Facilitate the identification and access to cultural content
Facilitating the discovery of cultural content promotes the diversity of representation of works and the diversification of audiences. This includes mobilizing the cultural sector around the Web of data and data aggregation. France’s participation in the Europeana initiative is fully in line with this approach.
Capture attention and facilitate identification
Digitization and online access alone are not enough to provide access to cultural property. Given the abundance of information on offer and the diversity of audiences, the challenge for institutions is often not to find information, but rather to capture attention, make it easier to find it and get users to choose the right information.
The “discoverability” of content, that is, its availability and its ability to be identified online among a wide range of other content, must thus be organized according to a global strategy that exploits various levers and tools: data quality, consistent structuring of metadata, application of semantic web standards, multilingualism, interoperability, referencing strategy, etc.
These principles promote serendipity. This makes it easier for people to find the cultural content they are looking for, while those who were not specifically looking for it are led to discover it. These levers and tools also facilitate online communication and promotion of cultural content.
They also respond to a strategic issue of visibility of francophone content. In a globalised and competitive digital space, “discoverability” strategies must be collectively designed with international partners who share our commitment to the diversity of cultural and linguistic expressions. This is what the French and Quebec ministries of culture are developing through a joint mission on discoverability of francophone cultural content.
Enabling Data Web Levers
The “Web 3.0”, also known as “Semantic Web”, “Data Web”, or “Linked Data Web”, is based on an extension of the basic standards of the Web. This technological evolution, the largest since the creation of the web in the early 1990s, is transforming the web into a gigantic knowledge base. We also talk about knowledge graphs: it is the links between data that constitute the richness of a knowledge base. The Web of data allows, among other things, the realization of tools of search of information, navigation, visualisation, translation and eventually of automatic reasoning, out of reach of the classical search engines.
The Data Web tries to structure information and make it understandable by machines. It relies on metadata, which is structured data describing an online resource. Properly filling in the metadata of a resource (web page, database registration, entry of an online catalogue,...) allows search engines to clearly understand what it is about: subject, date and place of an event, title of a book, year of publication, etc. Each information correctly encoded in the web page allows search engines, as well as voice assistants, to choose effectively the information that will be presented to the individual who made a search.
The data web is also based on two fundamental elements. On the one hand, the unique and perennial identification of the entities put online guarantees permanent access to such content or data. On the other hand, standardized links between data allow us to deduce new knowledge. These fundamental principles help to improve research. They also enrich this search by offering the user results related to his initial search.
The cultural sector has a major role to play in implementing discoverability through data web principles. Indeed, in a context of information overload and misinformation, actors in the cultural sector are the guarantors of confidence in the available data and in their linkage.
The Ministry of Culture took up this issue in 2014 by publishing a roadmap strategy "Cultural Metadata and Web Transition 3.0". This strategy aims to accompany and define the construction of the "Culture Graph", the knowledge graph of the cultural field.
Aggregating data to increase discoverability of online cultural resources
Cultural data aggregation is the collection of descriptive metadata of cultural property from different providers. They are made available to users on a portal (regional, national, European or thematic). They are also redistributed on other portals or warehouses so that they can be used for teaching, research, tourism, etc.
Aggregation for visibility and re-use of data
This approach provides Internet users with unique access points on vast sets of online resources from a wide variety of domains or providers. As it does with a search engine, the user will be able to search for information without knowing who produced it and where it is located. At the end of his search, he will have access to the content on the provider’s website. This ensures that the information is always up to date without risk of loss of quality.
Institutions that provide one or more aggregators with descriptive metadata of their content thus multiply the access points on this content, beyond their own site. They become visible at different scales, even internationally. They can thus make their collections more widely known and attract new audiences.
The collected metadata can also be made available to re-users for different uses. They can be promoted in pedagogical, research, or thematic projects. They can also be used by cultural and creative industries to create innovative digital services. These will in turn help to make content more visible, more accessible and more attractive.
The purpose of cultural data aggregation is to increase search engine referencing and to offer users interfaces adapted to their uses, which facilitate the search, navigation and discovery of new content. It should also help to develop the reuse potential of metadata.
To achieve these objectives, the aggregation of cultural data must take into account the evolution of the cultural ecosystem. The approach must also incorporate new ways of describing and exposing cultural data in the form of knowledge graphs. The principles implemented in the web of linked data thus considerably modify the modes of production and exhibition of the collected cultural metadata.
The role of aggregators
In order for the aggregation of cultural data to be an effective process and to restore to the public and cultural institutions the services expected, it must be organised. This is the role of the aggregators, the bodies responsible for collecting and redistributing metadata.
Aggregators are involved at various stages, from making cultural institutions aware of the challenges of digitisation and the valorization of their funds to their dissemination. Based on standards, standards and recommendations, aggregators will ensure that metadata is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. To do this, they accompany their partners and allow them to gain in competence. They work on the issues of content quality, metadata enrichment, sustainable identification of entities, licensing and openness of data and content, etc. Finally, they ensure the redistribution of metadata to another level of aggregation (local to national, national to European or international) or other portals.
In France, the aggregation of cultural data has been organized around major thematic areas, such as the portal Gallica, digital library of the National Library of France and its partners or the portal FranceArchives, offering simplified access to referenced archives scattered throughout the territory.
The collections engine The Ministry of Culture has a general vocation. Since its launch in 2007, it has provided Internet users with a single access portal to more than 7.4 million documents and more than 5.6 million images covering all areas of culture, from architecture to museums and intangible heritage, archaeology, photography, the performing arts… A network is being set up around new local or thematic aggregators that will make it possible to leverage the department’s capacity for action.
Europeana, access to the digital cultural heritage of all Europe
The initiative Europeana serves a common cultural project to provide access to and showcase European cultural heritage. The portal Europeana was launched in 2008 and provides online and multilingual access to digital collections of EU Member States related to cultural heritage.
Europeana now brings together more than 62 million digital objects supplied by more than 4500 cultural institutions.
Since 2018, the governance of Europeana has been based on three pillars: the Europeana Foundation, the Europeana Aggregators Forum and the Europeana Network Association. Since 2021, France has been involved in this governance through its role as president of the Europeana Aggregators Forum.
Thematic collections and galleries
Europeana offers an access point to objects and collections via a portal. It also provides access to thematic collections, with editorial content. The initiative has thus contributed to the reconstitution of thematic ensembles bearing witness to the history and culture of Europe through digitization projects such as Europeana Regia (European Royal Manuscripts), Europeana Collection 14-18 (Great War Heritage), Europeana Newspapers (European press), Europeana Sounds (European sound heritage). Some of them, such as recently the War 14-18 project, have been hugely successful with European citizens.
Expertise for open and interoperable data
Europeana has played a pioneering and innovative role in data interoperability, by driving open data practices or their semantic interconnection across the Member States. The initiative brings together a large network of professionals and experts and has greatly contributed to raising cultural institutions' awareness of these issues.
On the professional area of its site, Europeana provides the institutions with a set of documents containing guides and recommendations for structuring and disseminating data on Europeana.
In conjunction with its network of professionals and aggregators, Europeana has developed a publications centre which defines a quality charter for content and metadata, as well as a set of standardised declarations of rights applicable to cultural heritage online (www.rightstatements.org) and a common semantic model for describing content (EDM, the European Data Model).
French contribution to Europeana
France was one of the founding countries of Europeana and has always provided political support for this unique cultural project. Its founding members include the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) and the Institut national de l'Audiovisuel (INA).
In France, the aggregation of content to Europeana takes place through three channels:
- the digital library Gallica BnF, thematic aggregator for library objects and collections,
- the national archives portal FranceArchives ,thematic aggregator for archival resources,
- the collections engine Ministry of Culture, national aggregator for objects and collections of all domains.
Europeana offers an access point to objects and collections via a portal but also to thematic collections with an editorial content.