Last year at the National Digital Forum conference in Wellington I talked about a pilot we were running to link Te Ara and Te Papa’s Collections Online websites. We called it the Calabash Project, taking its name from the simple idea of linking, for example, Te Ara’s image of a hue to the same object on Te Papa’s website, taha huahua (calabash) – with a reciprocal link from Te Papa back to Te Ara.
Te Papa’s gourd on a Te Ara resource page, with a link from the reference field below the image. The link is very subtle, too subtle in fact, and we’ll be looking at ways of unobtrusively highlighting it.
This isn’t a very complicated idea. It’s using the web the way it’s supposed to be used, by providing hyperlinks from one place to another to give users more or different information about similar things – in this case, about exactly the same thing. That said, it relies on permanence or persistence of the hyperlink. We need to know that the link will work now and in the years to come if we’re going to set up thousands of links like this. It’s what Michael Lascarides from the National Library talked about at the same conference, the idea of collection websites becoming islands of persistence.
In doing this, Te Ara can become a front door to larger collections of the digital objects it uses. (In fact, with reciprocal links we can all become each other’s front doors!) Te Ara becomes, if you like, a discovery tool that can provide context about a particular object and then pass users and researchers on to the institution that holds the object. It’s good for the institutions as they get more traffic and can further their own engagement with researchers.
It’s also good for us. We get a lot of requests to re-use content that’s on Te Ara, and where it’s not ours, these links will help us direct researchers to the institution that can provide the image.
We’ve now extended the pilot to include the Alexander Turnbull Library collections. Te Papa provided a good small set to experiment with and initially Adrian Kingston and staff at Te Papa matched the objects for us manually. Prompted by a helpful suggestion from Andy Neale at DigitalNZ, we’re now using the DigitalNZ API to match the objects. Given that we have over 6,000 Turnbull images – for instance, this lovely shot of a pātaka at the 1888 Melbourne Centennial Exhibition, or this slightly risqué portrait of cabaret manager Theo Tresize – it’s been great to be able to automate the process. All told we’ve matched 238 Te Papa objects from a total of 578 and 5,360 Turnbull objects out of 6,564.
We’ve had some good feedback about this. As Amy Watling from Turnbull said recently, it’s ‘a real win for researchers who can go from Te Ara’s popular pages directly to our site where they can enquire about the item, get the original metadata, or order a high res copy.’
It’s no longer a pilot and we’re now thinking about how to extend it further. It works and makes sense so we’ll be looking at the collections we use and identifying more islands of persistence that we can link out to. The more we can all link our islands the better for people travelling the rich network of digital information about New Zealand that we’re creating.