Widening access to Linked Ancient World Data

paper, specified "short paper"
  1. 1. Sarah Middle

    Open University

Work text
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IntroductionLinked Data technologies connect disparate open datasets, revealing intersections between them, and could therefore be extremely powerful for Humanities research. There is much discussion among the Digital Humanities community about the production of such resources, but: How are they experienced by end users? How might they be made more accessible to a wider public? My paper aims to address these questions, based on findings from recent user research. I begin by outlining my study in relation to existing research, before discussing my findings (1). I end by summarising and providing initial recommendations (2), highlighting that data openness and accuracy do not guarantee accessibility without human intervention.Background: Linked Data and user researchLinked Data has the potential to transform Humanities research by making new connections, visualising relationships, and facilitating access to a broader range of materials. Previous research has, however, identified a number of barriers to its production in a Humanities context, including the amount of training required, lack of awareness of its benefits, and unwillingness to depart from familiar tabular formats (Barbera, 2013, pp. 96, 98; Isaksen, 2011, pp. 153–154; van Hooland & Verborgh, 2014, p. 51). I aim to identify and address barriers to Linked Data use, rendering supposedly ‘open’ data resources unusable outside a relatively niche segment of the research community. Although initiatives such as Pelagios emphasise the importance of a user-centred approach to development (Simon, Barker, Isaksen, & de Soto Cañamares, 2015, pp. 54–56), in general there is less existing research on Linked Data use, as opposed to production. One exception (Angelis et al., 2015) studied use of the Europeana platform; findings included identifying the need for human-curated content as a ‘way in’ to the data. Limiting my study to researchers of the Ancient World, a microcosm of the Humanities, I set out to identify which Linked Data resources are used most frequently, explore users’ experiences of these resources, and recommend how they might attract a wider audience.Methodology: survey and interviewsTo obtain a breadth of views and in-depth understanding of specific cases, the study included a survey and interviews. Based on the assumption that few Ancient World researchers have used Linked Data, but many could benefit from it, I aimed the survey at all Ancient World researchers who use digital tools and resources, intending to apply more generic findings to Linked Data specifically. 212 participants responded, who were predominantly:associated with universities (academics, researchers, or students); aged 25-44;from the UK, US or Germany (although 32 countries were represented). There were slightly more women than men, with a small proportion who preferred not to provide their gender, or to self-describe. I selected an interview sample of 17, ensuring differing levels of technical experience, while being broadly demographically representative of the survey population. The combined survey and interview results comprise a cross-section of views relating to Linked Ancient World Data at the present time.Findings: curation and documentationThe 23% of participants who had knowingly used Linked Data were asked about the tool or resource with which they are most familiar. Those discussed most often were Pleiades, Pelagios and Papyri.info. Features of these resources that participants particularly appreciated included:accessing multiple data sources from a single point;advanced search features;viewing connections between related entities.Such features were also of interest to Ancient World researchers more generally. Even those with limited technical experience showed an interest in integrating multiple resources and incorporating advanced query options to improve efficiency of discovery. Linked Data resources therefore clearly have a broad potential appeal.User experience comments on Pleiades, Pelagios and Papyri.info were largely positive, for example:"I found it user-friendly and intuitive." [PART007, Survey] – on PelagiosHowever, some participants identified potential barriers:it was sometimes unclear where to start;documentation could be improved.Subsequent interview discussions indicated that, although clear documentation was appreciated, less technically experienced participants were unlikely to consult it at all due to an assumption that it would be too complex to understand. Participants’ suggestions for resolving the above barriers included:developing curated collections;incorporating use cases ("Clear case studies for non-technical people." [PART054, Survey]).Both these suggestions harness human skills rather than relying solely on richness of data. Conclusions: the human factor Findings from this study illustrate the importance of human intervention to ensure that Linked Open Data is usable and accessible by a wider public, rather than leaving the data to speak for itself. Specific recommendations include:Curating content to provide a starting point for new users.Improving documentation, by:ensuring clarity of language for less technically experienced users;providing examples of how the resource has been used in the past or might be used in future;integrating more fully with the user interface, e.g. signposting relevant sections at key points in the user journey. Although any updates to a digital tool or resource require an investment of time and funds, the above actions would be less costly than redesigning a user interface and could potentially be as effective in broadening the potential audience. While the focus of this study was Linked Data, the findings should be viewed in the context of participants’ wider digital experiences; as such, these recommendations could equally apply to resources that employ a different technological approach.This work forms part of a wider PhD study, aiming to identify where Linked Data might be most effectively integrated with Ancient World research methodologies. The resulting recommendations should enable researchers with varying levels of technical skill to unlock its full potential.

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Conference Info

In review

ADHO - 2020
"carrefours / intersections"

Hosted at Carleton University, Université d'Ottawa (University of Ottawa)

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

July 20, 2020 - July 25, 2020

475 works by 1078 authors indexed

Conference cancelled due to coronavirus. Online conference held at https://hcommons.org/groups/dh2020/. Data for this conference were initially prepared and cleaned by May Ning.

Conference website: https://dh2020.adho.org/

References: https://dh2020.adho.org/abstracts/

Series: ADHO (15)

Organizers: ADHO