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Hackathon alert: BiblioHack!

- May 9, 2012 in Bibliographic, DM2E, Events, Featured, OKF Projects, Open GLAM, Sprint / Hackday, WG Cultural Heritage, WG Open Bibliographic Data, Working Groups, Workshop

The Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Biblio group, and Working Group on Open Data in Cultural Heritage, along with DevCSI, present BiblioHack: an open Hackathon to kick-start the summer months. From Wednesday 13th – Thursday 14th June, we’ll be meeting at Queen Mary, University of London, East London, and any budding hackers are welcome, along with anyone interested in opening up metadata and the open cause – this free event aims to bring together software developers, project managers, librarians and experts in the area of Open Bibliographic Data. A workshop will run alongside the coding on the 13th, and a meet-up on the evening of the 12th is open to all whether you’re attending the Hackathon or not.

What is BiblioHack?

BiblioHack will be two days of hacking and sharing ideas about open bibliographic metadata. There will be opportunities to hack on open bibliographic datasets and experiment with new prototypes and tools. The focus will be on building things and improving existing systems that enable people and institutions to get the most of bibliographic data. If you’re a non-coder there are sessions for you too. We will be running a hands-on workshop addressing the technical aspects to opening up cultural heritage data looking at best of breed open source tools for doing that, preparing your data for a hackathon and the best standards for storing and exposing your data to make it more easily re-used.

When and where?

  • The main hackathon will take place over two days between 13th and 14th June at Queen Mary University of London
  • On the morning of the 13th June we’ll be running the workshop addressed at the technical challenges to opening up metadata. So for those unable to participate in the hack due to time constraints or lack of coding know how – this is for you!
  • On the 12th June – Tuesday evening (details TBC but will be a pub in central / east London!) – we’ll also be hosting a meet-up for anyone attending the hack and open data more generally. Whether it’s open bibliographic data, spending or government data that floats your boat all tribes are welcome!

Who is organising the event?

Who else is involved?

We’ve already lined up a whole host of speakers and groups who’ll be attending both the hack and the workshop. The list so far includes UK Discovery, CKAN, Europeana, Total Impact, Neontribe, The British Library with many more to be added in the coming days…

You’re giving your time and expertise – what do you get if you attend the whole hack?

  • Accommodation at QMUL overnight on the 13th
  • Food and drink across the 3 days
  • The chance to work with experts in their fields
  • Admiration and respect from your peers
  • We could expound at length, but… go on, you know you want to (it’s free!)

How can I sign up?

  • Register here for the 2 day hack
  • Register here for workshop only
  • Register here for Meet-up only
Please note, if you wish to attend all 3 events you should sign up for each, and the Workshop will run in parallel with the hacking on the morning of the 13th.

More questions?

Contact Naomi Lillie on admin [@] See you there!

Mapping the Republic of Letters

- March 22, 2012 in External, Open GLAM, visualization, WG Cultural Heritage, WG Humanities

The following post is crossposted from the OpenGLAM blog, and is about Stanford’s Mapping the Republic of Letters Project – one of the finest examples of what can be done with cultural heritage data and open source tools. Mapping the Republic of Letters is a collaborative, interdisciplinary humanities research project looking at 17th and 18th century correspondence, travel, and publication to trace the exchange of ideas in the early modern period and the Age of Enlightenment. What unites the researchers involved in Mapping the Republic of Letters is the opportunity to explore historical material in a spatial context and ask big-data questions across archives: Did the Republic of Letters have boundaries? Where was the Enlightenment? The Republic of Letters is an early modern network of intellectuals whose connections transcended generations and state boundaries. It has been described as a lost continent and debate continues about whether or not it really existed. Though the ‘letters’ of the title refers to scholarly knowledge, epistolary exchange was, in fact, the net that held this community together. Letters could be shipped around the world and shared across generations. Among our case studies, Athanasius Kircher’s correspondence network was the most widely distributed, exchanging letters with Jesuit outposts from Macau to Mexico. Since the early stages of our project, we used open-source graphics libraries to visualize our collected data. The first step is to understand the ‘shape’ of the archive. A timeline + histogram, for example, reveals at a glance the distribution of letters in the collection over hundreds of years. And the map connecting cities as source and destination of sent letters reveals geographic “cold-spots” as well as hot-spots in the archive. As we begin to dive in and pursue specific research questions, visualization tools in the form of maps, network graphs and charts, help us to make sense of piles of data all at once. Voltaire’s correspondence alone includes about 15,000 letters. Putting those letters on a map instantly gives us a picture of where Voltaire traveled and reveals temporal and spatial patterns in his letter-writing. And while there is no record of epistolary exchange between Voltaire and American inventor and statesman, Benjamin Franklin, a network graph of their combined correspondence quickly reveals three second degree connections. One outcome of this project is a visualization layer to complement the well-established text-based search model for archives. To begin to really piece together a map of the Republic of Letters, we need to find a way to thread a path through the many dispersed and otherwise silo-ed correspondence archives. Another great challenge is to visually reflect the gaps, uncertainty and ambiguity in the historical record. It is often those gray areas that provide new research opportunities for humanists. In this effort we are very pleased to be working in partnership with DensityDesign Research Lab in Milan. We have also been working closely with the Cultures of Knowledge project at Oxford. Cultures of Knowledge recently released a beta version available of their open access union catalog of early modern letters, aptly named Early Modern Letters Online. Their model is not to be the repository, but to provide a rich search layer across existing correspondence collections pointing back out to the source repository. Our friends at the Dutch 17th Circulation of Knowledge project are addressing the challenges of mining early modern correspondence for topics across many languages. The code-base for our visualizations is open source and available for download at Our code-base is available, but that is not to say that our visualizations are pret-a-porter. Since our research is devoted to knowledge production in the humanities and not software development, the code is rather idiosyncratic and constrained by our changing data model. Please contact us if you would like to learn more or would like to join the effort.

Announcing DM2E: Exploring the possibilities of Linked Open Data in cultural heritage

- March 19, 2012 in DM2E, Featured, Our Work, WG Cultural Heritage, WG Humanities, WG Open Bibliographic Data

The Open Knowledge Foundation is delighted to announce that it will be leading the community work for a three-year EU funded project entitled Digitised Manuscripts to Europena (DM2E). The project consortium, which includes academic institutions, NGOs and commercial partners, will be led by Professor Stefan Gradmann at the Humboldt University.


The project aims to enable as many of Europe’s memory institutions to easily upload their digital content into Europeana.

Europeana is Europe’s largest cultural heritage portal, giving access to millions of digital artefacts contributed by over 2000 cultural heritage institutions across Europe. Founded in 2008, Europeana offers access to Europe’s history to all citizens with an internet connection. Not only does Europeana hold a huge amount of promise for researchers and scholars who benefit immensely from having access to huge aggregated datasets about cultural heritage objects, but through the use of APIs Europeana promises to stimulate the development of a swathe of apps and tools with applications in tourism and education.

Open GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums)

As part of DM2E, the Open Knowledge Foundation will be continuing to work closely with cultural institutions from all over Europe encouraging them to openly license their metadata. Metadata that is contributed to content aggregation platforms like Europeana is most valuable if it is openly licensed, maximising the number of applications it can have. The Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Bibliographical Principles are the expression of the ideas we seeks to realise in this field. Last year, the team at Europeana announced their new Data Exchange Agreement which stipulates that metadata must be provided to Europeana under the Creative Commons Public Domain License (CC-0). This is a significant step towards the goal of achieving an open cultural heritage data ecosystem that extends access to all, and encourages the reuse of cultural data in a whole variety of novel contexts both commercial and non-commercial. The Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open GLAM work will be key in this respect. We will be teaming up with the likes of Wikimedia, Creative Commons and UK Discovery to run open licensing clinics and technical workshops for librarians and archivists all over Europe in order to demystify some of the legal issues around open metadata, and also to showcase projects that build upon openly licensed content to show just what is possible when you free your metadata! The next workshop in this strand will be held at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin on April 20th and it will be co-hosted with Wikimedia Germany. Watch this space for more details!

Linked Open Data in cultural heritage

One of the core aspirations of DM2E is to leverage the tremendous potential offered by Linked Data technologies such as RDF to create a network of interconnected and linked cultural datasets. To have cultural heritage data in Linked Data formats will enable the automated enrichment of metadata provided to Europeana. For instance, any metadata fields about authors of books will be linked to the giant DBPedia datasets, thus supplying more information about the life of that particular author, ultimately enriching the original metadata record. The important task of building a tool that will translate “flat” (non-linked) data from cultural heritage institutions into RDF falls to the Freie Universität Berlin. They will develop technology that can take a diverse range of metadata types as its source, and turn them into the Linked Data that aligns with the Europeana Data Model (EDM). For any of you who want to brush up on just what Linked Data is and why it is relevant to cultural heritage, the folk at Europeana made a wonderful video explaining it all recently:

Engaging researchers

But DM2E is not only about enabling more archives and libraries to provide linked open metadata to Europeana, it’s also about working with research communities who will consume the aggregated Linked Data on Europeana. The Italian company Net7 will be leading work on tools that will help scholars from the humanities to work with this data. Tools for semantic annotation and building collections of texts on which complex analysis can be formed will be key.

Key links

Open Plaques: Community Powered Heritage

- March 9, 2012 in External, Featured Project, Open GLAM, Public Domain, WG Cultural Heritage, WG Public Domain

This is a shortened version of a post from the OpenGLAM blog, where you can keep up-to-date with goings-on around open data in heritage and arts. Historical plaques by their very nature are objects in the public domain, so creating a platform to collect them with the public – and for the collected data to be available for the broadest possible public use – seemed an obvious starting point. That’s why Open Plaques data has been open data from birth. Those little historical markers dotted around buildings and other places we see everyday are physical portholes through time, connecting past and present. The caveat being, our experience of them is largely fleeting, easily forgotten. Even in the UK a myriad of bodies large and small put up plaques, and the digital data provided is mixed, often non-existent. But what if each encapsulated story was instantly accessible, its backstory and context linked? How would our experience of places change if we could knit plaques in the material world together with the fabric of the web? ‘We’ is the operative word with Open Plaques, a project born out of two basic thoughts: how could you feasibly tackle collecting all these plaques together and what could be done with the tapestry of stories then woven if the data was open? sowerby What the journey so far has made clear to us is this: open data is great, but just being open isn’t enough. You need to be either (a) vitally useful enough to attract resources to pour into your service, or (b) interesting enough to attract sufficient people who care about what you’re doing and enjoy helping. We fall into the latter category; a plaque map doesn’t save lives or make the trains run on time after all. But without one or both of these drivers it’s just inert data, unlikely to grow and going nowhere. And even if you have (a) or (b), it’s still (c) a lot of hard work. But being a Type-B open data project, we’re also highly motivated Our community of contributors, collaborators and supporters is an enthusiastic mish mash of people who like collecting plaques, playing with cultural data, finding out about history, supporting heritage and tourism, curating archives, exploring their area and further afield, and learning by having fun whilst discovering and mapping these noteworthy objects that dot the landscape. Having said that, the data we’re gathering is far from trivial and tells us huge amounts about our surroundings and past and present-day world. It’s a goldmine of location-based history. Apps built from our data so far include two iPhone apps from Radical Robot and London Smartphone and another forthcoming from PlaceWhisper, a Kindle ebook ‘London’s Blue Plaques In a Nutshell’, and an optical character recognition (OCR) challenge. Our data has also been used at History HackDay 2011, and loaded into a TomTom satnav. A further new app is in the pipeline. Read more about the apps here. These are a mixture of free and paid for services but as the core database grows, especially beyond the UK, so does the potential for other interesting re-uses. Recently Ireland has seen an increase in listings – with two sizeable datasets contributed by Limerick Civic Trust and Waterford City Council, and purely community-driven growth in Dublin. Other big clusters already exist in our New York and Toronto listings. These are historic cities that could benefit from savvy re-use of the data, whether by tourism bodies, cultural organisations or local entrepreneurs. We are here to facilitate them. At the end of February, the histonauts2 pervasive gaming event demonstrated the scope for re-using and contributing data creatively. Held as part of Manchester Histories Festival, the organisers simply referred to our online list of unphotographed Manchester plaques, and set daily missions for people taking part in their digital treasure hunt around the city to find and photograph the plaques. They posted the resulting pictures on Flickr with CC licenses, and added the relevant machine tags. The upshot being the players augmented our data whilst tracking history in the real world, and 20% of the unphotographed plaques locally got an image! The data is there if you want to look at it, published under ‘Public Domain Dedication and License 1.0′. Or you can help us build it – add new plaque listings and photos if you find any, or contact us about contributing to the web development. We’re a museum of the street, and we’d love to get more organisations and individuals contributing to the collection. So feel free to unlock your inner plaquetivist!

Ideas for

- December 20, 2011 in Bibliographic, Free Culture, Ideas, Open Content, Open Data, Public Domain, WG Cultural Heritage, WG Humanities, WG Public Domain, Working Groups

The following post is from Jonathan Gray, Community Coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation. It is cross-posted from
For several years I’ve been meaning to start, which would be a collection of open resources related to philosophy for use in teaching and research. There would be a focus on the history of philosophy, particularly on primary texts that have entered the public domain, and on structured data about philosophical texts. The project could include:
  • A collection of public domain philosophical texts, in their original languages. This would include so called ‘minor’ figures as well as well known thinkers. The project would bring together texts from multiple online sources – from projects like Europeana, the Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg or Wikimedia Commons, to smaller online collections from libraries, archives, academic departments or individual scholars. Every edition would be rights cleared to check that it could be freely redistributed, and would be made available either under an open license, with a rights waiver or a public domain dedication.
  • Translations of public domain philosophical texts, including historical translations which have entered the public domain, and more recent translations which have been released under an open license.
  • Ability to lay out original texts and translations side by side – including the ability to create new translations, and to line up corresponding sections of the text.
  • Ability to annotate texts, including private annotations, annotations shared with specific users or groups of users, and public annotations. This could be done using the Annotator tool.
  • Ability to add and edit texts, e.g. by uploading or by importing via a URL for a text file (such as a URL from Project Gutenberg). Also ability to edit texts and track changes.
  • Ability to be notified of new texts that might be of interest to you – e.g. by subscribing to certain philosophers.
  • Stable URLs to cite texts and or sections of texts – including guidance on how to do this (e.g. automatically generating citation text to copy and paste in a variety of common formats).
The project could also include a basic interface for exploring and editing structured data on philosophers and philosophical works:
  • Structured bibliographic data on public domain philosophical works – including title, year, publisher, publisher location, and so on. Ability to make lists of different works for different purposes, and to export bibliographic data in a variety of formats (building on existing work in this area – such as Bibliographica and related projects).
  • Structured data on secondary texts, such as articles, monographs, etc. This would enable users to browse secondary works about a given text. One could conceivably show which works discuss or allude to a given section of a primary text.
  • Structured data on the biographies of philosophers – including birth and death dates and other notable biographical and historical events. This could be combined with bibliographic data to give a basic sense of historical context to the texts.
Other things might include:
  • User profiles – to enable people to display their affiliation and interests, and to be able to get in touch with other users who are interested in similar topics.
  • Audio version of philosophical texts – such as from Librivox.
  • Links to open access journal articles.
  • Images and other media related to philosophy.
  • Links to Wikipedia articles and other introductory material.
  • Educational resources and other material that could be useful in a teaching/learning context – e.g. lecture notes, slide decks or recordings of lectures.
While there are lots of (more or less ambitious!) ideas above, the key thing would be to develop the project in conjunction with end users in philosophy departments, including undergraduate students and researchers. Having something simple that could be easily used and adopted by people who are teaching, studying or researching philosophy or other humanities disciplines would be more important that something cutting edge and experimental but less usable. Hence it would be really important to have a good, intuitive user interface and lots of ongoing feedback from users. What do you think? Interested in helping out? Know of existing work that we could build on (e.g. bits of code or collections of texts)? Please do leave a comment below, join discussion on the open-humanities mailing list or send me an email!


- December 20, 2011 in Guest post, WG Cultural Heritage, WG Humanities, WG Open Bibliographic Data

The following guest post is by Jon Voss, whose projects include History Pin and Civil War Data 150. I recently traveled to Wellington, New Zealand to take part in the National Digital Forum of New Zealand (#ndf2011), which was held at the national museum of New Zealand, Te Papa. Following the conference, the amazing team at Digital NZ hosted and organized a Linked Open Data in Libraries, Archives & Museums unconference (#lodlam). The two events were well attended by Kiwis as well as a large number of international attendees from Australia, and a few from as far as the US, UK and Germany. When it comes to innovative digital initiatives in cultural heritage, the rest of the world has been looking to New Zealand and Australia for some time. Federated metadata exchanges and search has been happening across institutions in projects like Digital NZ and Trove. I was able to learn more about the Digital NZ APIs as well as those from Museum Victoria, Powerhouse Museum, and State Records New South Wales. In fact, the remarkable proliferation of APIs in Australasia has allowed us to consider the possibilities of Linked Open Data to harvest and build upon data held in databases in multiple institutions. Given the extent to which tools for opening access to data have been developed here, I was surprised by the level of frustration that exists around copyright issues. There’s a clear sense that government is moving too slowly in making materials available to the public with open licensing. We talked a lot about the idea of separately licensing metadata and assets (i.e. information about a photo vs the digital copy of the photo), as has been happening across Europe and increasingly the United States. There are strong advocates within the GLAM sector (galleries, libraries, archives & museums) here, and demonstrating use cases utilizing openly licensed metadata will go far in helping to move those conversations forward with policy makers. To that end, a session was convened to explore the possibilities of an international LODLAM project focused on World War I, the centennial commemoration of which is fast approaching. The Civil War Data 150 project we’ve been slowly moving forward in the US may provide a rough framework to build from. At least a half dozen or more libraries, archives and museums have expressed interest in participating in a WWI project already. First steps may be identifying openly licensed datasets to be contributed, key vocabularies and ontologies to apply, and ideas for visualizations that would leverage the use of Linked Open Data. For anything to happen here, someone will need to take the lead in organizing (not me, we’re still trying to build some tools around the Civil War Data 150 concept!). Good notes were posted on the LODLAM blog about the conversation and how to convene future conversations. Anyone who gets involved with this, please spread the word and keep the LODLAM community apprised of your progress and ways to contribute. We also had a workshop on using Google Refine by Carlos Arroyo from the Powerhouse Museum, with props to the FreeYourMetadata crew. Some lively sessions dug into just what and how Linked Data is and some of the pitfalls and potentials. Another session explored the importance and potential of local vocabularies, and how they can contribute to Linked Data implementations. One great example was the vocabularies surrounding Maori artifacts (Taonga) at Te Papa, and how publishing those datasets can aid other museums around the world to better describe and provide digital access to Maori collections. As I’ve attended various LODLAM meetups since June, I’ve noticed clear momentum from one to another as these conversations progress rapidly, with those further along helping those of us just learning. After LODLAM-DC I realized the importance of including library, archive, and museum vendors in all of these gatherings. At LODLAM-NZ I could see the potential of bringing together developers in the GLAM sector and those utilizing Linked Data in commercial settings. In places like San Francisco, where commercial interests are already leading the charge on Linked Data (which is not a bad thing) and there’s an active Semantic Web developer community, the GLAM sector may be playing catchup. But the sheer number of datasets potentially available as open data coming from the GLAM sector, together with the expertise of managing massive amounts of structured data, creates a space ripe for collaboration and experimentation, and these lines will continue to blur.

Developments in Cultural Data

- November 4, 2011 in Open Data, WG Cultural Heritage

The following guest post is by Rob Myers, artist, hacker, writer, and member of the OKFN Working Groups on Open Data in the Humanities and Cultural Heritage and one of the curators of the of the Open Art and Cultural Data group on the Data Hub. This year has seen some exciting developments in cultural Open Data. Theatricalia is a database of theatre performances, places and people. The earliest production currently in the system is from 1660 – possibly the first time a professional actress appeared on a public stage in England. It’s all Open Data under the ODbL, which was established via a query through OKF’s Is It Open Data earlier this year and the website updated to state this. Meanwhile, Kasabi have created a database of artworks owned by the UK government, which was scraped and placed under the Open Government Licence. You can access it through their SPARQL interface to find out just what art the government owns and where it is holding or displaying it. JISC OpenART is uploading data about the art world in Britain from 1660 to 1735 to its online database under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike licence. You can find out more about the project’s ontology and future plans at York University Digital Library’s blog, and there is a schedule for future uploads on the art world site. Other providers of cultural Open Data such as Europeana, the National Gallery and Freebase have continued to add new data and in the case of the first two to explore new open licences. If there’s a cultural dataset that you know is Open but that isn’t listed on the Data Hub (and specifically the Art and Cultural Data group do let us know!

Open Data in Cultural Heritage: Finding your way through the license labyrinth, London, 24th November 2011

- November 1, 2011 in Bibliographic, Events, OKF, Open Data, Policy, Talks, WG Cultural Heritage, Working Groups, Workshop

The following post is from Jonathan Gray, Community Coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation.
Following on from our Open GLAM workshop in Warsaw last month, in a few weeks we’re hosting a half day workshop looking at how to overcome barriers to opening up data in the cultural heritage sector. So far we have confirmed representatives from the British Library, the British Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Tate, the V&A, and other cultural heritage institutions. Further details are copied below. If you’re interested in participating, please pop me an email at:

Open Data in Cultural Heritage: Finding your way through the license labyrinth

  • Where?: Wellcome Trust, London, UK
  • When?: 24th November 2011
Galleries, libraries, archives and museums around the world are opening up datasets, documents and other digital assets to enable the creation of innovative web and mobile services. This half day, hands-on workshop aims to help decision makers in the cultural heritage sector to navigate the plethora of licensing options for opening up their data and to develop new business models. The workshop will include:
  • Case studies on successful open data initiatives presented by leading practitioners
  • An open data licensing clinic with lawyers and legal experts, to address issues and questions with common licensing frameworks
If you would like to participate, please email

Draft programme

The workshop is organised by Jonathan Gray and Mia Ridge as part of the Open GLAM initiative in association with the Open Knowledge Foundation. Refreshments are provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation through their support of the LODLAM Summit, and the event is kindly hosted by the Wellcome Trust.