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Posts Tagged ‘World War 1’

Users and use cases: part one

This project can be said to focus on two broad categories of users. The first is archive professionals who would like to incorporate Linked Data into their online finding aids simply and within the usual constraints such as budget, lack of specialist technical knowledge and so on. The second are our archives end users – those researchers who depend on our finding aids to help them find the resources of use to their research interests. We hope that the Linked Data output produced during the project will open our resources up and make it easier for our researchers to find what they want. In this post we’re focussing on the latter group.

The Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives  attracts a broad range of users including undergraduates, postgraduates, academics, archivists, and genealogists. In most cases, users will search our catalogues using a combination of terms from the following categories: personal names, corporate names, place names, and subjects. It follows, then, that the more structured our catalogue data is, the more likely it is that our users will find what they are looking for. Focusing on the topic of the First World War, we are in the process of creating hundreds of additional authority terms, which will provide a new level of granularity to a large number of our catalogues (including one very important legacy catalogue). This will benefit all of our current users who have an interest in this subject.

As we create our new set of authority terms, it is important that we bear in mind the varying needs of our users, as these will determine the range of granularity that is required. Let’s take the example of First World War battles. An undergraduate may be asked to examine the conflict in a rather broad way, perhaps by identifying trends and patterns across different theatres of war. A genealogist, on the other hand, may be concerned only with the battles at which a particular soldier was present. An academic researcher might wish to study in great detail one important incident that occurred during a particular battle, whilst at the same time remaining aware of the context of that incident, i.e. how the incident related to (in ascending order) the battle, the operation, and the theatre of war of which it was a part.

Each of these scenarios demands a different degree of granularity: the undergraduate would be content with a set of quite general terms (e.g. France and Flanders, or Egypt and Palestine); the genealogist might be satisfied with a list of names of battles; the academic would be best served by a comprehensive hierarchy of events, beginning with the theatre of war (e.g. France and Flanders) and descending to specific tactical incidents (e.g. Second Defence of Givenchy, 1918).

In order to satisfy all of our users, we have to find an acceptable range from the general to the specific. In the case of First World War battles, we have opted to follow the guidance of the Battles Nomenclature Committee’s report, The Official Names of the Battles and other Engagements Fought by the Military Forces of the British Empire during the Great War, 1914-1919, and the Third Afghan War, 1919. The report tabulates all of the on-land battles and engagements according to a descending scale of levels. We have decided that we will include all of the information from ‘theatre of war’ down to and including ‘actions.’

 

Another thing that we must bear in mind is the fact that different users may use different terms to describe the same subjects. In any area of study, there will never be a complete consensus regarding which definitions are ‘official’ and which are not. Moreover, terminology may change over time as trends come and go. For a subject as widely studied as the First World War, there may be some contrast between how certain events or concepts are understood by academic researchers, and how they are known by amateur enthusiasts.  For instance, ‘Dardanelles Campaign (1915-1916)’ is the UKAT-approved term for that military campaign, but to many people it is better known as the ‘Gallipoli Campaign.’ When it comes to creating a subject term for that campaign, we can reflect the needs of both camps by including ‘Gallipoli Campaign’ as a non-preferred term.

These improvements to our catalogue data should give all of our users a better understanding of what our First World War-related records contain. The next stage of the project, the transformation of selected catalogue content into Linked Data, will go one step further:  by making this important body of First World War-related catalogue content available as Linked Data, we are trying to reach out to a wider community of users. As was mentioned in an earlier post, Trenches to Triples is strongly motivated by the concern that too few potential users of archives know the location of the sources that might be of interest to them. It is hoped that this project will demonstrate the potential that Linked Data has to attract new users to archives.

The problem we are addressing and why

Recognition of the potential uses of Linked Data has been comparatively slow within the archive sector, although this has changed in recent years, following a number of successful projects, such as LOCAH, SALDA, and Linking Lives, which have shown the opportunities that are available. However, there remain certain obstacles that may prevent institutions from beginning to use Linked Data as a way of increasing accessibility to their catalogues.

One obstacle has been the lack of means by which archivists can convert existing catalogue data into Linked Data, or indeed create Linked Data as part of the cataloguing process. This issue was initially addressed during the Open Metadata Pathway project, through the development of a workflow tool that should enable archivists to create Linked Data at the same time as cataloguing. The workflow tool is currently being refined as part of the Step change project; one of the objectives of the Trenches to Triples project is to provide a demonstration of this workflow tool in use.  As was stated in the previous post, RDFa data will be created both from World War One related entries in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives’ military catalogues, and from entries found in one of its legacy catalogues. The Trenches to Triples project is therefore supplementary to Step change: Step change aims to provide Linked Data architecture for the archive sector, while Trenches to Triples hopes to be an exemplar of how this architecture can be used effectively.

Trenches to Triples also aims to address another problem, which is that any institution wishing to embark on a similar project is likely to be put off from doing so by the lack of an existing precedent: an example by which to base estimations of time, cost, appropriate scale etc. By creating a toolkit, the Triples project will provide the necessary guidance for future projects. The toolkit will draw on lessons learned during the project in order to give guidelines regarding workload, time, cost, technical requirements, and potential pitfalls. It is hoped that if these problems are successfully addressed, then there should be nothing to discourage other institutions from using Linked Data to enhance their catalogues.