Locating a National Collection (LANC)

Lead Research Organisation: British Library The
Department Name: Collections and Curation

Abstract

This project will help cultural heritage organisations to use geospatial data - references and representations of location, such as where objects were made and used or the places they depict and describe - to connect diverse collections and engage research and public audiences in new ways. Through scoping, workshops and audience research the project will establish best practice and provide technical recommendations for the development of a national discovery system whereby objects about a topic of interest can be readily discovered from a variety of sources, represented in the context of their historic environment, and referenced in time and landscape.

At present, discovering collections across multiple institutions and collections can be problematic in terms of user experience, requiring complex text-box searches or commercial search engines. However, in the field of Classics, The Pelagios Network of researchers, scientists and curators has developed a methodology that uses gazetteer referencing to link research data across diverse collections with considerable success, building a community of partners and stimulating new research perspectives. Similarly, the Collections Trust's prototype aggregator demonstrates that searching across cultural heritage collections using geographic location is feasible. This project builds on these methods, scoping improvements to the aggregator's results and exploring ways to present location in an accessible and meaningful form for public consumption. A key question is how the place-based Pelagios methodology can best be integrated with space-based cultural heritage data resources brought together by the Collections Trust aggregator. To test and scope this ambition, participating organisations will work on a set of thematic and technological case studies that will test the technical feasibility and appeal of the approach to potential users, ultimately developing an understanding of scalability.

The project aims to understand the requirements of stakeholders, institutional, academic and public, in order to inform content selection, technical decisions and maximise impact. It will investigate how we can use location to build a common infrastructure that links collections and render this content accessible and meaningful to different audiences. The objective is to understand the technical components required, the current and potential options available and to make recommendations for potential solutions, all of which will be described in the project report. The report will constitute a strategy, offering pathways for progress and outlining potential barriers to inform developments in the next phase of Towards a National Collection and across the cultural heritage sector more broadly. It will encourage cultural heritage organisations to take up a common geospatial approach and will provide a roadmap to enable diverse organisations to enrich their metadata and expose this in a consistent and joined-up way.

Pelagios has had success with a decentralised, 'opt-in' model of partner engagement. Our project will explore whether distributed or centralised models of integration and cooperation are relevant to the integration of cultural heritage organisations. It will develop understanding within the cultural heritage sector of how location-based interfaces can be used to make collections meaningful, spear-heading a movement beyond text-based searches in the discovery of content. Location offers an exemplar, offering a common thread from which we can learn about wider opportunities in connecting collections using other commonalities such as person, time or subject.

Planned Impact

In examining how to create a location-based discovery system the project will lay the foundations for a major step change in the connectivity and accessibility of UK cultural heritage and its potential to support and stimulate research, innovation and public engagement. The engagement work package investigates how to provide value and benefits to cultural heritage and public stakeholders from the project's outset. As a stand-alone initiative, the project will have immediate utility value for the participating organisations (British Library, Historic Royal Palaces, National Trust, English Heritage, Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland, MOLA, Portable Antiquities Scheme). Its outputs - which include an open dataset, a prototype user interface and the final report - will leave a legacy of improved geospatial literacy, enriched or interoperable metadata, software and stronger connections between IROs. The stand-alone project can help to develop understanding of how location-based interfaces can make our collections meaningful, spear-heading a movement beyond text-based searches in the discovery context. Moreover, the long-term aim is to provide all cultural heritage institutions with the means to connect their collections through location from national institutions with substantial online presences to regional or local institutions that might contribute a few key items only. The diversity of institutions participating at this stage demonstrates a breadth in existing interest and enables the project to provide a scalable strategy. Institutions would derive significant utility and prestige value through new and innovative uses of content, raised profile and meaningful web presence.

A developed system in a subsequent phase has the potential to impact on a range of public stakeholders, those selected for in-depth study in our engagement phase include heritage visitors, schools and academic researchers. The key utility value offered to these groups is the ability to discover objects from a variety of sources connected to a location of interest, that they might not come across otherwise. Location offers a meaningful topic that diverse groups can identify with. A developed system would help individuals to use collections to enhance their knowledge of where they live or work, for example. Place and community go hand in hand; by fostering connections between them, the project aims to provide an exemplar for the generation of engaging stories and building of tangible links between overlooked groups and local pasts that underscore notions of community empowerment. Improved understanding of location brings tangible social benefits and opportunities to engage with groups with low participation rates living in institutions' local areas and/or beyond metropolitan centres. Such engagement has an economic impact, improvements in discoverability and contextualisation will help to increase interest in heritage site visits, exhibition visits and on-site use of collections. A prototype user interface will explore a range of innovative access options like mobile, embeddable widgets and web maps for presenting content. Tailoring content by filtering could provide benefits in education by embedding location data within other materials. York-based schools and facilitators from the Historical Association that already work with HRP will evaluate how such a system might work in Key Stage 2-4 History and Geography curriculum (Local history, Tudors) as well as in the geography curriculum (Towns and countryside). Pelagios has successfully engaged researchers working in Classics including archaeologists, numismatists, historians, art-historians and linguists, demonstrating that contextualising content offers learning value, helping researchers find new content and make innovative connections. Our project hopes to appeal to the humanities and social sciences more broadly, fostering connections between similarly diverse disciplines and collections.

Publications

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