A controversial title, but it neatly summarizes the feeling in the SALDA Project camp at the moment. Myself and Fiona Courage (Special Collections Manager and Curator of the Mass Observation Archive) are coming from an archive / library background and are very focused on the end result of the project which should be a set of Linked Open Data comprising our Mass Observation Archive catalogue records. But we’re not really sure what the benefit of this is, so I wanted to ask the RDTF community and beyond for help. We know it is early days for the project and we’re likely to look back at this blog post in a few months time and answer our own question, but right now we seem to have hit a bit of a brick wall.
What we are realising is that, unlike a lot of projects with archives that I have done in the past, it is perhaps not the end result that is most important but the journey to get there. What we hope to achieve with SALDA is skills and knowledge to make our catalogues Linked Data and use those skills and that knowledge to inform decisions about whether it would be beneficial for make all our data Linked Data. Our journey so far has taught us that we need to refine and review our catalogue data within our archival management system anyway and the changes we are making now in preparation are opening up the data to enable better search results already. When the Mass Observation Archive was catalogued in the 1970s and 1980s abbrievations seem to have been all the rage, so Communist Party became CP and Conscientious Objectors became CO to give a couple of examples. This was fine in a printed finding aid under the heading of Communist Party, and also fine on a HTML page that users scrolled through. It is not fine for keyword searching. This may seem very basic stuff, but I’m sure there are lots of archives out there that have records that make sense to the archivist and in the printed list, but will not be retrieved via a search engine. If resource discovery is our aim, then making our information clear and accessible is key. Following on from this basic idea of “finding what you search for”, is Linked Data a step on from this? Finding what you search for and a bit more?