Museums and their big data: innovation labs

Milena Dobreva, Dr., Assoc. Prof. At Sofia University St Kliment Ohridski

Dr. Milena Dobreva (Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski) is the principal investigator of the project DISTILL: DISruptive Technologies in Innovation Labs for digital cultural heritage. Until October 2020 she was an Associate Professor at UCL Qatar where she spearheaded the introduction of four pathways in the MA in Library and Information Studies. Previously she served as a Head of the Department of Library Information and Archive Sciences at the University of Malta, and as the Founding Head of the first Digitisation Centre in Bulgaria where she was also a member on the Executive Board of the National Commission of UNESCO. Her most recent research interests are in the datafication of large-scale digital collections in GLAM institutions (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) and digital transformation. She was instrumental in bringing together a team of 16 international experts who created the book ‘Open a GLAM Lab’ in a booksprint in Doha, Qatar. She is a member of the Management Board of Europeana Network Association and a coordinator of the Task Force Upskilling countries in engaging with Open Science of EOSC (European Open Science Cloud). In 2019, Dr dobreva convened a workshop on innovation labs which was delivered in Livingstone museum in Zambia.



GLAM Labs are indispensable innovation drivers in the cultural and scientific heritage sectors. The acronym GLAM brings together the institutions from the cultural and scientific heritage sectors – galleries, libraries, archives and museums. These labs help to answer the needs of users who need to access large-scale digital collections which are often non-homogeneous (with objects and metadata in different formats). GLAM labs are among the pioneers in addressing the challenges of creating, using and preserving ‘big’ digital collections and datasets. They became even more essential in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic when institutions had to swiftly move to more digital services. A report by UNESCO, Museums around the world in the face of COVID-19 (2020) clearly identified the limited digital transformation taking place, and the growing digital divide between the Global North and the Global South..

The resilience and migration to the digital space of museums took several forms: use of previously digitised resources, enhanced social media presence, new online exhibitions, and special activities. The last group is of biggest interest because it is indicative of the potential of institutions for digital transformations – but special activities were limited in museums from most of the World’s regions. This poses some hard questions to the museum strategists, how exactly the museums will transform in the future and what will help to bridge the even larger digital divide the pandemic triggered?

This presentation will introduce what GLAM labs are doing in the museums and how they contribute to better engagement with the visitors, especially in times when COVID-19 pandemic had a huge influence on the physical visits to the museums and focused the attention on the digital capabilities and services of the museum sectors around the globe. Besides introducing the current trends, the presentation will engage local participants in identifying areas where innovation can take place in the museum sectors of Vietnam.