Yale Daily News

The University plans to launch LUX: Yale Collections Discovery, a single web-based platform that will allow visitors to explore over 15 million objects across Yale’s museums, libraries and galleries, next spring.

According to project manager Sarah Prown, LUX is part of a multi-year collaborative effort to improve access to Yale’s cultural heritage collections and support teaching, learning and research with collections at Yale and around the world. The project, which began in 2018, will integrate the collection catalogs of the Yale University Library, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Yale Center for British Art and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History on a single platform. Work began on the LUX 1.0 Build last year, and it is expected to be released in spring 2023. Over 70 staff members across Yale’s collections and Information Technology Service are involved in the project. 

“LUX has two goals — one is bringing together Yale’s cultural heritage collections in a single search and discovery platform,” Prown wrote to the News. “The second goal is making Yale’s collections more widely available to a global audience through this project.”

Prown added that the primary challenge of the project is bringing together the different museum and library approaches to collection description into a single dataset.

So far, LUX has been funded by both the University and by a $500,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2019. While LUX has been listed as a potential “area of giving” under the For Humanity capital campaign, there have not been any gifts directed specifically to the project, according to Susan Gibbons, vice provost for collections and scholarly communication.

Gibbons explained that the LUX project was inspired by Yale’s vast collections, which are difficult to explore in their entirety without having a single search catalog.

“An education at Yale is qualitatively different because of [the] opportunities to engage with Yale’s collections,” Gibbons wrote in an email to the News. “However, because the collections reside within the many distinct libraries and museums, it can be quite challenging to discover the full breadth of Yale’s collections without having a single discovery system.  In response, we began the R&D process to create the LUX system.”

Currently, the LUX dataset contains more than 50 million records of objects, concepts and events across Yale’s cultural collections, according to Prown. 

Raymond Clemens, curator of early books and manuscripts at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, told the News that the new platform will enhance the catalog search experience by yielding a larger range of results.

“A university wide catalog might suggest materials the searcher hadn’t considered until they show up in their search, taking them in a new, hopefully creative, direction,” Clemens wrote to the News. “For example, you might be interested in Books of Hours, which are mostly in the Beinecke, but if you searched all our collections you would find fragments in the Art Gallery.”

Beinecke library Director Michelle Light explained that “the sum is more than the parts” when viewers can engage with art, archives and collections together in one place. She furthered that when materials are brought together in context, students have the possibility of finding new connections and relationships they might not have otherwise seen.

Through the use of an embedded digital image viewer, LUX will provide a single place for users to search and browse all of Yale’s digitized collections. Prown explained that the platform will be able to seamlessly gather and present digital images, noting that the University has adopted the International Image Interoperability Framework for rendering and displaying digital images.

LUX will be built on top of a linked open data model, which creates an underlying network of connections across the 50 million records in the system. In “Managing the Web of Things: Linking the Real World,” Quan Sheng, a professor at Macquarie University, defines linked data as “relationships or connections between data from different data sources,” which can play a critical role for intelligent application. The model will allow users to view collections contextualized by relationships across people, places, concepts and events.

“There’s not an institution in the country that has combined art, gallery, research library and natural history collections in a single interface,” said George Miles, a curator of the Western Americana collection at the Beinecke Library. “At Yale and any other major academic library, students and scholars are usually having to go into multiple systems to find out what’s at the University.”

According to Prown, the project team expects completion of the initial phase in the early part of the summer, which will be followed by user testing and system improvements.  

Miles explained that LUX should be viewed as an upgrade rather than a replacement to existing systems.

“In the context of something that is so unprecedented, the rollout is going to be uneven,” Miles said. “Most of us anticipate in the library that we’re going to continue to use the library catalog for a lot of things. It’s less that LUX is replacing existing systems than it is integrating them, enhancing them, in really useful and helpful ways.”

Light added that LUX can serve as an example for other universities to integrate their respective collections.

“​​In addition to improving access to Yale’s collections, LUX can shine a way for other universities to follow,” Light wrote to the News in an email. “LUX will provide a model for unifying online discovery for collections spread across several museums, libraries and archives.”

The LUX system is made up of a number of components which are hosted in Amazon Web Services.

Alex Ye covers endowment, finance and donations. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, he is a first year in Timothy Dwight majoring in computer science and mathematics.