Zoe Hollingworth

Zoe Hollingworth

Last updated on 14 December 2022

Zoë Hollingworth is Collections Systems Lead at V&A South Kensington and part-time PhD student in History of Art at the University of Edinburgh. She recently attended FDO2022 with support from the DPC Career Development Fund, which is funded by DPC Supporters.

With a grant from the Digital Preservation Coalition, I was fortunate enough to attend the 1st International Conference of FAIR Digital Objects (FDO2022) held in Leiden, Holland, 26th to 28th October 2022. The conference was hosted by the Fair Digital Objects (FDO) Forum, which hopes to ‘achieve a better coherence amongst the increasing number of initiatives working on FDO-based designs and implementations.’

For those unfamiliar, the FAIR principles were introduced in a 2016 article published in the Scientific Data journal with the intent to increase the reusability of data holdings, particularly through scholarly publications (Wilkinson et al., 2016; Barker et al., 2022). The principles provide guidance for making information (data) Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable, although they were primarily defined for scientific research and papers.

The conference’s aim was to bring together stakeholders from technology, science and industry to boost the development and implementation of FDOs into a meaningful data space. With the conference’s focus on data for science, business and government, and given my work and research falls within the cultural sector, I was interested to understand whether challenges in the scientific sector matched those in the cultural sector. Additionally, I wanted to identify opportunities to learn from others regarding best practice for digital preservation and to make connections across varying sectors using and creating open data.

The conference sessions were organised around three distinct themes—Research, Technology and Policy—and four main goals were identified:

  • Present and discuss the anatomy of an FDO

  • Showcase FDO-based studies and implementations

  • Act as a forum for developing FDO-based approaches

  • Propose solutions to facilitate global adoption of FDOs

A large majority of the presentations and discussions were around the implementation of technological solutions to make Digital Objects (DO) in scientific research communities FAIR. Most of the presentations and discussions reflected the intended audience for the conference—stakeholders from technology, science and industry—but there were also areas and points of discussion which can connect more broadly to digital objects in the cultural sector. It was clear that there was one shared goal between them and the cultural sector: making our data accessible to others. As one speaker during a conference panel stated, ‘A painting will never be FAIR, but the metadata is,’ the data we maintain, as a museum, either in an internal cataloguing system or public facing online collection, enables us to share information about our collections with others.

While different institutions approach the concept of FAIR differently depending on size, funding, and other engagement priorities, issues of terminology can also factor into how FAIR is approached, adopted and implemented. For example, one recent report mentioned during the conference that touched on these issues was ‘Making it FAIR: understanding the lockdown “digital divide” and the implications for the development of UK digital infrastructures: A Towards a National Collection COVID-19 Project’ (Cooper et al., 2022). Most cultural organisations will not have encountered the FAIR principles, at least not in their day-to-day work. What museums will be keenly aware of is their responsibility to be accredited, meeting the standards to ensure they are sustainable, focused, and trusted. For example, in the UK, there is the UK Museum Accreditation Scheme in which there are two key criteria for accreditation that align with the FAIR principles:

  • The organisation must meet the Museums Association’s definition of a museum: ‘Museums enable people to explore collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment. They are institutions that collect, safeguard and make accessible artefacts and specimens, which they hold in trust for society.’

  • The organisation must fulfil its public purpose by enabling the public to see and engage with the collections.

There are approaches to aligning UK collections’ data as one national collection, for example in ‘Persistent Identifiers as IRO Infrastructure: A Towards a National Collection Foundation Project Final Report’ (Kotarski et al., 2022), and The Linked Art Community, but adoption is dependent on a well-resourced infrastructure.

If the FAIR principles are to be used across different sectors, advocates must engage a wider group of stakeholders—the community of creators, users, customers, and others who want to make our data more accessible. Brian Lavoie addresses this concept of engagement in his guest post for The Scholarly Kitchen: ‘… there is still substantial value in convening a diverse set of stakeholders – funders, universities, researchers, etc. – around high-level principles that catalyze productive conversations.’ (Lavoie, 2019). In fact, statements about engaging with communities and not speaking in ‘jargon’ to facilitate understanding received rounds of applause when raised at the conference—during talks by Sara El-Gebali from SciLifeLab-Data Centre in Sweden, Anne Fouilloux from the University of Oslo, and Mark Wharton from IOTICS during a Q&A session—so it’s clear to the FDO2022 audience that there’s much more to be done when it comes to simplifying concepts and purposefully working with the communities they want to adopt the principles. As this was the 1st FDO Conference, it would be great to see a more varied group of presentations next year that speak to not just the scientists and technologists but those representing the wider community. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly to those in the digital preservation community, it’s an opportunity for us to reflect and improve on how we facilitate opportunities for furthering communication and adoption of FAIR principles. This isn’t to say there haven’t been efforts to engage with wider groups of stakeholders around FAIR, but there is room for more engagement opportunities to collaborate as a community on our shared challenges and make our data more accessible to others. 


Reference List

Barker, M., Chue Hong, N.P., Katz, D.S. et al. Introducing the FAIR Principles for research software. Sci Data 9, 622 (2022).https://doi.org/10.1038/s41597-022-01710-x

Cooper, A., Gosling, K., Kennedy, A., et al. Making it FAIR: understanding the lockdown ‘digital divide’ and the implications for the development of UK digital infrastructures: A Towards a National Collection COVID-19 Project Final Report, Version 2 (2022). https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5846220

Kotarski, R., Kirby, J., Madden, F., et al. Persistent Identifiers as IRO Infrastructure: A Towards a National Collection Foundation Project Final Report (2022). https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6359926

Lavoie, B. (2019) “Guest Post — The Future of FAIR, as Told by the Past,” The Scholarly Kitchen, Available at:https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2019/08/12/guest-post-the-future-of-fair-as-told-by-the-past/

Wilkinson, M., Dumontier, M., Aalbersberg, I. et al. The FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship. Sci Data 3, 160018 (2016).https://doi.org/10.1038/sdata.2016.18

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