Cultural heritage - the power of open

Cultural heritage organisations are looking for ways to open up their collections and data.

"We believe in the power of open"

Open GLAM is a network of people and organisations working to open up the data and content held by Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums around the world.   Its aims are to promote content or data that is free to use, re-use and re-distribute without technical or legal restrictions.  The emerging 'open ecosystem' is broadening access to cultural heritage, collections and research and fostering creativity, enrichment and contextualisation.

A desire to foster a better understanding between librarians and developers was reflected in the nature of the openGLAM workshop (held in June and organised by the OKFN) which brought together hackers and others to learn how best to open up data and content and to undertake some innovative development (#bibliohack). 

GLAMs are already involved in projects and initiatives that set out to open up our shared cultural heritage.  Some organisations are partnering with Wikipedia to enrich content - which in itself is leading to increased traffic to the GLAMs' own content.  Europeana's First World War project has seen citizens 'donating' artefacts and stories to the online collection. Other project examples include:

APIs for GLAMs

Adrian Stevenson described why linked data and APIs are so valuable for GLAMs, helping to improve findability and offering users seamless views across datasets.  APIs mean improved resource discovery for users and ensure that data is set free, no longer trapped in silos.   Linked data - a set of best practices for publishing and connecting structured data on the web - has its own challenges, including:

  • Dirty data and URI persistence - with archival data the problem is retro fitting - quite challenging - often gaps in the data
  • Steep learning curves - can't gently step into it and it is complex
  • Sustainable data sources - how sustainable are they? Using other peoples' data is challenging
  • How scalable are triple stores? 
  • Can you track the provenance of data sources?

Is your data ready for a hackathon?

Harry Harold from Neon Tribe described how to make your data as 'attractive' as possible to developers. 

  • Be enthusiastic about your data - blog and tweet about it before any hacking event
  • Share any documentation ahead of time
  • Data that can make a good story is always popular
  • Let hackers play - don't have pre-conceived ideas about what they can do with the data
  • Data that 'plays well' with other data is always popular

Re-using open cultural data

One of the key advantages of opening up your data to others is that, as Owen Stephens said, you are less likely to do the 'unexpected' with your own data.  However, your in-depth knowledge of your data means you may be able to explore some interesting aspects of the content. 

Need help explaining APIs to your colleagues?

If your colleagues are your biggest barrier, this article by Dan Woods and published by was highly recommended.  In it, Woods outlines how to explain the benefits of APIs to your most senior colleagues and other doubters within your organisation.     

Collective learning

The London meeting was one of several being held in Europe to discuss opening up cultural content.  The meetings all concluded with discussions about the problems facing GLAM organisations as they set out to 'open up'.  OpenGLAM has gathered this collective knowledge here and will be working to add to the understanding of these concepts on their site.

Tim Hodson of Talis has blogged about the event here.

Image by Tribalicious via Flickr.