As of 1st February, I will be leaving Europeana (and The European Library) to take up a new role within the Research Data team at the Technical University of Delft.

I leave Europeana with a heavy heart. It is a unique organisation, with creative people and an ambitious desire to make significant change to how Europeana cultural heritage is shared in a digital world,

It’s not straightforward working there. Trying to create winning products based on strategic interests ranging from those of famous international galleries to tiny military museums, from renowned centuries old libraries to new city libraries and from thousands of archives, both jumbled and organised. Add in the multi-lingual element, the hugely different approaches to licensing and metadata across the continent, plus the friendly concerns of our funders at the Commission, and you are left as the juggler keeping several balls aloft.

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey
Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey, Circus Museum, CC-BY-SA

In the face of that Europeana’s achievements are impressive. It has done so much to standardise licencing within the cultural heritage domain with the Europeana Licencing Framework. Many other fields of knowledge (eg the academic sector) are crying out for an approach like this. Once you have licencing harmony, re-use and remixing of big data turns from a distant possibility into achievable reality.

The Data Model helps make data interoperable. Without standardised data it does not hang together at all, not for a portal, not for linked data, not for an API. Enough said.

The recently published Publish Framework has a really nice carrot and stick approach to making the cultural heritage sector improve the quality of its content, and its ease of reuse. It’s not enough to stick a crappy low resolution jpeg behind a rubbish html page with a inexplicable URL. Content needs to be instantly accessible and downloadable and permanent, to both machines and humans.

Finally, I really like the way the portal is developing. Its recent redesign is much easier on the eye. More importantly, the importance on thematic collections (starting with art history and music) is vital to give some focus. Developing a content strategy that helps create a critical mass of content and metadata is, in my humble opinion, one of the most important things Europeana can do in 2016.

From a personal note, here are three things I am really proud of at my time here:

  1. The European Library assembled one of the largest releases of open data in the cultural sector. The Linked Open Data release of over 90m bibliographic records was achieved only after a  massive process of ingesting data, working through the licencing conditions for many different national libraries, and then working with the team to create and publish the linked data.
  2. The great team at The European Library also put together the largest open archive of historic newspaper in Europe. Centralising data from over 20 libraries, with over 11 million image and pages of full text, was a mammoth achievement. It is very gratifying to look at the user stats – the average user spends nearly 15 minutes on the site – an incredibly high figure.
  3. Finally, introducing Europeana Research. There is so much potential for the cultural sector and the  digital humanities to work closely together. Some of the Europeana plans for the next year, including a grants programme for researchers to use open cultural data, look really exciting. To be part of the team getting this off the ground was a privilege.

None of this would be possible without all the people both within Europeana and at other project partners. I can’t name everyone (and you are great even if you are not on this list !), but some of the great people I have worked with closely in the office over the course of the four years include: Nienke and her infectious drive and optimism, Markus, Alena and Nuno’s technical genius, Natasa and Adina’s tenacity with data, Valentine and David’s stupendous all-round knowledge,  and Harry and Jill’s passion and commitment. There may be many balls in the air in Europeana, but there are also many safe hands to catch them.