Linked Conservation Data - phase 2

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

Abstract

Phase 2 of the Linked Conservation Data (LCD) project builds on an existing collaboration between University of the Arts London and Stanford Libraries and a number of other high profile US and UK partners as part of a Research Networking project funded under the AHRC's Highlight Notice for UK/US Collaborations in Digital Scholarship in Cultural Institutions.

LCD explores methods for enabling access to knowledge about collections in memory organisations such as museums, galleries, libraries and archives. The work of conservators in these organisations focuses on investigating the structure and condition of objects and treating and protecting them. A core task in conservation is documenting observations made during this work. This creates a wealth of records about material observations, evidence and conclusions on the history of each object. Combining this knowledge with other historical resources such as texts is crucial for researching and interpreting history particularly for contested objects where the narrative from material evidence may be different from the popular understanding of an object. LCD aims to provide ways that conservation documentation can be produced, disseminated and re-used more effectively through Linked Data (https://www.w3.org/standards/semanticweb/data) in order to enable new research and new interpretations through offering researchers enhanced access to conservation data. We anticipate that this will contribute to educational programmes utilising conservation data, the development of improved methods for the protection of our cultural heritage and increased public engagement with collections in memory organisations.

During phase 1, the LCD project:
- addressed the issue of not being able to cross-search conservation records about the same things because of different vocabularies and established a pathway for harmonising and combining conservation vocabularies so that they can work together (https://www.ligatus.org.uk/lcd/output/142),
- studied conservation records and identified some types which are difficult to describe and share and initiated discussions for new proposals to overcome these limitations (https://www.ligatus.org.uk/lcd/output/151),
- raised awareness of the value of data in the profession through workshops and webinars (https://www.ligatus.org.uk/lcd/meetings).

In phase 2 we aim to develop a Linked Data pilot implementation on book conservation which is of interest to partner organisations such as the Bodleian Library, the Library of Congress and the Stanford Libraries with different datasets harmonised into one system. The project builds on its existing partners and brings together national organisations and universities from the UK and US to form a critical mass of activity able to transform scholarship using conservation data. We are also partnering with major professional bodies in conservation who have agreed to co-author and co-sign a policy/strategy document to promote LCD's objectives. We are involving experts in education who will advise the consortium of how conservation data can be used to help educational programmes for schools in memory organisations.

LCD phase 2 is the first step for setting up infrastructure for hosting shared vocabularies and datasets for conservation. We are preparing the consortium for a follow-up phase and we are establishing the foundations for Linked Data projects not only in conservation but potentially in other fields as well. LCD will inform current conservation documentation projects in memory organisations (e.g. three projects are in progress within consortium partners alone). The pilot is essential for testing methods and strengthening the consortium, as partners will work together through cross-disciplinary collaboration. A consortium of this scale with backing from major professional bodies is rare and this is a unique opportunity to make a real change to academic scholarship in memory organisations.

Planned Impact

The benefits of implementing Linked Data for conservation documentation start with the creators of documentation in a department, spread out to the institution, to users of collections and the general public. Sharing conservation data can assist decision making, make research data accessible, improve institutional prioritisation and resource allocation and deepen understanding of material culture for a broad array of audiences. Not implementing Linked Data in Conservation also has consequences. Specialised knowledge remains siloed and inaccessible. Opportunities for collaborative research are lost. Innovation across collections and institutions is stifled. Linked Conservation Data (LCD) presents many opportunities for impact, but these can only be realised if we can build on initial work to invest in developing tools, educating conservation professionals, and running pilots to test early stage implementations.

Who might benefit from this research outside of the academic research community:
- Conservation and documentation professionals
- Managers of collection care departments
- Curators and educators inside and outside memory organisations

How might they benefit:
Conservation and documentation professionals: Conservators assess, survey, repair, prepare items to go on exhibit or to be safely stored. Conservation documentation contains critical information on materials, structure, failure and damage as well as treatment pathways for stabilisation and use. This information is not widely accessible to conservators or others in institutions after initial generation and it is very rarely visible to audiences outside the organisation which generates it.
As conservation documentation becomes linked from institution to institution, insights into a specific creator's or artist's materials and practice are more accessible. Ways to manage the deterioration of a common material are more widely understood. New efficiencies for addressing storage challenges are shared. Through sharing data, conservation and cultural heritage professionals broaden their understanding of common and unique challenges and so are better able to care for collections.
Conservators and documentation professionals will benefit from guidelines for making their records accessible both within and if desired outside of their institutions. They will benefit from research data made possible by the use of Linked Data. They will also benefit from the publication of thesauri within the field as a whole.

Managers of collection care departments: Increased understanding of how conservators currently and in the past have cared for collections, can offer critical information to the leadership of cultural heritage and memory institutions for resource allocation and innovation opportunities. Further guidance from an LCD policy document outlining aims in relation to conservation documentation will also provide critical information to managers and administrators for future planning. This policy document will be co-authored and co-signed by three major international professional organisations who are also dissemination partners for the consortium.

Curators and educators: Curators who study and interpret collections from memory organisations will benefit from new methods of embedding conservation information about the materiality of objects in their collections. This will improve catalogue records and provide additional context for exhibitions and curation activities. Educators within and outside memory organisations will benefit from articulating types of conservation records which can form excellent examples for learning activities. Similar material can produce insights that can be shared with the public who visit museums or use library collections.

Publications

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