A generative approach to digital collections

Authored by: Mitchell Whitelaw

The Routledge International Handbook of New Digital Practices in Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums and Heritage Sites

Print publication date:  November  2019
Online publication date:  October  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138581296
eBook ISBN: 9780429506765
Adobe ISBN:


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Digitisation is turning out corpora that rapidly exceed our human capacity for interpretation. In 2014, the Internet Archive published some 2.6 million machine-extracted images to the Flickr Commons (Miller, 2014); this collection has since grown to 5.2 million items. The National Library of Australia’s Trove newspaper database currently records some 218 million automatically transcribed articles (National Library of Australia, 2018a). Europeana’s aggregated digital collection numbers over 55 million items (Europeana, 2018). While these massive collections are significant and celebrated digital GLAM projects, they also pose significant challenges for both collection holders and collection users. How might a curator work with millions, or tens of millions, of digital objects? How might a visitor understand the contents and contexts of such collections? Computation has enabled the emergence of these collections; as I have argued elsewhere, computation can also support improved representation and access to these collections (Whitelaw, 2015). This case study shows that computational techniques can also support new forms of creative and cultural practice, new ways of using and reusing collections, and new modes of interpretation and meaning-making.

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