APIs and Researchers: The Emperor's New Clothes?

  • Jennifer Edmond
  • Vicky Garnett


As part of the Europeana Cloud (eCloud) project, Trinity College Dublin investigated best practice in the use of web services, such as APIs, for accessing large data sets from cultural heritage collections. This research looked into the provision and use of APIs, and moreover, whether or not more customised programmatic access to datasets is what researchers want or need. In order to understand whether current patterns of API usage reflect a skills gap on the part of researchers or a mismatch of tool to purpose, we looked not only at the creators and developer/users of APIs, but also at humanists already re-using big data; approaches in cultural heritage institutions and other research infrastructures to bring API use to non-technical audiences; and the kinds of training and other support services available or emerging within the data-intensive humanities research lifecycle. We conducted both desk research and a series of 11 interviews with figures working as researchers, developers or data providers, including figures from both the API development and the data usage communities. This research, conducted under the eCloud project and supported by the European Commission’s ICT Policy and Support Programme (Grant number 325091), was begun in March 2014 and is now in its concluding validation stage. The results of the research are not yet finalised, but the contribution is already emerging of this work to the debate about APIs being either the way forward for digital cultural heritage collections, or the Emperor’s New Clothes (or maybe a bit of both).
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