Users and use cases: The Geology Museum

The Geology Museum (site under development) is based in the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences. It holds historically and scientifically important collections that are unique to the institution. The museum holds an estimated 100,000 museum specimens, many of which are unique and of international importance. Highlights include: an estimated 20,000 invertebrate fossils including material with important historical associations, over 4,500 mineral specimens, including many display-quality items from nowadays inaccessible mines, over 3,000 vertebrate fossils and casts and the Fry collection of over 4,000 invertebrate and plant fossils from the UK. There is also an extensive teaching collection of 16,000 specimens. Over the past 15 years 41,420 digital records have been produced on the basis of historic museum registers, card index catalogues and specimen labels. The creation of digital metadata has focused on valuable specimens and collection of national or international importance. These records represent about two thirds of the entire collection. Each metadata record contains information in 30 categories, 18 of which will be published by this project.

The School of Earth Sciences is already undertaking work to enhance the online presence of the Geology Museum by improving the museum website and online access to the collections. Included in this work is the migration of the existing collection metadata into a Drupal backed system, which can be used to publish Linked Data automatically.

Initial work focused on moving data from existing spreadsheet format into the Drupal database. Issues arise in the formats used, including free text, and the need to restrict terminology. There is a huge amount of data but it is largely unstructured, so requires manual effort to review and test. Unlike the Penguin Archive use case, the export and publication processes are largely automated by Drupal’s in-built modules for handling RDF, returning it in response to a Linked Data request. The aim is to embed data from the catalogue in the Geology Museum’s new public website using schema.org metadata in the HTML of the site, so that large search engines can find structured data.

The Collections & Practicals Manager in the School of Earth Sciences has suggested that a map demonstrator would be useful for the Geology Museum Linked Data. She is concerned, however, that much of the geo-location data about the collection is embedded as free text in description fields, which would make it difficult to plot the data on a map consistently, if at all. She has proposed using geodata for ‘type specimen’ data for the centre of the UK, although this also raises questions about the level of resolution at which these data could be plotted: for some, the catalogue may only include data about the nearest town or village rather than a precise geolocation related to OS references. Given the Museum’s relationships with local schools and geology enthusiast  groups, one way of resolving this issue – and assisting the ‘clean up’ of the data and giving information on use of the site overall – could be to invite these ‘end users’ to provide feedback and correct location data via the site. She has arranged a meeting with one such group in July which could provide a starting point for this. It will need to be made clear to any users beyond the Museum staff, however, that the demonstrators are not at ‘full service grade’.

The Collection Manager has engaged fully with the project, participating in Advisory Board meetings, 1-1 meetings with the development team and piloting and providing feedback on data migration to Drupal. The demonstrator will provide a concrete example of how Linked Data published via Drupal can be used but evaluation of the value of embedding microdata to facilitate search engine optimisation is unlikely to extend beyond the lifetime of the project.

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