ConservationSpace and Mirador

 ConservationSpace and Mirador

A major accomplishment of the ConservationSpace development process was forging a partnership with the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) working group.  Working with the Mirador community, the capabilities of their web based, open-source, zooming, image viewing software to compare and annotate images was enhanced.

Already accepted and used in the scholarly community, “Mirador is a configurable, extensible, and easy-to-integrate image viewer, that enables image annotation and comparison of images from repositories dispersed around the world. Mirador has been optimized to display resources from repositories that support the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) API’s. It provides a tiling windowed environment for comparing multiple image-based resources, synchronized structural and visual navigation of content using OpenSeadradon, Open Annotation compliant annotation creation and viewing on deep-zoomable canvases, metadata display, book reading, bookmarking and more.”
For more information on Mirador and the IIIF click here 



Technical Developments During the Conservation Space Project Lifecycle

Technology Incorporated in ConservationSpace Release 2.0 and Beyond
ConservationSpace utilizes Sirma’s Enterprise Management Framework Platform (EMF), a group of open-source products centered on Alfresco’s document management platform. The EMF consists of more than fifteen different packages, all open-source, including: relational, object, and semantic databases; document management; ontology management; user management; federated search; e-mail integration; single sign-on; identity management; and workflow management.

Semantic Technology
The database repository for ConservationSpace information is based on semantic technology.  Semantic repositories are an alternative to more traditional relational databases for storing, querying, and handling structured data.  While still relatively new, the semantic repositories offer easier integration and reasoning capabilities with a large volume of diverse data.  Semantic technology is ideal for the way that information is gathered and stored in the conservation community.  It enables searches to find relationships that current standard data models would deem to be unrelated. The semantic web approach has improved discoverability and access to information in data repositories not only within the conservation community but also in other cultural and scientific communities. This is particularly important for an application that must access and link highly heterogeneous data scattered in diverse systems, including some that will become known only after ConservationSpace is released to a broad market. This approach positions ConservationSpace to participate in other endeavors that seek to aggregate or federate access to ConservationSpace data with other Resource Description Framework (RDF) data sets, for example, ResearchSpace. The partners would contract the company, Ontotext AD, to build the conservation-specific ontology.

The basis for a semantic repository is an ontology that describes the concepts and relationships that can be applied to the data elements stored in the repository. During the Release 1.0 development, Sirma used the PROTON ontology developed by its subsidiary Ontotext, the creator of OWLIM), in order to provide maximum flexibility in describing the highly heterogeneous objects, i.e., cultural objects, images, reports that populate the ConservationSpace repository. Further ontology development focused on the conservation business domain also occurred during the Release 2.0 phase of the project.

User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX)
User interface and user experience were the primary focus of a workshop that occurred in fall 2014. User testing already indicated that the existing interface must be made simpler and more intuitive. Sirma developed the project to improve the UI and UX in Release 2.0.

While ConservationSpace can be used as a stand-alone document creation and management system, most conservators require integration with a CMS and DAM. During the Release 2.0 effort, the partner institutions investigated and provided Sirma with detailed information about their individual existing CMS and DAM systems. The National Gallery of Art (NGA) completed its own development (i.e. without Mellon Foundation support) of the APIs required to communicate with Gallery Systems, TMS (The Museum System) Collection Management Software and Extensis Portfolio.  They shared the API work with the partners. These APIs allow the links needed in ConservationSpace to br download from collection information data that identifies specific cultural objects in TMS and works with digital images from the DAM (Digital Asset Management system) Portfolio. The initial effort focused on unidirectional communication with systems, but bidirectional communication will be required in the future.  

Image Viewing and Annotation
ConservationSpace Release 1.0 uses the ResearchSpace image viewing and annotation module. It was extended to add features that now include shape and text annotation capabilities along with threaded comments that are associated with each annotation. Filtering and searching functions were also developed. A number of features were investigated and some were developed during the Release 2.0 work period.  These included side-by-side image comparison, overlays, layering, and rotation. All image manipulation and development during Release 2.0 conforms to the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) standards.  The development team and partners understood the need for and complexity in adopting a robust image viewing and annotation tool package.  The group worked within IIIF standard to identify and integrate the best possible solution within the time and budget allotted.  In November 2015, the Gallery’s IT staff established a working relationship with the IIIF governing body along with Sirma to speed up development of imaging tools that are of benefit to the imaging component in ConservationSpace.  These efforts will have positive short and long term impact on ConservationSpace manifest in an outstanding package of image processing tools for conservators.

Future Collaboration Capacities
ConservationSpace easily facilitates sharing information. Accordingly, the idea that conservators from around the world could collaborate by viewing and adding to conservation documentation as processes are unfolding is a goal that could be more fully realized with the release of ConservationSpace. Outside collaborators could be given access to specific information through guest accounts with defined user roles and permissions. 



History of the Development of ConservationSpace

ConservationSpace evolved from discussions at workshops organized by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that identified the need for a system for the conservation community. A well-designed software system that would facilitate the work of conservation professionals by creating, storing and extending documents with robust metadata had been lacking in the profession.  Many institutions had adopted internally developed systems using off the shelf software solutions.   Most conservation professional lack a centralized system for records management and storage.  

Lacking such a system limits a conservators ability to efficiently create, capture, store, and retrieve vital documentation of cultural objects and also leaves important hard copy and digital assets at risk falling victim to inadequate record preservation policies, personnel changes, accident or natural or man-made disasters. Having a document management system for conservation could solve this deficiency.  In addition, robust metadata incorporated with a cultural object record and uniform computerized records management will facilitate the ability to organize and search data collectively that was once only accessible through manual inspection of individual physical files or institutional databases. The system would also open the possibility for global sharing of cultural heritage information.

Design Phase – Preliminary Planning

With funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, preliminary investigations concerning the design of ConservationSpace were undertaken by the Office of Digital Assets and Infrastructure (ODAI) at Yale University. The core team in this planning stage comprised Margaret Bellinger (Director, ODAI), Kenneth Hamma (Project Manager), Angela Spinazze (independent consultant), Chuck Patch (independent consultant), Sam Quigley (Art Institute of Chicago), Joe Padfield (National Gallery, London), Koven Smith (Metropolitan Museum of Art), and Sam Wood (British Museum). The team was responsible for overseeing design meetings and documenting whatever ideas, suggestions, and decisions transpired.

Two community design workshops, held in 2009, helped to identify functional requirements for a software application that would support and manage conservation processes, documentation, and related scientific data. Sixty-four conservation professionals from the United States, Europe, and Australia—representing forty-nine institutions and organizations—participated in the two workshops. Participants in the Design Phase identified workflows for nineteen processes commonly used by conservators and conservation scientists. The next step, development of a plan for implementing some of these workflows in an actual application, began in October 2010.

A planning grant from the Mellon Foundation in 2010  enabled a group of museum conservators and information technology managers to come up with functional requirements for ConservationSpace. Twenty-six individuals representing the core team, the Partner institutions, and interested individuals attended meetings held at the National Gallery of Art on November 2010 and May 2011 to discuss the scope of work and to plan a formal process for developing a proposal for building the software

The group prioritized and selected the workflows to be included in the first version of ConservationSpace, identified the functional requirements for these workflows, and examined the technical framework and infrastructure needed for the initial software build phase. A formal partnership was forged among the  Courtauld Institute of Art, The Denver Art Museum, Indianapolis Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Statens Museum for Kunst, Yale University, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, with the latter serving as the primary facilitator of the project.

ConservationSpace 1.0

With the award of a grant in December 2011 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, work on ConservationSpace commenced in earnest. Two workshops, attended by representatives from every partner institution, were held in 2012 at the National Gallery of Art. The workshop goals were to decide on ConservationSpace’s functional requirements and write the Request for Proposals (RFP), a critical component of selecting a developer.

To assist with writing functional requirements for the RFP, the National Gallery of Art contracted Noblis, a non-profit science, technology, and strategy organization with extensive experience in building software applications. Noblis’ Enterprise Blueprinting process significantly improved the scope and quality of documents provided in the RFP, including an activity catalogue, activity blueprint, technical requirements (the interfaces), and administrative/operational requirements (user roles).

One outcome of discussions in our first workshop was a decision to also contract user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) specialist to assist with developing mockups for the RFP. Design for Context, a company that specializes in “usability and user-centered design” for software and web development was awarded a  contract using grant funds. The collaborative efforts of the company and the partners yielded excellent models for the RFP..

Another step, not included in the original proposal, was the June 2012 issuance of a Call for Qualifications (CFQ) to a group of software developers. The CFQ sought to identify existing software applications that might serve as the framework for building ConservationSpace. Ten highly regarded firms quickly responded with detailed answers to all the CFQ questions. They also raised several questions that helped us refine information that was included in the RFP.

The RFP was released in October 2012 and Sirma ITT, a member of Sirma Group Holding, was selected as the developer in February 2013. Sirma Group Holding, the largest IT group in Bulgaria, was established in 1992 and has since grown into a company consisting of over 20 subsidiaries and joint ventures, specialized in various areas of information technology development. A functional version of ConservationSpace was projected to be available by June 2014.

Usability testing played an important role in evaluating the application during development sprints. Lucrat, a Bulgarian company that specializes in usability and human-centered design, was contracted for this process. Their work clearly demonstrated that significant improvements would be required in the UI and UX in order to encourage adoption.

ConservationSpace 2.0

Sirma developed the following functionality:

  • The ability to import data from collection and digital asset management systems

  • Capabilities that facilitate both enterprise-level and user-level customization of system object templates and code lists

  • Role-based security management controls, specific to each institution’s standards

  • System object security controls permitting controlled access to sensitive documentation or data

  • Adoption of image annotation standards in conformance with established protocols such as the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF)

  • Dashboard customization capabilities for individual users

  • Full workflow management capabilities to support the unique business processes of each institution

  • Capabilities to support the use of locally preferred terminology by institutions

  • Version management and rollback capabilities for key system objects

  • Cultural and digital object record management and search/retrieval independent from the project/case/task system object hierarchy

  • Reports on system status and activity

  • Ability to print and export iDoc-based system objects

The second grant from the Mellon Foundation in 2014 was provided for continuing the work of the project.  A critical goal for Release 2.0 of ConservationSpace was to develop the software as a hosted multi-tenant application. In accord with Open Source requirements, Sirma developed a version of ConservationSpace that can be installed on institutional or hosted servers as a single-tenant application where a separate instance of the software is used by a single customer. Sirma created installation-ready versions that have the integration capabilities necessary for ConservationSpace’s future connectivity with third-party systems.  Integration requirements for existing partner data systems were investigated and documented.  Sirma developed an ontology that defines the domain of conservation business practices. Negotiations with the IIIF project allowed Sirma to expand the capabilities of the Mirador image viewer and those improvements are incorporated into ConservationSpace. They improved the user experience by enhancing the interface and interaction design.