Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto - OCS, 15th INTERNATIONAL ISKO CONFERENCE

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Alexandre Fortier, Elaine Ménard

Last modified: 2017-12-18



Cultural and heritage institutions such as museums have a responsibility to give full access to their collections to their online users. However, this is often limited by many factors (discrepancy of the descriptions, lack of financial resources, incompatibility of exchange between databases, etc.). Linked open data seems an interesting solution for cultural and heritage institutions to disseminate their information assets by establishing links between multiple data networks. So far, search engines available on museum websites have the sole objective of performing a simple search on the museum’s own database. The search results are therefore limited to the content of that one database, e.g. a limited number of descriptive elements such as the title of a work, the name of its creator or dimensions, and sometimes a picture of the museum object. The use of linked open data promises to change fundamentally the ways in which users interact with information.

The idea of using the web infrastructure for making metadata accessible in an interoperable way is not new. Heath and Bizer (2011) provided a detailed explanation of linked data and a general state-of-the art survey on existing data sources and solutions. Some link open data projects specifically focused on museum objects have recently been launched (Oard et al., 2014). For example, Europeana, a digital library created in 2008 by the European Commission, brings together various digital resources (books, audiovisual material, photographs, archives, etc.) of national libraries from 27 countries. This organization published its own model of linked open data (Europeana Labs, 2016). In 2014, the Smithsonian American Art Museum started publishing records of museum objects from their collections as linked open data, and consequently linking a growing body of open data published by organizations worldwide (Szekely et al., 2013). However, these projects are not yet widespread, and museums still hesitate to go in that direction, which illustrates the pressing need to conduct extensive research on linked open data.



Expectations of museum website users, however, are relatively unknown. This research project aims to identify and understand the needs and expectations of museum website users in terms of descriptive data of museum objects and how linked open data would change their interactions with information offered on museum websites. Specifically, this paper will present the needs and expectations of museum site users in terms of descriptive data of associated to museum objects of any kind as well as the ways in which linked open data can enrich their experience.

This piece of research is a portion of a larger research project that proposes to examine the fundamental elements for the description of museum objects and model them by using linked open data. More specifically, three objectives have been established for the project: (1) To understand what are the needs and expectations of museum site users in terms of descriptive data of associated to museum objects of any kind; (2) To define a model for the description of museum objects using linked open data that would be simple for museums to implement; and (3) To strengthen data exchange networks amongst various cultural and heritage institutions.



Over the last decade or so, several different methodologies have been proposed and tested for involving individuals in the interface and system design process. Amongst the numerous methodologies identified and described by Beheshti, Large and Clement (2008), this study proposes to use “Informant Design,” where participants’ input is required at various stages of the design process (Scaife and Rogers, 1999). Participants are viewed as informants who can help researchers fill their knowledge gaps. Informant Design has been chosen for this study because it allows real users’ contributions at crucial stages of model development. In order to gain valuable information on the needs and expectations of museum site users, a sample of 60 museum website users has been used. The participants were asked to complete a questionnaire in which closed questions and open-ended are used to gather information on descriptive data necessary for museum objects. The data collected by the questionnaire was completed by 15 individual follow-up interviews in order to freely discuss needs and expectations of museum sites of users, in terms of descriptive data of museum objects. The interviews were audio-recorded and then transcribed. The data collected with the questionnaires and interviews was compiled and analysed to discover emerging patterns in needs and expectations of museum website users.



Data analysis is ongoing. Preliminary results indicate users of museum websites find that museums, even major ones, generally present little information of interest about objects in their collection. Traditional physical metadata such as dimensions and material (or medium) are also seen as uninteresting. Information about cultural and geographical origins and period of objects appears to be of greater interest. Users would also be interested to find richer information about creators of objects and contextual information on use. Knowledge of linked open data was low amongst participants. When questioned about the possibilities that linked open data could offer, however, users expressed interest in discovering about similar objects in the museum’s collection or belonging to other museums.



Creating links between different databases offers a range of possibilities that will affect the ways in which users interact with information. The use of linked open data offers unprecedented context for enriching museum objects descriptions with existing metadata records with links to semantically related resources. Object descriptions could be augmented by adding to the data provided at a museum various elements from other databases. This is done independently of the language used to describe museum objects since links can be created between databases supporting multiple languages. With the integration of text and multimedia (3D images, sound explanations, etc.) this will constitute a benefit for certain groups of users with specific information needs (e.g., visually impaired could benefit from audio descriptions). The voice of users, however, remains relatively unheard in many initiatives using linked open data, and this project proposes to fill that gap, to ultimately provide a model that will meet their needs and expectations.



Beheshti, J., Large, A. and Clement, I. (2008) ‘Exploring Methodologies for Designing a Virtual Reality Library for Children’, Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Information Science. http://www.caisacsi.ca/proceedings/2008/beheshti_2008.pdf.


Heath, T. and Bizer, C. (2011) Linked data evolving the web into a global data space. San Rafael, Calif.: Morgan & Claypool.


Europeana Labs (2016) Europeana Linked Open Data. http://labs.europeana.eu/api/linked-open-data/introduction/.

Oard, D. W., Levi, A. S., Punzalan, R. L. and Warren, R. (2014) ‘Bridging communities of practice: Emerging technologies for content-centered linking’, Museums and the Web 2014. http://mw2014.museumsandtheweb.com/paper/bridging-communities-of-practice-emerging-technologies-for-content-centered-linking/.


Scaife, M. and Rogers, Y. (1999) ‘Kids as informants: Telling us what we didn’t know or confirming what we knew already’, in Druin, A. (ed.) The design of children’s technology. San Francisco: Kaufmann.


Szekely, P., Knoblock, C. A., Yang, F., Zhu, X., Fink, E. E., Allen, R. and Goodlander, G. (2013) ‘Connecting the Smithsonian American Art Museum to the Linked Data Cloud’ in Cimiano, P. et al. (eds.) The Semantic Web: Semantics and Big Data. Berlin: Springer.