Reviewed June 2016
Amanda Meeks, Research and Instruction Librarian
Savannah College of Art and Design
Responding to a trend of fostering collaboration via digital tools and environments, the Getty Scholars’ Workspace offers an alternative to traditional art historical research models by creating a digital environment to conduct collaborative project-based research within any institution. As the user guide for this tool points out, the Workspace is not simply a set of tools, nor is it a publishing platform; rather, it is able to capture both scholarly process and communication among art history scholars.
Like many open source software tools, Workspace requires institutional technical expertise just to install it and offers no support; teams using it will have to rely on the user guide and/or hope that someone in the Drupal community can offer help as needed. While it is possible to download Workspace to your personal computer (as opposed to a server), it loses the collaborative functionality. As such, it is best suited for an institution where multiple people have access and a need for an interactive research environment, as well as on-going tech support.
The Workspace is built to realize collaborative projects such as exhibitions, websites, seminars, digital or print publications, scholarly talks, or many other options beyond the traditional research paper or journal article. However, the information that researchers contribute to the platform will have to be exported and shared elsewhere: while the Workspace calls itself a website (possibly an artifact on it being built on Drupal), and allows users to “publish” images, timelines, etc., it has no front end or user interface to present the research.
Since it is designed specifically for art history research, the set of tools available for each project are customized to the field. A bibliography-building tool within the Workspace can be integrated with other citation management software, such as Zotero, but has limited in functionality – there is no ability to modify fields, imported citations have to be uploaded manually, and you can only export one citation at a time. Workspace is also equipped with an image tool that allows you to create galleries and add captions, though the images within Workspace do not have customizable text fields, the metadata schema is unclear, and images cannot be exported. The comparison tool enables you to compile groups of images for comparison and close examination. The essay tool functions like a standard text editor, but is clunky in design. One tool that is especially unique is a timeline tool that allows for users to layout all relevant events, via text and images, related to the project. Finally, a transcription tool that allows teams to transcribe or translate original documents and texts. Some of these features allow users to annotate and tag work to help inform the project team and research. Overall there may be a few bugs to work out as users test all of the tools and functionality.
The Workspace would be more exciting and useful if it were more interoperable with interface-oriented products and if it were as easy to use as other lightweight and free file sharing, syncing, and office tools such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, Slack, or Trello. These platforms allow businesses and organizations to manage projects effectively, but are less suited for academic scholarship and collaboration in the same way that the Getty Scholars’ Workspace could be.
In its current iteration, the Getty Scholars’ Workspace may present more challenges than benefits, and, in a field with well-established traditional research practices, may be a hard sell to scholars. I would recommend this tool for museums and archives where there is a strong interest in digital humanities in art history research with the caveat that the Getty has made it clear that they “expect the open-source community to generate significant support and new creative uses and features for the system.” This tool would be less suited for most academic institutions and art history programs, but I am hopeful that it will continue to evolve as more scholars test it out.