Ticehurst – What Next?

It’s been a week since the Data Week finished, and whilst it’s still fresh in our minds I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts on possible next steps.

Firstly, given that we managed, remarkably, to annotate all the case books with page numbers and types, thanks to one of the tools we built, it would be great to incorporate this data back into the main Wellcome Library interface.

If you view Volume 38 of the Case Books in the Wellcome Library viewer interface right now, you’ll see that there’s a “jump to page” feature at the top, but that it doesn’t work for this book because the data isn’t available to the player. There’s also no table of contents, a feature usually available for scanned books, but not for archival material.

To demonstrate how this could be improved, we generated a IIIF manifest for each of the case books (see an example for Volume 38), which is a data file (in JSON format) in the IIIF metadata format that the player can use. If you take this URL and plug it into the Universal Viewer demo you can see how it improves the interface: there’s now a table of contents, and the page-switcher works. (One slight bug is that the pages are labelled as “page 12 – 13 of Spine”, as “Spine” is the label of the last image.)

Screen Shot 2016-11-11 at 12.51.14.png

There’s room to improve the viewer further: currently each image shows two pages (left side and right side) together, but for reading purposes it would probably be better to only show one side at a time (so that it can be larger, making the handwriting easier to read). This isn’t something the viewer currently supports (I don’t think?) but would be a useful improvement.

At the moment, there isn’t an easy way to save the new metadata about the case books back into the Wellcome Library systems – but this is something that can be investigated further.

The other metadata we’ve generated is annotating which pages are about which patients. This could perhaps be imported back into the current main library systems using “person as subject” fields, but only at the book level, not the page-range level. (Although it’d still be better than nothing).

Ultimately, given our goal was to enable researchers to follow the stories of individual patients, that might require a specialised interface which is more detailed than the generic library book finder & reader interface. Whether this should be bespoke to the requirements of the Ticehurst archive, or whether it might apply more generically across archival material, is an open question.

Finally, a thought on how all this metadata might be generated. One of the reasons given for none of this metadata already existing (not even page-number annotations) is that it is so time-consuming to create, especially in the context of mass-digitisation projects. I think we’ve partly answered this by showing that specialised tools can make this process a lot faster, and also the usefulness of the results, but there will always be a trade-off between quality and quantity of metadata. Personally, I’d adjust this balance slightly by ensuring that some basic metadata (like page numbers) is always captured at the time of scanning. However doing full indexing of the content might be something that’s best done later.

One approach, which we discussed a few times over the week, is to open up metadata annotation so that it’s not done just by library staff, but can also be contributed to by researchers using the material. After all, it’s quite possible that researchers are already selectively transcribing the handwritten material that they’re interested in, for use in their own publications or research, and so it makes sense to ask them if they’d mind contributing it back to the library so that future researchers don’t have to do the same job all over again.

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