MMK @ EuropeanaTech2023

The last conference visited by the MMK project team in 2023 was “EuropeanaTech 2023: Explore, Engage, Experience” from 10-12 October 2023 in The Hague, The Netherlands.

Every few years, the annual Europeana conference is jointly organized with the EuropeanaTech community and based on a call for proposals. Previous editions in Rotterdam in 2018 and Paris in 2015 were a huge success. With 260 on-site registrations and ~900 online registrations, this year’s event was again sold out – but due to the hybrid format allowed as many people as possible to participate. The full programme included a pre-conference day with workshops on e.g. 3D digitisation, the preservation of acoustic heritage or IIIF at the National Library of the Netherlands, followed by two days filled with highly diverse presentations, discussion panels and lightning talks in the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision venue in The Hague.

A major topic throughout the whole conference was the European data space for cultural heritage. Valentine Charles, Data Services Director at Europeana, provided some helpful context about the concept of such a data space by explaining four key components of it: 

  • data sovereignty, 
  • decentralization, i.e. a federated ecosystem of applications and data, that is 
  • open and resilient and 
  • based on a commons around shared values. 

For those who find this notion of a data space still a bit vague, the presentation by our SBB colleague Gerrit Gragert on the Gaia-X demonstrator for CrossAsia at SBB offered a concrete example for the implementation of such a data space with some lessons learned

The highlight of day 1 was the keynote “Enriching lives: connecting communities and culture with the help of machines” by Mia Ridge, Digital Curator at the British Library. In her talk, she looked at the use of AI for enrichment of cultural heritage collections and suggested that GLAMs should use AI to enrich collections in combination with online volunteering (crowdsourcing). While she did recommend letting AI “automate the boring stuff”, crowdsourcing should instead be used for confirmation of machine learning predictions or quality assessment.

The panel discussion on “Diverse, open and ethical cultural data in the era of machine learning” then introduced listeners into a range of current issues cultural heritage institutions are confronted with when they choose to get into machine learning: The question of openness of data (“open resources are most likely to contribute to the power of those with the best means to make use of them” – Paul Keller, The Paradox of Open), copyright questions, biases, and the concept of authenticity (original and copy). MMK colleague Jörg Lehmann presented “Datasheets for Digital Cultural Heritage Datasets” – datasheets can be seen as information leaflets accompanying a dataset publication to inform about e.g. the provenance of the data or about unwanted social biases. This template is the outcome of a Europeana Working Group and a first version of such a datasheet template can be found on Zenodo.

The keynote on the second day was delivered by Brian Katz, Research Director at CNRS, and entitled “Digitally exploring the acoustic history of Notre-Dame cathedral”. Katz and his team have developed a digital twin of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris called auralization, i.e. a model of the acoustics in the church as a soundfield in a virtualized space. Though currently destroyed, listeners can virtually access the cathedral and attend a concert from nearly every point in the church. Moving around and thus listening from e.g. the balustrade is also possible, the sound changes according to the listener position (example video). Katz and his team have furthermore developed a binaural geolocalized audio guide on the sonic history of Notre Dame (“Whispers of the past at Notre-Dame”), which will be released end of this year.

It is also worth highlighting the Digitization Handbook, an output from the Europeana working group From shelf to Europeana that is focussed on providing simple, clear and practical information about all steps in digitization, especially targeted at smaller organizations or digitization endeavors which lack sufficient expertise, budget or human resources for fully fledged digitization activities.

As usual, the closing and wrap up of both conference days was beautifully summarized in verse by data poet Mr. Gee (video). Many thanks to the whole Europeana Team for organizing EuropeanaTech2023 – we look forward to the next edition!

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