The GDDNetwork Final Report (and, well, a global pandemic)

The GDDNetwork wrapped up in early 2020, after a successful programme of research and workshops aimed at exploring the feasibility, and developing a prototype dataset for, a global dataset of digitised texts. We spent a couple of months beavering away, preparing to release our final report and findings in the Spring. And then…

Covid-19 graffiti in Glasgow (image license and credit: link)

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything. Or rather, it’s more that many of the problems we’ve become aware of have been brought acutely into focus. We’ve seen the question of access to digital cultural heritage come into focus in the most dramatic way, as content providers around the world closed their physical premises and were forced to adapt instantly to a new, and entirely online, paradigm. Carefully thought-out plans to increase access and participation, and to support new and exciting forms of research using digitised collections were hastily rethought in light of this.

It’s fair to say, I think, that many of us involved in the GDDNetwork have spent the last several months in reactive mode. I’ve been working hard to pivot my teaching online for the new year, while our library partners have dealt with a tumultuous few months of closures, furloughs, reopening and staff welfare admirably. For those reasons, and because the world has rightly had its attention elsewhere, we decided to wait a little while to publicly share our final report.

Of course, while we’ve been relatively quiet in public since March, we certainly haven’t been resting. In fact, I’m delighted to use this blogpost to announce two key developments relating to the GDDNetwork: the publication of our final project report, and the creation of a new experimental service that I think takes our research in exciting new directions. So, without further ado…

The GDDNetwork Project Report

First, I’m delighted to announce that the GDDNetwork report is now available! It describes our project findings, looking at the feasibility of developing a single global dataset documenting the extent of digitised works. It sets out two key areas of work – identification of core use cases, and metadata aggregation and data matching – and identifies a clear value proposition for the development of the dataset.

We’re very grateful to everybody who participated in the network, either by attending workshops, formal and informal communications with the project team, or by scrutinising and providing feedback on our work at a variety of conferences in Europe and the USA. And of course, we’re also grateful for the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, who funded the project.

Hello OpenTexts.World!

I’m also excited to say that a new experimental service called OpenTexts.World has recently been launched! OpenTexts is based upon the work of the GDDNetwork, but has built upon and expanded our publicly available dataset to create an experimental service that provides free access to digitised text collections from around the world.

An image of the Open Texts project header and logo

The Open Texts project has been led by two key participants in the GDDNetwork: Stuart Lewis and Gill Hamilton of the National Library of Scotland. They were supported by the fantastic Scottish Tech Army, with particular thanks to the following individuals:

  • Design: Sarah Semark (Octopus Think)
  • Programming: Brian Beacom
  • Data: Ali King
  • Project Management: Alec Davis

Furthermore, the work has been made possible by the support of several major content providers, who have provided data on millions of digitised collection items. These items can now be openly searched on the website, and where possible you are able to click straight through to the original collection item. It’s a fantastic example of what can be done with a little willpower, and a little help, and I’m delighted to see the research of the GDDNetwork taken forward in such a collaborative and dynamic way!

What are the next steps?

As we mentioned in our final report, we still believe that more work is needed to bring the ideas and ethos behind this project to fruition. The core project partners will be working on plans to take this work forward in the coming months, and we’re open to expressions of interest (and of course, offers of funding!).

In the meantime, I’d like to give a final shoutout to the OpenTexts.World project – please do check it out, and consider providing feedback to the project team. Furthermore, if you represent a content provider and would be willing to provide additional data, then I’m sure that the team would be delighted to hear from you.

In conclusion, while the GDDNetwork project is now finished, we hope that this won’t be the last you hear of us! We’ve been delighted and gratified by the support of the library and research communities throughout the project, and will continue to build upon the foundations laid by the project to investigate how to make digitised collections more discoverable, more accessible, and more usable around the world.

Paul Gooding (GDDNetwork Principal Investigator).