Engaging with Europeana

As part of the Europeana Cloud project, Agiatis Benardou (Digital Curation Unit, Athens) and Vicky Garnett (Trinity College Dublin) have been exploring Europeana for academic scholarship.

The Europeana portal in its current form has been available to researchers now for nearly 7 years, and in that time has provided access to collections from Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAMs) across Europe. Some of its main strengths are clear frameworks for licensing and metadata and the ability to create massive standardised open datasets from its huge network of cultural institutions.

Europeana recently published the details of its content priorities for Humanities and the Social Sciences, (the full document outlining content priorities is available here) in which a survey of the 100 largest collections within Europeana was conducted. An outcome of this work was that, while the variety of artefacts and items within the collections are vast and varied, a number of recurring themes presented themselves.

Social historians, for example, would find great use from the extensive collections of newspapers, photographs, political pamphlets, and census records that are available. Botanists would certainly be able to make interesting inferences from the images of preserved flowers from Kew Gardens. Sociology and Middle East studies majors might make use of the numbers of photographs from kibbutzim that span the later 20th century. The potential for use within these collections is wide open, and the Europeana Cloud project is investigating how researchers might gain greater access to these collections via its Europeana Research platform.

Where can Europeana work better for the research community ?

Over the course of the Europeana Cloud project so far, we have been investigating the potential uses for the collections for researchers within the Humanities and Social Sciences. This has been done through web surveys and through the Expert Fora that were hosted in the first 12 months of the project, which brought together researchers from within those fields to discuss both the content and the potential tools that could be used with that content. Furthermore, case studies have been devised around the needs of researchers in Philosophy and Musicology.

Τhree core problems for the researchers in philosophy and digital humanities were identified:

  • Problems with navigating and identifying relevant (digital) content and with building corpora;
  • Lack of user-friendly tools for conducting fine-grained textual research;
  • Lack of appropriate tools and infrastructure that allow members of research groups to work collaboratively.

Four identified core problems for musicologists include:

  • Problems involving data creation;
  • Lack of music scores;
  • Information exchange and linking of data;
  • Retrieval and analysis of contextual information.

Using the Europeana API

As well as the portal, Europeana provides access to collections of data via a RESTful API. This is useful for researchers who are proficient in using APIs and the resulting data, but as we have found through our investigations into API use among the GLAM community, an API is only as good as the metadata to which it is linked, and is only as accessible as the developers, and indeed the associated documentation, will allow.

Various apps have already been developed using the current Europeana API. For example, the creator of ‘Culture Collage’ (http://www.zenlan.com/collage/) created an interface that allows the user to search for images of items made available by multiple aggregators, such as the DPLA and Trove, as well as Europeana. Serendip-o-matic (http://serendipomatic.org/) works on a similar principle of searching a multitude of data sources, including Europeana, by first reviewing text that has been entered into the search field by the user. It then selects random phrases within that text, and uses them as search terms to identify and bring up items from the collections available. In both cases there are still items which are presented to the user that either do not have complete data, or an image associated and therefore might not be useable.

Recommendations for Europeana Research

The Expert Fora produced a number of recommendations. The overall improvement of metadata was one, and a related recurring proposition was the development of a 'read/write’ API to replace the currently read-only approach, so that the annotation and enrichment of the available data can be allowed by third parties.

Build specific, re-usable corpora to provide critical mass in certain areas. Researchers noted the breadth of the data aggregated in Europeana, but this contrasted with their need for narrow but richer dataset. Any Europeana Research content strategy should focus on particular areas where they can build and develop datasets (ideally including content as well as metadata) that serve different use cases.

Continuing to develop relationships with research infrastructures to ensure the re-use of data. To this end, Europeana is working closely with DARIAH and CLARIN, not just in order to ensure its data is reused in researchers’ workflows but also because the expertise in building specific tools lies not with Europeana itself, but in research communities that make up DARIAH and CLARIN.

This feeds neatly into Europeana’s aim for Europeana Research to produce a ‘platform, not a portal’, and provide greater usability for researchers particularly within the Humanities and Social Sciences.

By following these recommendations, Europeana Research aims to become the conduit that brings researchers within HEIs and Research Infrastructures closer to the data available through the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums throughout the continent.