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Tech
portrait of Marjolein de Vos

Marjolein de Vos

Former Data Ingestion Specialist, Europeana Foundation and current Metadata Specialist / Developer , National Library of the Netherlands

Keeping digitised heritage accessible: the case of broken links

Ever find yourself frustrated by a link that doesn’t take you to where you want to go? Is there anything worse than a 404 message that the page doesn’t exist? Find out what we are doing at Europeana to combat this and boost SEO.

Over the past ten years of  Europeana, the GLAM tech field has not stood still. Many positive developments in the area of metadata quality have increased the user experience, reusability, and accessibility of data shared by cultural heritage institutions. With a database of over 58 million objects, it is not only a daily task to publish new material, but to also work on cleaning and updating existing datasets on the Collections platform.

Metadata quality is one of the main areas of focus for the Data Partner Services team, in close collaboration with aggregators, data partners, and the Data Quality Committee. Together, we work towards polishing the database to make it shine a bit more every day.

Cleaning up data for an improved user experience

There are a variety of data quality objectives that we work on, but one problem that particularly affects people’s enjoyment of cultural heritage material is the phenomenon known as ‘link rot’. Sadly, this is a problem that we face on a regular basis.

Not all datasets of institutions (especially those which were published on Europeana in its infancy) have been regularly updated to keep track of the latest data quality standards. In fact, there might be objects that have been published and not updated in line with the latest minimum EDM requirements.

Military Hospital V.R. 76, Ris-Orangis, France: nurse examining a small object with a magnifying glass. Photograph, 1916, Wellcome Collection, CC BY.

Dead records and user frustration

Broken links have a variety of origins: from projects ending and image collections being taken offline, to institutions migrating their collections to a new platform internally and not implementing redirections or using persistent identifiers.

If a person finds an object that they really like, and they want to download the image, audio file, video, or text, they are faced with broken links and end up feeling unsatisfied by the Europeana platform. In some cases, in addition to a broken link to an object on Europeana, the link to the holding institution may also be broken, preventing the visitor from finding and downloading the picture, sound file, video, or text directly.

Such ‘dead records’ don’t do anyone any good, causing disappointment and frustration when a visitor finds something interesting and can’t use it as anticipated. Furthermore, it affects our Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) negatively and making it more difficult for people to find the cultural heritage objects that GLAMs have shared with us.

Fighting link rot and dying data: reviving lost culture

But there is a happy ending to this sad story of broken links.  With the joint hard efforts of our aggregators and data partners, we work every day to fix the broken material and restore access to the users by bringing the records back to life.

Of course, it is not always possible to fix some material. After close consultation with our partners, in some cases, we have to take the hard decision to take the material offline. It’s a difficult decision, but in disabling the broken material, the overall data quality of what we do offer increases.

Have you found any broken links? Then help us out by leaving a comment in the feedback tab on Collections.

For more articles like these, view the entire GLAM tech series on Pro News. If you would like to contribute to the series, contact Emily D’Alterio, Editor-in-Chief of Europeana Pro.

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