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dhCenter Scientific Committee Profile: Maristella Agosti

 dhCenter Scientific Committee Profile

Maristella Agosti, Professor Emeritus, University of Padua

Maristella Agosti is an expert in information retrieval, digital libraries and archives, and digital cultural heritage. A pioneer in the field of information retrieval since before the advent of the web, Agosti brings her passion for the translation of research outcomes into best practices for archiving and documentation, as well as her technical expertise, to the dhCenter Scientific Committee.

In 2020, Maristella Agosti retired after more than 20 years as a full professor of computer science in the University of Padua’s Department of Information Engineering. She earned her laurea degree in statistics in 1975 from the same institution, with a thesis on algorithms for automatic classification.

From the beginning of her career, Agosti has focused on improving standards and practices for libraries and archives, starting with improving the then- “primitive” automation systems for background information retrieval for end users.

More context; less fragmentation

Agosti notes that turning research findings into concrete products and services for libraries and archives has always been a priority for her; an interest that has led her to become increasingly engaged with the social and human sciences over the course of her career.

“As I came into contact with the problems that needed to be solved to make documents and information in libraries, archives, and documentation centres more accessible to users, I began to study and get to know the characteristics of many humanistic sectors, and I have worked more with researchers of the humanities sector,” she says.

She adds that she believes the dhCenter has a responsibility to humanities researchers and students to provide tools and standards of digital archiving, to make available fragmented data and documentation of the last 20-30 years.

“I would like to see the field of information retrieval provide not only useful information to the user, but also the context in which this information was created, as well as related information. For example, using linked data methods, the records of different cultural heritage institutions could be connected to each other in a sort of structure of linked archives. With these networks and with new types of citation graphs, users could explore larger volumes of data with greater context.”

Looking ahead to her involvement with the dhCenter, Agosti says she hopes to use her expertise to aid the center’s programs based on her experience designing new research projects in Italy and across Europe.

“I am thinking in particular of the projects that I have implemented over the years for innovative access to digital information available in library automation and archive systems, and possibly also creating useful Virtual Research Environments (VRE).”

An information retrieval pioneer

Following her doctoral studies, Agosti did research in the UK, specializing in databases and information retrieval. As part of this work, she designed the first Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) in Italy, which was available before the world wide web. In 1987, she established the Information Management Systems (IMS) group, which was Italy’s first academic research group on information retrieval and digital libraries. She went on to work with other European colleagues on digital libraries in the 1990s, developing one of the first systems for making multimedia objects available.

In addition to serving on the editorial boards of numerous journals on information processing and retrieval, Agosti has herself published widely on the subject, as well as on user engagement and accessing digital cultural heritage collections. For her groundbreaking work, Agosti received the prestigious Tony Kent Strix Award, which honors outstanding contributions to the field of information retrieval, in 2016.