Archaeology on Furlow: attitudes and expectations to online resources

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This week my colleague (Teagan Zoldoske) flagged up the following report:

Wiseman, R., and Ronn, P. (2020). Archaeology on Furlough: Accessing Archaeological Information Online: A Survey of Volunteers’ Experiences.

For those unfamiliar with the initiative, Archaeology on Furlough provides professional archaeologists in the UK with access to volunteer projects that can be done from home. This excellent report summarises the expectations and realities of using online resources for specific research needs. The ADS is cited frequently within, and I’m glad to see the overall positive response (see figures 2 + 3). The heavy use of the ADS Library, particularly unpublished reports, over Spring and early Summer 2020 is now partially explained!

Line chart of Access Statistics from the ADS Library
Export of Access statistics from the ADS Library (as of 31 October 2020) showing 103,464 downloads of articles and monographs, and 55,091 downloads of unpublished reports.

I’m always interested in the opinions and expectations around re-use, so it’s good to see these being documented as a single case study of a particular project and one that’s reported back to the sector so quickly. As the report heavily references the ADS, it’s also valuable to us so as to understand “what the public wants”! I’ll leave the arguments over how much this is influenced by the Google experience and big social media ‘platforms’ for another time…

As keen advocates of the FAIR data principles, we at the ADS know there’s a lot more we need to do to increase the findability of resources we hold, and so reports like this do genuinely offer up ideas to take forward as practical solutions. In addition there are also a few points of discussion it’s good to highlight as relevant to both ourselves, and the wider sector and how it perceives online resources and formats.

Issue 1: Users not knowing how to use the ADS website. On page 10 of the report a responder states: “I put in ‘Roman’ and
‘Cambridgeshire’ into ADS search engine and it came up with [just] 6 entries”. To me the same keyword search of Archsearch shows 3372 results, principally from the NRHE, but also the Archives and reports we hold. Individual searches of ADS Archives brings back 56 collections, and the ADS Library 1246 resources. So which ADS search engine is being used in this user case study? Do we need to create more resources to explain the data sources? How much is enough? Are users aware of the awesome AriadnePlus data portal which aggregates all our metadata alongside European partners?

Issue 2: Bibliographic records. The British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography (BIAB) housed in the ADS Library was singled out repeatedly for a lack of links to original source material. This indicates a general misunderstanding of the original BIAB dataset, which has a long history, but is no longer formally added to or updated. However, do users want to update these records themselves when they find copies online? If users could provide a list of records and hyperlinks (preferably DOIs), we can always develop into a formal plan of action. If you’re reading this and would like to do this, please get in touch.

Issue 3: “Google actually found the report in ADS for you, rather than trying to search in ADS and finding nothing” (page 18). As the authors note this is principally down to a lack of metadata provided by depositors, which in turn is used in the ADS catalogues. Google bots harvest, index and return the words it finds in the actual PDF files. We’ve experimented with this approach ourselves in the past, but as a not-for-profit organisation our capacity to build a series of algorithms which classifies the results and builds a useful results set is limited. Indeed, our focus is more on working with research partners to further investigate NLP techniques, and in turn how this can work with structured vocabularies to return results which mean something to an archaeologist both in terms of literal content but also significance. Leaving aside for now the debate about structured metadata versus search algorithms (time consuming but specialised user classification versus big business). To me the bigger question for an archaeologist is “are the results returning useful results”? Is Google saving time, or are you still having to do an assessment of significance/relevance for each PDF returned?

Issue 4: All hail PDF! It is Interesting to note (page 13 onwards) the responses on what makes resources easier or harder to use. The benefits and pitfalls of PDFs is of course well known to some connoisseurs, and I would always refer readers to this classic article which presents and alternative vision for how we technically produce site reports. However, it seems that ‘cheap and easy’ (a machine-readable PDF) is the pragmatic solution is an unstoppable force… It is however good to see from some responses that acknowledge that reports in PDF format only tell part of the story that is present in the original specialist data, something clearly identified by recent research projects (see for example Lodwick 2019). What was concerning in the Archaeology on Furlough responses was scant mention of the original data itself. Do users not want the original vector plans, shapefiles, spreadsheets of data to analyse and reformat?

Issue 5: The quality of site reports! On page 17 the authors report back on the problems of grey literature. There is a truth here, previously acknowledged by other studies in the area (Donnelly 2016; Evans 2015; Fulford and Holbrook 2018). In this case perhaps an assessment on the relative age of the reports would be more conducive to understanding ‘usefulness’. For example, the ADS Library holds reports from the mid-1980s onwards, with the quality of earlier reports well known to be somewhat ‘mixed’….

Anyway, much to think about…

Defining ‘Usefulness’

Guest post by Jamie Geddes

Recently, I have been on a work placement with the Archaeology Data Service, otherwise known as the ADS, situated within the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. This placement, which is a requirement for my MSc in Digital Archaeology in the Department, came along just as the world pandemic decided to force itself upon us. This meant I was unable to go into the work environment and physically work alongside members of staff. Lockdown meant we all had to stay at home. So, I hear you ask, what have you been doing since you can only work at home? Thanks to staff members Dr Tim Evans and Jenny O’Brien I have been given plenty of interesting and fun tasks to complete.

The main tasks that I have been asked to help with include cataloguing data, adding subject terms and amending and adding data to the ADS main website for the Berkshire Archaeological Journals and School of Archaeology Monograph Series by Oxford University. The cataloguing task involved tagging the collections with keywords and topics, as well as listing potential user groups I think will find each collection useful, or interesting, and giving each collection a rating as to how useful the collection  is. This collection review is aimed at being the first step towards a Cataloguing Policy, where cataloguing projects and processes can be prioritised based on specific collections assessment criteria.

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The exciting world of Metadata


Something extremely important to the long-term health and reuse of data and yet the mere mention of it can cause people to shut off and run away. So, what is it and how is it different from data?

Metadata is the data about data. I think that sums it up quite nicely, don’t you? Ok, let’s phrase it a different way. It’s essentially the documentation needed to make the data findable, understandable, and useable. It allows for verification of claims, reuse for future projects, and more.

Perhaps some visuals would help. Below is some data, 5 trench raster images in this case. In which English region was each photo taken?

Continue reading The exciting world of Metadata

More ‘exam’ success! Certification and membership of the ISC- World Data System (WDS)

Earlier in the year we reported on a successful outcome from CoreTrustSeal (CSA) certification application, becoming the fifth repository in the UK to achieve this important standard. As an organisation, we are always pushing hard to ensure that our activities meet with good practice within the archaeological and heritage sectors, but also within the wider digital data communities. With this in mind, we are excited to announce acceptance as a regular member of the World Data System (WDS) and a certified Trusted Scientific Data Services.

Continue reading More ‘exam’ success! Certification and membership of the ISC- World Data System (WDS)

Data Mining with past publications from the ADS: The search for Neolithic crannogs

As part of a broader focus on the recently discovered Neolithic ‘crannogs’ – artificially-constructed islands – in Scotland, the Islands of Stone project has been conducting data mining on 148 volumes of the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 5 volumes of Archaeologia Scotica and 71 volumes of Discovery and Excavation Scotland, which were kindly provided as a single download by the ADS.

Islands of Stone is an AHRC-funded collaboration between the University of Southampton, the University of Reading and Historic Environment Scotland investigating Neolithic ‘crannogs’ in the Outer Hebrides. The construction of crannogs, or artificial islands, in Scotland was generally thought to have emerged during the Early Iron Age (c. 800 BC); however, one artificial island in the Outer Hebrides known as Eilean Dohmnuill, or Donald’s Island, has demonstrated much earlier origins. Originally believed to be of Iron Age date, excavations by Ian Armit soon revealed large quantities of decorated Neolithic pottery which would ‘change the direction of the entire research programme’ (Armit 1991: 444-45).

Continue reading Data Mining with past publications from the ADS: The search for Neolithic crannogs

‘Accessioning Arch Camb’: Gwynedd Archaeological Trust Volunteer Engagement Project

Gwynedd Archaeological Trust volunteers have been researching digitised versions of Archaeologia Cambrensis, the Journal of the Cambrian Archaeological Association, as part of the ‘Accessioning Arch Camb’ project. Using journal volumes hosted on ADS and the National Library of Wales websites, the project is helping enhance the regional Historic Environment Record (HER) for north-west Wales.

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Summer Internship With the ADS: Heritage Open Days

The following is a blog written by Chloe Rushworth, who has recently completed a 4-week Voluntary Placement with the ADS. Chloe has been working with the Curatorial and Technical Team to investigate some new approaches to how we interact with data within the Archive. Below, she gives a run through on her huge contribution to creating a ‘Curated Collection’ collating data that relates to sites participating in Heritage Open Days. The aims of this project are for this collection to work as an educational tool, to both increase awareness and knowledge of the archaeological and historical importance of the sites that are taking part in the Heritage Open Days, and to show how the Archive can add to the experience of the Heritage Open Days themselves.

If you want to see the results, the Collection is now live. Over to Chloe!

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Linking the virtuous circles: Citation and Tracking Re-use.

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The ADS has (for nearly 25 years!) been providing free access to resources deposited with us. We put them online in open/accessible formats, people use them, and people cite them. We know people use them because we have data on page views and downloads. Some things are used a great deal; often high profile research resources that always gain alot of mentions in literature and social media. Others have more of a cult following, but are still used sporadically.

All these access statistics always make a good basic demonstration of impact; we can pass them onto project funders and stakeholders to demonstrate quantitative success. However the follow-up questions normally enquire as to “who” is using this data, and for what purposes. The ADS have many ambitions in regards to its (meta)data, but facilitating and demonstrating this re-use is a high priority. Over the last year I’ve had a chance to think more about what we could and should be doing, and how it can help us, our users, and depositors make more of the situation…

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Our Tweeted Times for #FestivalOfArchaeology

As part of the CBA’s #FestivalOfArchaeology in 2020, I spent a light-hearted day revisiting some of Internet Archaeology’s and ADS’s milestones. I also asked those whose paths intersected and crossed ours to join in and share memories.

We’ve made a compilation for your enjoyment.

Continue reading Our Tweeted Times for #FestivalOfArchaeology