A Shared Vision for Cross-Collections Discovery

Yale University’s extraordinary collections transcend disciplinary boundaries, with important concentrations of art and cultural heritage artifacts held by the Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG), the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA), the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (YPM), and the Yale University Library (YUL). Over the past several years, largely stimulated by the development of the Collection Studies Center on Yale’s West Campus, wide-ranging conceptual and practical conversations have begun to yield a sense of physical adjacencies and opportunities regarding shared collections storage, preservation, and access needs. This work reflects the University’s wish to better understand how enhanced research and educational benefits, as well as spatial and economic efficiencies, could be achieved by considering Yale’s collections across the museums, galleries, and libraries that steward them, rather than as discrete institutional silos.

The inherent challenges in this work are significant (and applicable generally to institutions beyond Yale). Different kinds of objects have been cataloged and described at Yale according to localized and domain-specific best practices, in organizations that have developed their own standards over time. As a result, researchers must consult one or more of the existing twenty-two separate library and museum catalogs to conduct a thorough search of collections at Yale. Providing users with a more straightforward and connected online collection landscape is essential to enhance collections use for teaching and research. 

Making University Collections Widely Available and Easy to Use (2018)

President Salovey is advancing ambitions that further contribute to Yale’s core missions of research and scholarship, education, preservation, and practice. Many of these ambitions implicate Yale’s rich cultural and natural heritage collections: to be the research university most committed to teaching and learning; to cultivate innovators, leaders, pioneers, creators, and entrepreneurs; to stand unsurpassed in humanities and arts scholarship, teaching, and practice; and to share more broadly Yale’s intellectual assets with the world.

Yale’s collections, unequalled in depth and breadth among University peers, are central to these efforts. Significant investment to improve access and advance scholarship through the digitization of collections has been made over the last decade. While these efforts have born significant fruit, it nevertheless often remains difficult for Yale constituents to find the assets they seek and easily apply them to their academic pursuits.

Over this same time period, new technologies, new standards and new practices have proliferated to support emerging digital approaches in collections-based learning, research and practice. These new approaches aim to empower learners, scholars and practitioners to easily access and make use of cultural and natural heritage resources across institutional collections and across collecting organizations worldwide.

This multi-year initiative, advanced through close collaboration between the Library, Museums, and ITS, will build on Yale’s first decade of transformative success in providing access to collections through digitization. It will focus on advancing learning, research and practice by making University collections widely available and easy to use.

The first year will address four focused work-streams that are key to transforming the current tools into the essential interoperable collections environment; user experience, application programming interfaces (APIs), collections’ landscape and sustainability.

In subsequent years, the project will finalize the technical architecture, continue to work with students, scholars, practitioners and technical experts to refine the design of the environment and incrementally implement the solution.

Cross Collections Discovery at Yale: Product Vision (2020)

For researchers with all levels of experience at Yale and beyond, Cross-Collection Discovery (CCD) serves as a single point of entry to the diverse content across all collections/ repositories/catalogs in Yale’s museums, galleries and libraries. CCD will surface relevant items of interest and the connections between objects, allowing users to explore the collections in new ways and discover previously unknown items, including primary sources, as well as finding known or previously saved items. 

Unlike current search tools, which are typically collection-specific silos, CCD is integrated across collections, leveraging robust metadata. While current search tools provide long lists of results, CCD combines lists with innovative and flexible visualizations that allow users to dynamically re-display results in different ways, including dashboards with charts, timelines or maps to give an overview of what is available, visual filters to help users refine their results, and hubs that provide consolidated views of all types of resources available on a particular subject. Users can explore and follow an idea by navigating a rich set of interconnected, related objects. 

CCD provides needed guidance for novice researchers but also gives experienced scholars the more robust tools they need. It teaches, encourages and empowers users to engage and connect with the objects in the collection. Users can save individual items or sets, grouping and categorizing them any way they like. Sets may be private, shared with other individuals, or made available for public display. Objects and/or their metadata can be exported from CCD and used in other tools.

Documentation available upon request:

  • CHIT Literature Review
  • Cross Collections Discovery Product Vision
  • Building Information Technology Collaboration Across Yale’s Museums and Libraries