Monday, August 04, 2014

Realizing Lessons of the Last 20 Years: A Manifesto for Data Provisioning & Aggregation Services for the Digital Humanities (A Position Paper)

I stumbled across this paper (found on the GBIF Public Library):
Oldman, D., de Doerr, M., de Jong, G., Norton, B., & Wikman, T. (2014, July). Realizing Lessons of the Last 20 Years: A Manifesto for Data Provisioning and Aggregation Services for the Digital Humanities (A Position Paper) System. D-Lib Magazine. CNRI Acct. doi:10.1045/july2014-oldman

The first sentence of the abstract makes the paper sound a bit of a slog to read, but actually it's a great fun, full of pithy comments on the state of digital humanities. Almost all of this is highly relevant to mobilising natural history data. Here are the paper's main points (emphasis added):
  1. Cultural heritage data provided by different organisations cannot be properly integrated using data models based wholly or partly on a fixed set of data fields and values, and even less so on 'core metadata'. Additionally, integration based on artificial and/or overly generalised relationships (divorced from local practice and knowledge) simply create superficial aggregations of data that remain effectively siloed since all useful meaning is available only from the primary source. This approach creates highly limited resources unable to reveal the significance of the source information, support meaningful harmonisation of data or support more sophisticated use cases. It is restricted to simple query and retrieval by 'finding aids' criteria.
  2. The same level of quality in data representation is required for public engagement as it is for research and education. The proposition that general audiences do not need the same level of quality and the ability to travel through different datasets using semantic relationships is a fiction and is damaging to the establishment of new and enduring audiences.
  3. Thirdly, data provisioning for integrated systems must be based on a distributed system of processes in which data providers are an integral part, and not on a simple and mechanical view of information system aggregation, regardless of the complexity of the chosen data models. This more distributed approach requires a new reference model for the sector. This position contrasts with many past and existing systems that are largely centralised and where the expertise and practice of providers is divorced.

Recommended reading.