Goal: Two-Way Flow
Ultimately cultural heritage information must survive the test of time, and to do so it must remain relevant and alive. We have seen software projects come and go leaving no trace of improvement to the underlying source data.
We now realize that to raise data quality there must be a two-way flow, where curated improvements find their way back to the source. The realization of this strategy is a multi-year proposition which must be based on the right foundation of software and cooperation, and developed in phases.
Step One : Liberate, Aggregate, Navigate
The first step is to leverage the open source community and available software to free data from the vast array of hiding places. This is done by mapping it all into interoperable form so that it can be searched and navigated online. Only when data from different sources is juxtaposed do the varying degrees of data quality become obvious, and we clearly see the areas that need attention and enrichment. This is where Delving has so far excelled and established a solid foundation.
It is the mission of the cultural heritage professional to have this valuable information flourish, so future generations have a reference frame for understanding themselves. The opportunity to harness public interest to fertilize growth in quality is in danger of being overlooked, solely due to the perception that the technical task is too daunting. It is not, but it is also not easily tackled without international collaboration and the careful concentration of talent.
The current provisional model in which cultural heritage data is aggregated from sources and delivered to a central index is not able to contribute to quality improvement. Even if improvements can be discovered and recorded centrally, there is no natural flow back to the source storage, so they will be lost. Essentially, aggregated data is dead, since it cannot change.
Step Two : Links and Events
The next step is to acknowledge that improvement is all about making links. When the name of a person or place is fortified by a link to a shared representation, that link becomes a pivot which can lead to discoveries. Even when someone suggests a correction, it is best treated as a link between their version and the existing one, so that a curator has the raw materials for an improvement. There is also a great deal of same-as linking needed to unify disparate shared vocabularies.
Culture is a semantic network of linked events, so the model used to capture it will necessarily be event-oriented. Events connect people, places, things, and ideas, building a kind of time machine for future generations to explore. The vast majority of potential connections have yet to be discovered, and event based data helps by revealing the implicit proximity among elements in the fabric of cultural knowledge. Delving has partnered with the top experts in the community developing the ISO standard Conceptual Reference Model, in order to ensure that the best strategies are followed.
From the implementation point of view, certain absolutely key prerequisites must be satisfied simultaneously before new links can be properly created, used and preserved. Without identifier persistence, and a streamlined curatorial workflow combined with an engaging online presence, the full potential for rich contextualization will be lost. Any of these individually will not succeed to a satisfying degree.
Step Three : Standards and Ubiquity
Some of the core building blocks must be present everywhere in the emerging information space so that flow is not hindered. These building blocks cannot be black boxes, so we must develop them in the open. History shows that open source infrastructure fosters the proliferation of collaborative solutions with better longevity and standards compliance. We at Delving and our institutional and intellectual partners believe that together we can build a responsible and future-safe infrastructure for cultural heritage.
Hopefully the current climate of financial austerity can be an inspiration for working together across borders for a single shared base that optimizes the impact while minimizing expense.