Professionals in Focus: Robert Davies
Europeana Members Councillors have diverse jobs and wide experience across the heritage sector, but are united by their passion for digital cultural heritage. In our ‘Professionals in Focus’ series, we speak to our Councillors about their roles, working lives and plans for their time on the Members Council. This month, Robert Davies speaks about involvement in projects with Europeana and the importance of capacity building.
How did you enter your profession?
Almost half a century ago (!) I got a postgraduate qualification in Library and Information Science. After this I started a job at the British Council, the UK’s ‘cultural diplomacy’ agency, for which I spent 14 years living and working in Jakarta, Singapore and Cairo, in between several stints in London. In 1990, I set up the first of a sequence of organisations which ran projects and did international consultancy, mainly in information and education. We won our first ‘telematics for libraries’ project under the EU research framework in 1993. Following increased EU attention to culture - and its future digital context - around 20 years ago, we ran a lot of EU projects, including a number of predecessor actions to Europeana. And with the birth of Europeana, I helped initiate or was closely involved with six or seven best practice networks, research projects and similar actions, under its ‘umbrella’.
What are you currently working on?
Since 2016, I have been working with Marinos Ioannides and the team at the Digital Heritage Research Laboratory, Cyprus University of Technology. We have been awarded the European Research Area and UNESCO Chairs in Digital Heritage. We also coordinated the ViMM (Virtual Multi-Modal Museum) CSA 2016-19. Currently, I’m working on the EU study on Quality in 3D Digitisation of Tangible Cultural Heritage as well as on the Europeana Common Culture Generic Services project where, at the moment, I’m looking at digital heritage crowdsourcing across Europe as an aspect of capacity building. Incidentally, I am speaking at a webinar related to Crowdsourcing and Digital Cultural Heritage on 15 December which anyone reading this is warmly invited to join.
What are some of the challenges in your role? What are some of your favourite elements?
Looking back, aside from trying to keep an organisation going for 25 years, the greatest challenges - and professional satisfaction - have been linked to the complexity of new conditions and trying to help bring about change. I can think, for example, back to the 1990s - of working with libraries, museums and archives in Central and Eastern Europe to become engaged with the EU; and helping gain large-scale EU funding for the libraries of historically disadvantaged universities in South Africa. Then, later, a series of actions to support transposition of the Directive on Public Sector Information (PSI) into Member States’ law. A few years ago, I co-authored a World Bank Global Development study and report on digital dividends in rural China. Each of these challenged the limits of my knowledge and competence in various ways. Helping get a fairly high proportion of the content metadata into Europeana in its first phase, through several different projects, was also a big test!
What was your motivation for joining the Members Council?
I have been invested in Europeana since its very beginning and consider that it remains the key initiative in European cultural heritage in the digital era. I was earlier involved in several Task Forces, and it felt a natural step to stand for election to the Members Council. I was delighted to be elected - there are a lot of excellent candidates in the Europeana Network Association!
What do you plan to do as a Members Councillor?
I joined the Management Board of ENA earlier this year and am currently involved in the discussion around increasing inclusivity and diversity within collections and in the representativeness of our community. This is very important to me. Beyond that, I would like to help ENA to complement the Europeana Initiative by interacting effectively with cultural heritage Institutions around ‘digital transformation’. I also see community engagement and a stronger contribution to local identity and ‘sense of place’, as something Europeana can strengthen with ENA support.