Sunday, 22 November 2015

What about Trove?

Lorcan Dempsey, who seems to divine library trends before they become so, recently synthesised a post about San Francisco start-ups. 

The backstory, about moving from London to San Francisco, highlighted how living in two very different places influenced the design of many 21st applications:
Bay Area problems
That is, living here after living in London, it’s easier to see physical retail as the inefficient end-point to a logistics system, and harder to see it as a curation, discovery and demand generation system. I sometimes wonder how much that difference shapes ecommerce in the Bay Area versus New York and London.
One can also look at Amazon in this light - like Sears Roebuck before it, Amazon lets anyone anywhere buy things that you could previously only get in a big city. But that is not at all the same as letting people shop the way you do in a big city. Buying is not shopping.[]
Buying is not shopping. Just as searching for a known item in a very large discovery service (buying) such as Trove is not the same as browsing for an item, which may appear in a results set serendipitously (shopping) but turns out to be a perfectly reasonable immediate answer to the question. The medium for that item might be a digitised newspaper or a link to a monograph, a journal, a piece of sheet music, a film, a map or an artwork. Trove does this effortlessly and well, crossing the boundary from traditional catalogues to pool information for a wide range of Australian sources.

This is the power of Trove, its design architecture reflects the need to approach research using one or other of those finding techniques. It expedites both, but with an extra fillip - collaboration. The National Library was and is able to work closely with its close cultural neighbours to experiment with and grow discovery services, curating an unparalleled  virtual collection of Australiana. Since 2009, this has expanded from libraries, archives, galleries and museums to include historical societies and local government collections.

The virtual collection is created by sharing item descriptions, not monopolising them, and Trove supports this bi-directionally. That is, when one agency shares the descriptions (metadata) with Trove another agency can copy those descriptions, through the Trove Application Programming Interface (API), to create new virtual 'shopping' experiences.

However if technical support is not on hand to manage the terabytes of metadata available via the API, there are multiple ways to experience collaborative digital collection building through Trove:

⦁    a simple technical method to become a content partner, and in return, receive a     persistent, unique label for every item identified  
⦁    transforming existing item descriptions to help distinguish items in search results, while emphasising which agency has contributed them  
⦁    supporting virtual repatriation to overcome territorial fuzziness, where cohesive collections have been split across geographically close boundaries
⦁    influencing digitisation choice, to feature previously unavailable items
⦁    alternative websites, working on behalf of collections managed elsewhere 
⦁    volunteer mobilisation, to fill in description gaps or improve the legibility of local community newspapers
⦁    experimental platforms, built on Trove content, which help us to understand our language, our 19th and 20th century values, and our environment.

 [Ref: 2015 Museums & Galleries Queensland conference].  
The impact for the general public and researchers is immeasurable. Trove points to items held all over Australia, when the searcher didn't even know that they needed them. And the searcher is referred to an agency, large or small, which they may not have been aware of before. The shopping experience is fulfilling for both searcher and agency.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Farewell to a gracious lady

Still-life with self-portrait
Viennese artist Judy Cassab died last week, on Tuesday 3 November. She was an extraordinarily generous person, a trait which shone through her art and her life in Australia.

Trove collates a lot of detail from a range of cultural heritage services about Ms Cassab's contribution to the country which adopted her, it is easy to find her story there. Not only snapshots of her work, but her thoughts are also captured for posterity in an interview from the National Library's collection, and as part of a joint initiative with the National Gallery

It is inspiring to hear the soft clear voice explaining the ineluctable force which motivated her painting. 

In 1999, the National Library decided to develop a new web service, which became known as PictureAustralia. An aggregation of the digitised images from art and photographic collections around Australia, PictureAustralia exemplified the value of collaboration nationally. Using simple web technologies, the creation of virtual galleries from physically separated collections became possible.

Internal discussions then ensued to decide how best to promote and raise awareness of the service. The National Library already held some of the works of Judy Cassab including portraits. It was important to illustrate the breadth of Australia's old and new collections, and Ms Cassab's contribution was an easy choice to feature. In addition, her generosity was already well known. 

So an approach to use her self-portrait as a postcard was made. The response was instant - "please go ahead and may I have several copies to send to friends?" The Library was only too happy to oblige, and this postcard was one of the reasons for the success which PictureAustralia became.