Linked Data: The Conservation Approach.

Jenny Bunn Saturday, 13 February 2021 11:56

On 10 February, we held a webinar with Athanasios Velios, Reader in Documentation at Ligatus, University of Arts London, who spoke about his work with the the Linked Conservation Data project: an AHRC-funded project to enable integration of conservation records.

The motivation behind holding this webinar was to help us to get to grips with what realising the Linked Data vision might look like and how it might be brought about. The Linked Conservation Data project and network is an attempt to realise this vision within the field of conservation and Thanasis' presentation led into an interesting discussion about our own Linked Archival Data vision - what it is and how it might be realised.

Linked Data seems to have been on the archival horizon for a very long time. The early 2010s saw a flurry of Linked Data research projects including Trenches to triples, Linking Lives and the JISC-funded Step Change which led, amongst other outcomes, to the incorporation of Linked Data functionality into CALM. And yet, as we reach the early 2020s, Linked Data still only seems to reside on the horizon linked now with the equally shadowy Records in Contexts, in development since 2012. 

Thansis stressed that the Linked Conservation Data project was as much, if not more, about community, as about technology. The emphasis was on data integration and the value that the conservation profession would gain, as a whole, by linking up its data. This led to reflection in the discussion about how the archive community, whilst it had long shared its data, had done so mostly for the benefit of its users, and not itself. Indeed it is perhaps only with the arrival of digital preservation that the community has started, through community watch, to realise the benefits of pooling data on, for example, file formats and migration pathways.

Thanasis also spoke about some of the building blocks needed to realise the Linked Data vision, such as URIs, common authority files and linked data repositories. He pointed us to this page for resources for a crash course in Linked Data, and this book was also recommended in the chat. He also introduced us to the CIDOC-CRM and posed questions about how it might be compatible and connected with the Records in Contexts Conceptual Model.

Thanasis mentioned that he had been surprised that there was some initial reluctance among conservators to share their data openly as this sharing also left them more open to criticism from their peers or the public, acknowledging perhaps that they may have made mistakes with treatments in the past. There would seem to be parallels here too for the archival profession and it does seem that realising the linked data vision is as much about opening up information about and gleaned from professional practice, as about the technical linking of data.

A video of the presentation is available for ARA members only (login required) from the Section's Videos page.