Parallel Session 3

Parallel Session 3 – Developing Collections in Advanced Technological Environments

Moderator: Martin Moyle, University College London Library, Culture, Collections and Open Science (LCCOS), United Kingdom
Location: Tassos Papadopoulos – Room 104 (1st Floor)

3.1) Encountering digital collections: Understanding and developing innovative interactions.

Presenter: Andrew Corrigan, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Over recent decades, our collections, operations, and audiences have moved from an analogue to a mixed analogue/digital environment. The “digital shift” has transformed our ways of working, the tools and methods at our disposal, our databases, and our catalogues. It has democratised access and enabled new modes of distant reading, but it has also created a fluid and dynamic landscape, of which we are still developing our understanding. This challenge poses several questions for gatekeepers of digital library spaces and the interactions they enable:

Can we better understand the relationship between the digital and our physical or cognitive processes?

How does incorporating the digital into our physical lives impact research and teaching?

What are libraries, in their role as a nexus, doing to understand and facilitate encounters with the virtual world we have created?

This paper presents the ongoing work of an AHRC-RLUK Professional Practice Fellowship project that is exploring practical approaches to using digital collections in research and pedagogy. The Fellowship seeks to respond to the questions above through five themes that are drawn from some of the embodied actions involved in the matrix of our digital landscape:

  1. Methods of note making
  2. Practices of walking
  3. Processes of collaboration
  4. Acts of creation
  5. Impact on wellbeing

In doing so, it provides an opportunity to identify commonalities around which libraries can build support and confidence to fulfil their missions with creative approaches that inspire both users and staff. This paper will reflect on the broad range of theoretical and philosophical approaches that are inspiring this project, and how these might be incorporated into the everyday practice.

Whilst the outcomes of this project are ongoing, this paper presents the emerging understanding and will demonstrate this through case-studies of related projects. One such example is ‘Walking with Constable’, a collaborative project that uses rudimentary digital technologies to take archive material back into the physical landscape which created it through a series of curated walks. On the walks, participants explore ways to document the shared experience of viewing and engaging with archive material as a form of public writing. This activity is not only a fruitful way to build collaborations with other institutions but can be an extremely engaging method of facilitating interactions between academics, curators, and wider society. It can democratise access through the creation of a platform on which every participant is considered in expert in some sense, but it can also reach audiences who would not normally physically, or even virtually, come to or use our institutions. This has meant the project has proven a highly valuable route to incorporating those who might be considered underrepresented in academic research processes. ‘Walking with Constable’ thus demonstrates a replicable method of using digital technologies to engage with publics in ways that circumvent the standard formats and infrastructures of library and archive spaces.

3.2) RKD Research, the digital hub for art historical research

Presenters: Reinier van ’t Zelfde and Astrid Verheusen, RKD Netherlands Institute for Art History, The Netherlands

The RKD, Netherlands Institute for Art History, is the knowledge centre for the visual arts of the Netherlands and provides worldwide access to knowledge, research and information for the academic community, museums and the general public. The RKD acquires, manages, researches, connects and presents art historical knowledge and information, while actively seeking to involve people in the development and proposals for future improvements in digital services and outreach.

The RKD has been transitioning from physical to digital services in line with the Digital Heritage Reference Architecture and within the Digital Heritage Network. As part of a review conducted by the Ministry of Education in 2022, the RKD received two key recommendations: to develop a radical digital strategy to keep pace with societal developments, and to clarify and concretize its public function and social relevance.

The RKD has responded to these challenges in two parallel ways. First, in 2023, the RKD has developed a new digital strategy that includes a clear definition of user groups and the (especially digital) ways in which these groups will be served with innovative services:

The RKD is the digital entry point for research into the visual arts of the Netherlands in an international perspective, by making unique parts of the collection digitally accessible in combination with innovative tools (enabling new types of art historical research). The RKD focuses on both the art-loving individual and the intensive researcher with a two-track strategy. For the intensive researcher, we are a knowledge institute that is building a growing group of enthusiastic users and ambassadors of tomorrow through a connecting role, participation in research projects and community building initiatives.

Secondly, the RKD Research interface provides access to all of the RKD’s art history databases. It contains a wealth of information on works of art, individuals and institutions, research results and art historical archives. Researchers can make their own selections of images and view and compare them in their own digital workspace. There is also a visual search facility that gives access to five million reproductions of works of art in the RKD documentation.

RKD Research contains a large collection of art historical data that complements data collections from other institutions. By publishing the data as Linked Open Data, the RKD makes it reusable and connectable. These links not only enrich the data of other institutions, but also connects them to data in other contexts that are also linked to the RKD data. Where the RKD ‘building blocks’ are not primarily created for a large audience, they become an essential link in the complete map of national digital heritage data that the Dutch government wants to achieve for a general audience. The same approach makes it possible to provide richer data by connecting with our traditional user group of art historians.

The presentation will further elaborate on the digital strategy and its translation to the RKD Research platform. It will also share the first experiences of users after six months in use.

3.3) Unlocking Cultural Heritage: How the Onassis Library Embraces Technology to Connect with Society

Presenters: Vasiliki Gerontopoulou and Nikos Sideris, Onassis Foundation – Onassis Library, Greece

The Onassis Library, established in 2009 under the auspices of the Onassis Foundation, stands as a bastion of cultural wealth, housing rare collections, ranging from old books and historical archives to artworks, dating from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century. Dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of Hellenic cultural heritage, this trove of treasures has embraced technological innovation as a strategic direction to connect with a global society.

Adopting innovative strategies and extending its services, during the previous years, the library managed to highlight its content and engage diverse audiences through online platforms, digital workshops, student competitions, digital exhibitions, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) applications, 3D video games, and e-books. These educational programs empowered participants to learn, bring to life, and recreate historical documents, archives, and artworks, using advanced technologies and multimodal digital tools.

Aligned with this vision, the library embarks on an innovative journey, leveraging technology to unlock cultural heritage and connect with society, particularly focusing on the new generation. Therefore, the persistent endeavor to transform Onassis Library into an open cultural space “without walls” continues until now, with the implementation of various digital projects. A new repository platform, VR and AR guides, holographic applications, timelines, and advanced data management tools, enhance the bonds with the public and mark a significant leap forward. These initiatives not only extend the library’s mission beyond mere preservation, but also inspire a broader audience to rediscover, understand, appreciate, reinterpret, and spiritually connect with the past, acting as platforms for cross-cultural dialogue with society and ensuring the democratization of cultural resources on a global scale.

By advocating for and reintroducing cultural wealth through communication platforms and channels, libraries ensure their relevance and accessibility for generations to come, fostering social and educational benefits. Furthermore, open access to digital materials strongly supports the right to knowledge and contributes to shaping both individual and collective memory. This technological integration aligns with broader considerations within the field, charting the landscape of artificial intelligence, and embedding equity, inclusivity, and diversity in library operations.

The Onassis Library’s digital projects and programs contribute to leadership in independence, sustainability, and progress, while also asserting community ownership of scholarly communication and facilitating interactive platforms with society. As a testament to the library’s commitment to scientific inquiry, cultural preservation, and democracy empowerment, this study elucidates the methodologies, technologies, and outcomes of these initiatives.

53rd LIBER Annual Conference