KulturNav – a hub for museum vocabularies connected to Wikidata

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Vocabularies and authority records in the GLAM-world

There are a large number of terminologies, authorities, gazetteers, and other types of controlled vocabularies in use across libraries, archives, and museums. The museum sector being perhaps the most fragmented!

That makes discovery in- and data-driven analysis of cultural heritage data across collections difficult. Also, most of them tend to be monolingual. Using multilingual controlled vocabularies and authority records can help make GLAM-content more discoverable, especially across languages and institutional boundaries.

As controlled vocabularies have been updated to conform to Linked Data-standards they have increasingly become linked and connected to each other (using the Simple Knowledge Organisation System – SKOS). But if you are the maintainer of a controlled vocabulary which ones of the many other vocabularies should you connect to? And is it necessary to connect them one by one, manually? That would be a very costly amount of work!

This is where Wikidata can come into play! If you connect the terms in a vocabulary to the corresponding Wikidata items you will also indirectly connect it to the terms in other vocabularies that the Wikidata items are also connected to.

Six operators, all women, all wearing headets, sitting in front of a telephone exchange.
TELEPHONE OPERATORS. Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress. Public Domain.

That means Wikidata can function as an ”exchange” between different vocabularies and authorities. Starting off from one vocabulary a savvy software developer can fetch all the labels of the matching Wikidata entities, in all the languages it has, and import them to the starting vocabulary.

One solution for vocabularies and authority records management taking advantage of that possibility is KulturNav.

What is KulturNav?

KulturNav (meaning “Culture Hub” in English) is a platform for managing controlled vocabularies and publishing them as linked open data. It is developed by the Norwegian company KulturIT. The company is co-owned by a number of museums and supported by Arts Council Norway. The platform is free to use for any heritage organisation or GLAM. It should be noted that KulturNav provides the platform only. The GLAM-users are responsible for the content.

Currently about 50 GLAMs use KulturNav. They range from very large and formalised vocabularies used by multiple GLAMs, like the Swedish Database of Photographers, to smaller ones used perhaps only by a single museum, like this classification of military aeroplane types from the Swedish Air Force Museum.

How does KulturNav connect with Wikidata?

KulturNav, like many other management solutions for vocabularies, allows its user to define equivalent terms in other vocabularies. In particular, the interaction design of KulturNav encourages editors to create matches corresponding Wikidata entities.

This s unique to KulturNav, but what may be unique (?) is that vocabulary editors are suggested new and updated values drawn from Wikidata.

Figure 1. The authority record for the Swedish museum Aeroseum in KulturNav.

In figure 1 you can see the editor of the vocabulary being suggested values drawn from the terms’ equivalent Wikidata entity. In this case the suggestions include a different location, a date of first establishment, and an equivalent term link to the Virtual International Authority File VIAF.

The feature is powered by a ”bot” in KulturNav that checks Wikidata for new and updated information and suggests improvement.

Fig 2. Authority record for Nordiska museet with a snippet-description, outlined in red, drawn from Wikipedia.

Authority records that have a match in Wikidata receive a snippet of descriptive text from Wikipedia (see Fig 2 above). The snippets are fetched via Wikidata. When there are multiple language versions all versions matching the supported interface languages of KulturNav (Norwegian (Nynorsk and Bokmål), Swedish, Finnish, and Estonian) are imported and displayed as appropriate.

These features in KulturNav, in combination with efforts from KulturIT to programmatically create recriprocal links between KulturNav and Wikidata, have led to over 20 000 such connections. This also helps make Wikidata a richer resource!

Closing words

To further cross-collections interoperability and discoverability connecting vocabulary terms and authority records to each other is a key activity. Making those connections through Wikidata can multiply the connecttions even further and help increase the multilinguality of your vocabulary.

Hopefully we’ll see museum vocabularies management systems integrate with Wikidata! If you know of any others that already have done do let us know!