Creating a new humanities resource for researchers

Added by Friedelgrant on 26 April 2011 10:37

RIN’s recent report Reinventing research? Information practices in the humanities couldn’t have come at a better time for us at The European Library.

Debates about what humanities researchers want from an online resource have been the focus of many of our meetings lately because we are currently redesigning our website to create a new service for them.

When our revitalized website goes live at the end of the year, it will give access to the union catalogues and collections of all 48 national libraries across Europe. Our collection will grow even bigger in 2012, with the addition of 5 million digital books, texts, photographs and films from Europe’s leading research and university libraries via the Europeana Libraries project.

A broad range of treasures will be indexed in the database; everything from books scanned in partnerships between Google and major libraries to movies on the history of medical science and the handwritten letters of philosopher Immanuel Kant. There will also be material documenting themes such as the history of travel in Europe and the Spanish Civil War.

By bringing all of this together in one resource, researchers will have access to millions of objects covering dozens of subjects.  But our work will only be complete if we can organize these objects and present them in a way that is appealing and helpful to researchers.

When RIN released their report, we were reminded of 10 key points to keep in mind when designing new resources. They include the obvious (make it easy to use) and other less frequently discussed points, such as the fact that researchers would like not only technical support for using a website but also support in the form of real-life case studies that show how other researchers are incorporating the website in their workflow.

We’ve come to our own conclusions as well, after numerous meetings discussing infrastructure, metadata and graphical design. We’ve decided that not only do we need a wide range of data, but we must continue to place a high priority on quality and reliability, while extending our focus to create an element of unplanned discovery through special collections on various themes. These points are reinforced by a recent post from Dan Cohen on what scholars want from a digital library.

We’ve even talked about what our website would be, if it were a car or a famous building. For the record, we selected the Mini Cooper as our car, and the Louvre with its glass Pyramid as our museum. They both combine the best of classic design with a modern edge.

Making all of this happen will be a challenge. There is a huge amount of data to represent and there are challenges to overcome, particularly in standardizing and formatting the metadata from a diverse range of sources and languages. We’re working on it though, and we welcome your suggestions for how we can create a resource that humanities researchers will love.

Friedel Grant, PR Officer, The European Library

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