. By engaging with these organisations within the Network, the project is also well-positioned to influence national and international policies and official guidelines for documentation in conservation.

The Network includes leading institutions from the museum and library sectors with established public engagement and education departments and therefore the new knowledge arising from the Network's discussions can be communicated widely from within the consortium. As the Network's activities will be open and inclusive, we anticipate more institutions to become involved which will further develop the Network's impact.

In the long-term we will use these collaborations to influence public engagement through conservation data.

Publications

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