releasing open data for illuminated manuscript collection records and research…
Development of use case scenarios and understanding of user requirements for the metadata released by Open Book has relied heavily on work carried out with the sister project Contextual Wrappers 2. In the focus group sessions for Contextual Wrappers 2 and Open Book, the concept of open data was well received by data managers and users alike, although it was recognised that there may still be management resistance within some organisations. The general approach, adopted by both Contextual Wrappers 2 and Open Book, of guided discovery (providing contextual information, including collection level descriptions, to supplement item level records) was seen as positive and is already pursued by some museums. The value in particular to users unfamiliar with the subject or collection was highlighted, as well as a role in creating course subject guides. However, the potential was seen also for academic research, creating links across multiple collections and using collection level descriptions as a way to draw together bibliographic information and research material across a group of objects.
In addition to releasing item level metadata, Open Book has explored the modelling of data related to the outputs from ongoing research projects (including pigment analysis of illuminated manuscripts) at the Fitzwilliam Museum. An initial proposition was that the CIIM (collections information integration module), which was being deployed during the project, could be used to capture, store and eventually publish the primary research data outputs. As such, one group of potential users would have been internal, employing the CIIM to manage the research data. However, it became clear at an early stage that this wasn’t going to be possible or desirable. The real strength of the CIIM is data augmentation and publishing; to use it as a database for research outputs and to integrate it within the research workflow (particularly given that the CIIM’s user interface is at an early phase of development) wasn’t a viable option. Although the notion of ‘contexts’ within the CIIM, which augment the item data extracted from the collections database, could be used to store item-specific research data, it was apparent that research projects don’t operate according to this kind of simple one-to-one relationship. Tools and applications with which the researcher is already familiar are a more efficient means of handling the research process and better able to capture the complexities of the data.
Ultimately what we have tried to do is encapsulate the research output in a structured form as metadata about the project. This kind of ‘abstract’ of the research sounds (and is) quite straightforward but it isn’t something that we have done before or have had the capacity to store and publish in a sensible way. We will continue to explore how we might vary the granularity of these abstracts, from global project metadata down to individual strands of a research project, and how they can be linked to specific context information augmenting the basic object data. We want to both publish the fact that research (which may as yet not have any associated academic publication) is ongoing and associate the relevant objects with that research, creating links between item and research metadata in the same way as there are links between items and collections. We have more work to do on assessing the potential use of this metadata but the emphasis is on resource discovery, particularly within a cross-disciplinary environment where an activity such as pigment analysis would be of interest to researchers in disciplines outside the usual museum subject areas. This leads into what are, for us, new areas of aggregation of research activity data. We are familiar, in our object-centric view of the world, with object data aggregation but structuring research related data, and how this is/can be used in a wider academic context, is new territory for us.
In addition to any benefits to external users, there also may be internal gains. Although dealing only with a relatively small number of projects, one by-product of structured research activity data will be an enhanced strategic and administrative capacity to search and produce reports (e.g. research activity over last 10 years funded by x). The role of documenting research in this way was highlighted in the focus group sessions, where it was suggested that it could help raise the profile of research within museums, provide a metric in the Research Excellence Framework and be used for internal advocacy.