After three years the PATHS project is drawing to a close. We started our work back in 2011 with funding from the European Commission’s 7th framework programme to carry out research into techniques to find ways of improving and personalising access to the significant amounts of cultural heritage material that have been made available online digital library portals as a result of digitisation initiatives in recent years.

Screenshot of the PATHS user interface

PATHS desktop application

Very large collections can be difficult for users to navigate – it is difficult to find content in the depths of the collection without specialist knowledge about how it is structured and or the vocabulary used to describe the content. The metadata that is available can limit the kind of information retrieval that cultural institutions are able to offer their users.

Discovering interesting ites can be even more difficult in collections where content is brought together from many different institutions (such as in Europeana), where staff are using different cataloguing systems, standards and languages. PATHS aimed to demonstrate the potential for improving users’ experience by exploiting natural language processing to enrich metadata and by implementing state-of-the-art systems in user-driven information access.

One of the major achievements of the PATHS project has been to demonstrate the practical benefits and technical feasibility of enriching the metadata for cultural heritage collections as a means of improving content retrieval, supporting innovative discovery and exploitation.  This addresses a critical issue for cultural heritage institutions across Europe who hold vast quantities of quality content in digital libraries that are currently never found unless explicitly sought. A prototype content enrichment service was released for cultural institutions to trial enriching their content item by item.

The initial deployment of PATHS focussed on browser-based applications on desktops. To demonstrate the flexibility of the PATHS API, the project developed a version of the application for use on iPADs.

Screen shot of the PATHS iPAD app

PATHS iPad app

The project developed a range of tools to visualise the content of the digital library (such as topic maps, thesaurus browse and tag clouds) and to enable users to create and publish their own pathways (of interesting items and related materials) through the collection.   We evaluated the system with users through lab trials and a series of demonstrations and received positive feedback which confirmed that the project achieved its objective of providing tools that enrich users’ experiences of digital libraries. The interactive tools provided for expert and non-expert users to use content and create narratives, tell stories and make personal collections were very well received.

The project also provided an important test bed for Europeana content and the Europeana Data Model (EDM) making recommendations on extensions to the EDM schema to manage semantically enriched content. PATHS made a significant contribution to research into the application of semantic enrichment techniques to cultural heritage content, demonstrating the potential to enrich the simple content metadata to enable novel browsing and information discovery. The techniques used enriched items with links to similar content, created links to related Wikipedia articles, and enabled the collections to be thematically organised into a semi-automatically created hierarchical structure. We explored the potential of generating personalised recommendations based on user profiles, query logs and the similarity of content items, contributing to research in this important area.

Additionally, the knowledge developed through the project with regard to information retrieval, indexing and Web APIs have been invaluable to the development of the next generation of portals.  A prototype content enrichment web service was released and has been adopted for development by the LoCloud project.  The next generation of Avinet‘s map portal, ADAPTIVE, is being built exploiting PATHS technology in its search engine and is a first step on the way towards commercial exploitation of PATHS products.

Throughout the project the PATHS team have researched, developed and evaluated techniques to improve the presentation of digital library content to end users.  Our research activities have led to scientific publications, and the project results form a core technology with expectations for further exploitation in the Cultural Heritage domain. We hope that the knowledge developed through the project will be invaluable in the development of the next generation of portals.

For more information about the project’s results see: