Sum of All Astrolabes; Exploring Collections with Wikidata
Oxford's Museum of the History of Science has become the latest UK GLAM institution to partner with Wikimedia, sharing catalogue data about its entire collection of 164 astrolabes and astrolabe parts and, in early September, sharing 156 astrolabe images. Martin has built Astrolabe Explorer during August as a pilot, to encourage collections and private holders of astrolabes to share data and images to make a comprehensive database. "A global collection of astrolabes in linked open data" is a blog post explaining how astrolabes can be described in Wikidata. Silke Ackermann, the director of the Museum, is presenting at a conference in early September to raise interest in the project.
Astrolabe Explorer is the fourth in a series of prototype discovery tools, created to show how Oxford's GLAM collections can be made more visible by using Wikidata to create new pathways:
- Collection Explorer shows people and places related to a few Oxford collections: mainly Eastern art from the Ashmolean Museum, but also some art from the Bodleian and from the Pitt Rivers Museum.
- The Sibthorp and Bauer Expedition is currently being developed to show how Wikidata can help to visualise an expedition and the botanical species that were collected in different times and places. In August I added an interactive map and timeline to show the month-by-month progress of the expedition through the Mediterranean in 1786 and 1787. This application also uses Wikidata's tree-of-life data to show species within their family and genus.
- Manuscript Explorer was the first of these to be created, but has only just become publicly available. It shows all manuscripts known to Wikidata, with Commons images and Wikipedia article previews if they are available.
Over the summer, Collection Explorer was assessed using an online survey answered by 24 students, equally split between undergraduates and graduates. Here is an extract from the independent summary of results:
The majority of users would see some benefit in being able to easily find information on a specific topic within Oxford GLAM collections. Users also indicated that it was very important for them that information be easy to find, complete, and relevant.
Most users saw the value added by Collection Explorer in helping find relevant information about the Buddha in art. They valued the visual features of the prototypes and obvious layout and ‘Pinterest-style display’. However, when prompted for feedback a few mentioned that the information could be more clearly organised and presented.
Users indicated that they would like the option to have a search bar featured as well as filters to help navigate and narrow results.
A few users indicated that having more complete results would assist them in using Collections Explorer for research purposes. One user noted: ‘This could be really useful for my Roman Art paper. If I could search particular people and find any depictions of them with a relevant fact file, that would be revolutionary. It would require a database similar to Beazley archive for Greek pottery.’ While another requested ‘a section on the most upto-date scholarship around each item.’
Other users requested the inclusion of more practical information: where in Oxford the object is located and how to get there. This suggests that while some participants are using Collection Explorer for research purposes, others hope the prototype will facilitate real-life visits to the objects.
Suggestions for improvement
- Include ‘search bar’ feature so users can access results directly pertaining to their interests.
- Include additional information--cataloguing and/or bibliography--so that users can utilise the prototype for research purposes. The accuracy and relevance of information is very important to users, so that available on Collections Explorer should be able to compete with that accessible on the GLAM institutions’ individual websites.
- Incorporate a ‘in Oxford’ feature so that users can see not only where objects orginate from, but where they are located in Oxford.
- [I'll paraphrase this point since it refers to another project. The report authors suggest that other resource discovery tools could feed into Collection Explorer: people who use a social media app to request information about a topic would benefit from being directed to the appropriate page in Collection Explorer]
Martin responds: The explorer actually does have links through to the catalogue records for all the items, but in the version that these students saw, the mouse-over effect was subtle, so they may not have realised that they were being presented with active links. The links are now more evident. A "search bar" (not actually search, but auto-complete) is present in Manuscript Explorer and could be adapted for Collection Explorer.
Wikidata knows (as I write) of only four documents (academic papers, books, non-Wikipedia encyclopedia articles, etc.) whose "main topic" is astrolabes. Here is a representation of them, in the Scholia tool: scholia:topic=Q164992
Perhaps Martin can encourage colleagues on this project to add more, or at least provide metadata about such papers, so that they can be added to Wikidata? If that metadata is in some sort of standard bibliographic format, or even a spreadsheet, or at worst a list of DOIs, it won't take long to add them, and I'll be happy to assist. Andy Mabbett (Pigsonthewing); Talk to Andy 19:29, 8 September 2018 (UTC)
- I like the way you're thinking, Andy. The Astrolabe Explorer that exists now is intended as a demo to create interest in a much more ambitious project, and this project would include describing some academic publications and extracting data from them to have a more complete global catalogue. The most up-to-date information is in some PDFs in a researcher's ResearchGate profile, and part of the attraction of this project is making that research more usable and sustainable. Cheers, MartinPoulter (talk) 13:32, 18 September 2018 (UTC)