Keeping Control of Your Metadata

On Thursday the 28th of June, The DEN (Digital Heritage Netherlands) Foundation organised a day of workshops about metadata and the question if institutions should keep control of it. Together with the Dutch initiative Open Culture Data, the Open Knowledge Foundation organised two workshop sessions on this topic.

Joris Pekel (OKFN) presents the benefits of Open Data. Image taken by Lotte Baltussen

One of the reasons for organising this event, is the fact that Europeana will start next week with implementing their CC0 license on all of their metadata. Any content that is not licensed this way by September, will be deactivated. Once Europeana’s full metadata collection will be available under this license, there will be much more possibilities for reuse of this content. It can be embedded into website with commercial content on it, can be used in Wikipedia articles and mobile apps can be build and published.

There are however, still a lot of misunderstandings about what this new way of openly licensing of cultural metadata will mean for the institutions. In the Europeana whitepaper “The Problem of the Yellow Milkmaid”, ten benefits, but also ten risks of open metadata are discussed. The purpose of this event was to give the representatives of cultural heritage institutions a better understanding about these different risks and benefits, and possible ways to solve them.

Plenary speakers included representatives from the Amsterdam City Archive, who argued against open data. This because they want to keep control of the quality of their data.
An other argument was that they can fund their digitisation activities with the revenue they get from their metadata service. The interesting thing was that they get a lot of compliments about their service and people are happy to pay for that. This however, is not the result of keeping their data closed. Customers value the service that the archive offers. This same service can be given with the use of open data.

Quite the opposite was the presentation of the Rijksmuseum, who has freely licensed their metadata, opened up thousands of image scans, and created an API to make all of this accesible. This has resulted in massive reuse of their content in several apps and tools. It was also interesting to notice that this has not led to the decline of revenue from their image bank where they sell high quality pictures. On the contrary perhaps because more people than ever are now visiting this image bank.

After the break it was time for the workshops. In the workshop of the OKFN and Open Culture Data the risks and benefits of open metadata were discussed. After an introduction by Lotte Baltussen into the topic, Joris Pekel from the OKFN discussed the risk of loss of control. When institutions license their data under a CC0 license, it is hard to keep control on what exactly will happen with the data. The fear is that the user can no longer see the creator of the content which makes it harder to know if it is ‘right’. This is a legitimate argument because when the users see that the data is being produced by an institutions with expertise, they are more likely to trust the data. To address this problem it is important that the institution makes the necessary preparations before publishing their data. They have to sort out which metadata they want to openly license for example and make sure that the metadata is of rich quality.

After that Maarten Zeinstra from Creative Commons discussed the several types of creative commons licenses and the results of the Open Culture Data initiative. At the moment, 18 cultural datasets are published and many have been used in different hackdays and competitions. The Vistory app, which used content of the Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision, has even won an national Apps4Netherlands competition where also several other datasets were used such as governmental and financial data. This success shows the interest in open cultural data from developers who can use this to create new innovative applications.

During the breakout sessions the risks and advantages were further discussed. It was interesting to notice that in general the institutes did not so much discussed the why of open data, but more about how to do this the right way. Open data can greatly benefit the public mission of the institutions, but only if the data is rich enough and published the right way. Here, initiatives like open GLAM and Open Culture Data can play a big role in assisting the institutions with answering these questions.

One other thing that came up is that the situation of libraries differs greatly from other cultural institutions. This is because they are often not the owners of their metadata, but buy this from a commercial company. This means that open data is often not discussed in the library world because they argue that it is not their choice to make. As a result the librarians remain invisible in the discussion about how to provide service in a digital age. To get the discussion started, a few have started the OpenBibliotheken (Open Libraries) initiative where they publish freely available book collections for anyone to use.

It was great to see the positive interest in open heritage data and to notice that almost all institutions see the value in it. After an extensive discussions, The main recommendation was: Experiment with parts of your data, freely license them, see what happens, write down your experiences and share with others… Only then we can get a full understanding of the results and effects of open cultural content.