Talking about participation in the Europeana Foundation: working with the public

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Why is the topic of participation important for the digital cultural heritage sector?

Cultural heritage institutions want people to participate or get involved in their collections – I hope and believe so. But it can be difficult for institutions, because at the most basic level, they are established to protect and preserve – art, archives, manuscripts, books, etc. And, most of the 20th century was not about participating, but collecting and protecting. That’s why they invented copyright.

But the 21st century is all about participation, openness, and if what we’ve always done is preserve, conserve and protect, then it can be, if not frightening, at least difficult. Implicit in the protection is “against” and implied in the participation is “with”. We are in 2021 and with the pandemic and the climate crisis, only preserving and protecting is not a long-term game.

Why else? We know that it is not wise at this time to get on a plane and go to India to see the Taj Mahal. Right now, that’s not a good idea – for COVID and climate reasons. We are all responsible for ourselves, each other and this planet, so maybe we need to respect the fact that there are cultural places or things of crucial importance that may be temporarily unavailable to us. , and this is where digital participation comes in: it complements an experience available 24/7.

What activities is Europeana undertaking in this area?

We like to explore new ways to encourage participation and this is the subject of an online conference we are organizing this Thursday 2 December as an accompanying event for the Slovenian Presidency. We’ll see how cultural institutions approach the sustainability of digital participation and engage online communities with digital cultural heritage – from cool transcriptions to involving the next generation in our education outreach efforts.

A big initiative – and it’s on the conference agenda as I just mentioned – is our transcription initiative, which contributes to a very nice virtuous circle of improving metadata and improving participation. . If we have good metadata, people can find the things they’re looking for and use them – they can participate or get involved. So if we can get our audiences to improve this metadata, then we are inserting participation itself into this virtuous circle. It then becomes a continuous cycle of encouraging people to use and interact with the material, adding value as you go.

If you have an image of a document, this is useful to a point. But if someone is willing to read it and type the contents of it, then you have a better idea of ​​what’s in that document and your archive becomes much richer. It is more accessible and you can translate it, search it, copy it and use it.

A huge project that is still alive and started several years ago, Europeana 1914-1918, also had a participatory element of a user-generated content campaign. Thus, material provided by the public on WWI and that entire period has become a part of our online collection. , it’s really cool.

Who are you looking for best practices and inspiration in this area?

Wikipedia has really changed my perception of knowledge and the way we participate in its sharing. When Wikipedia was formed I was in market research and we had proprietary tools to analyze the data, and it was really important to keep it proprietary. Then Wikipedia came along and it was revolutionary. I’m not going to pretend that capitalism isn’t broadly defined yet, but some people have figured out that the more we share, the stronger we are. So this is an example of good practice for me.

And honestly, I learn so much while scrolling through Twitter. I’m fascinated by the analyzes people do there, seemingly spur of the moment, it gives me so much inspiration. I think the digital world has allowed us to understand how much wisdom there really is in people.

Pier-Luigi Sacco’s opening speech at Europeana 2021 blew me away. He explained that we have become more isolated and that is not the way forward for our species. His comments on the democratization of digital culture were really important.

How can people improve their own participation practices?

It depends on where people are on their own way to encourage participation. So, first of all, that means figuring out where you are on your way and where you want to go next. And remember, it’s not necessarily linear, you can go in a number of different directions, while still committing to learning more.

Where we can help is to build your capacity to improve participation, starting with your digital collections. Tell us what assistance you need, whether it’s examples or how-to guides. Another great start is to commit to finding out more at the Europeana conference this Thursday!

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