Open Cultural Data Symposium

Fri 25 November 2016, 09:45 – 18:30
Birkbeck University of London

This symposium presents an opportunity to reflect upon several decades of major digitisation initiatives within UK cultural institutions.

Motivated by the desire to improve public access and capitalise on the potential of new technologies, the mass digitisation of collections and archives in the UK has been one of the most significant contemporary changes to our cultural and heritage institutions. These projects have been enthusiastically funded by public organisations, such as the AHRC and the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as private companies, charities and foundations, such as Google and the Wellcome Trust. Given the advances made in public access initiatives in recent years, this appears to be an ideal moment to look back at this developing history of cultural digitisation, reflect upon its underpinning rationales, and discuss the successes and challenges faced by those entrusted with carrying out these projects.

The topic of “open data” has generated a great deal of interest and debate in such diverse fields as science research, city planning and citizenship and government. A starting off point for this symposium will be to discuss whether the term is also applicable to the cultural sector. Should cultural material held in collections and archives also be considered a form of data? Can cultural institutions learn from the assumptions, achievements and failures of these various other “open movements”? We hope to debate these questions, alongside other challenges specific to cultural digitisation projects – including issues of safeguarding and sustainability, dealing with copyright, and diversifying audiences.

While prioritising open and free flowing discussion, we propose to organise the symposium into panels exploring the following three themes:

Adoption Beyond Access: If access is only the first step, how do institutions facilitate the use of their archives and collections? What forms of learning outreach have been successful and how are these initiatives funded and supported? How can engagement by diverse audiences be promoted?
Legalities and Logistics: What are the key legal, practical and ethical/political implications of working on open source/access projects? How do artists negotiate the issues raised? What are the particular issues of copyright, creative commons and fair dealing faced by cultural archives and collections? Do legal or logistical restrictions create biases in the nature of available cultural content? Does the general public need to be educated in the legal and logistical implications of open cultural data?

Joining Collections, Joining Forces: How can multiple institutions partner to form connections between their collections? What issues of standardisation or incompatibility does this engender? Do common frameworks and initiatives exist to facilitate these efforts?
The symposium is co-organized by Hannah Barton, Dr. Joel McKim and Professor Martin Eve, and co-funded by the Vasari Research Centre for Art and Technology and the Birkbeck Centre for Technology and Publishing.
Any enquiries about the symposium may be sent to Joel McKim at:
Symposium Schedule

9:45 – 10:00 Registration
10:00 – 10:15 Welcome Remarks: Martin Eve, Joel McKim and Hannah Barton

10.15 – 12:15 Panel 1: Adoption Beyond Access
Rebecca Sinker (Digital Learning, Tate)
Mia Ridge (Digital Curator, British Library)
Natalie Kane (Curator / Researcher)
Chair: Hannah Barton

12:15 – 1:15 Lunch (provided)

1:15 – 3:15 Panel 2: Legalities and Logistics
Naomi Korn (Copyright Consultant)
Bernard Horrocks (IP Manager, Tate)
Mahendra Mahey (Project Manager, British Library Labs)
Chair: Joel McKim

3:15 – 3:30 Break

3:30 – 5:30 Panel 3: Joining Collections, Joining Forces
Bill Thompson (Head of Partnership Development, Archive Development, BBC)
Dr. Mark Coté (Lecturer in Digital Cultures, King’s College)
Ben Johnson (Policy Adviser, Research, HEFCE)
Chair: Martin Eve

5:30 – 6:30 Drinks Reception

* Photo of Ryoji Ikeda artwork by Hsing Wei and available under CC licence: