| Table of contents | Foreword | Introduction | Overview of recommendations | Situation analysis | Key Issues | Conclusion | Imprint |



II. Introduction: Empowering cultural heritage institutions to unlock the value of their collections

Being digital for many European archives, libraries and museums (ALMs) is no longer an option but a reality. They have turned into "hybrid institutions" that take care of both, analogue as well as digital cultural resources. The conversion of all sorts of cultural contents into bits and bytes opens up a completely new dimension of reaching traditional and new audiences by providing access to cultural heritage resources in ways unimaginable a decade ago. As Paul Fiander, Head of BBC Information and Archives, UK, brings it to the point: "The dividend from investment into going digital is substantial." (DigiCULT SC Meeting, November 19, 2001) And it promises even greater returns in the future.

 

The digital promise

In the emerging knowledge society, there will be an increasing demand for high quality, enriched digital content as life-long learning is no longer a buzz word and continuous education has already become a must. Cultural heritage institutions are in a prime position to deliver the kind of unique learning resources that are needed at all educational levels.

Information and communication technologies will play a major role to create and deliver these new contents, which goes far beyond the current stage of providing access to information about cultural heritage objects. In the future, users of cultural resources will be able to enjoy new interactive cultural heritage services and products that relate to their personal lives. They will be able to manipulate digital artefacts online and participate in communities of interest. They will be supported by intelligent tools and agents that help them to locate the desired information to create their own stories. In addition, deeply immersive environments will make museum visitors dwell on in amazement in view of virtual worlds they could not experience anywhere than in the digital realm.

According to David Bearman, AMICO, USA, offering highly interactive and rich environments will become a competitive factor within the cultural heritage community. "In the future, we will expect that you can manipulate digital images in many ways, turn them around, look at the bottom, etc. Those resources that you cannot manipulate, will be perceived as second rate. ... Moreover, the museums they come from will be perceived as second rate." (DigiCULT Interview, August 8, 2001)

As such, cultural heritage institutions can utilise information and communication technologies (ICT) as effective instruments to direct public interest back to the original objects in their trust, by providing contextual information, enlightened with narratives and visualisations with computer-aided renderings and displays. As experience has shown, appropriate use of ICT does increase the interest in the original collection, and cultural heritage institutions should not leave this opportunity unused to add value to their holdings.

Yet, technology alone will not suffice to meet the growing user expectations. Equally important, it will require the knowledge and the intellectual "capital" that rests within the cultural heritage institutions themselves to create these kinds of new and highly desired content that increase the usage of cultural heritage material. Thus, European cultural heritage institutions not only hold the key to a treasure chest of unique resources, they also have the potential to turn the key to unlock the true value of our rich cultural heritage.

At present, however, these high promises are not yet fulfilled.

 

Why this study and for whom?  

Today, archives, libraries and museums all over Europe face similar challenges as they try to take advantage of the enormous potential the use of information and communication technologies promises for memory institutions. These challenges are not only technical in nature, but affect cultural heritage institutions at their very core:

  • How do new technologies affect the core business and how can they be best integrated into the current workflow?
  • Which new technologies can be expected and how can cultural heritage institutions avoid to jump on the wrong technological bandwagon?
  • What kind of institutional changes are needed to adopt and adapt new technologies?
  • How can small institutions manage to participate in the emerging Information Society?
  • What is the potential to commercially exploit cultural heritage resources and what are the future markets?
  • What is needed to make cultural heritage services sustainable?

These are some of the questions that form the basis of this strategic study. Providing a roadmap for orientation on the future trends in the European cultural heritage sector in the next five years, the study aims to help decision makers how to best face the future challenges related to building and exploiting a digital cultural landscape within the Information Society.

Conceptualised as a tool for future planning for decision makers in European archives, libraries and museums, as well as national governments, regional authorities and the European Commission, this study ...

  • provides an in-depth analysis of the state-of-the art of technologies, organisational situation, cultural services and applications as well as (user) demand in European archives, libraries and museums;
  • highlights the surrounding legal and policy framework that sets the conditions for technological developments, organisational changes and economic opportunities in the cultural heritage sector;
  • draws conclusions and gives recommendations on measures to be taken in order to exploit the opportunities and to overcome current technological, organisational and legal impediments.

To reach a broad "institutional" consensus across the cultural heritage sector, more than 180 international experts from archives, libraries and museums, as well as policy makers and representatives from special interest groups and research facilities in Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia were involved in the study over the past seven months. In 29 interviews, 6 Expert Round Tables (ERT), and an online Delphi survey, they gave their opinions on future trends in the cultural heritage sector. Furthermore, they provided recommendations that allow actors in the institutions as well as policy makers to take appropriate measures to create favourable conditions for future development of the cultural heritage sector.

 

Future key challenges

The experts involved identified the following key challenges that will drive the development in the cultural heritage sector in the future:

  • Value of cultural heritage
  • Education as the key market for digital cultural heritage products and services
  • Co-operation and co-ordination as key to operating in a networked environment
  • Strengthening small cultural heritage institutions by increasing competence and capacity
  • Born digital resources and long-term preservation as key drivers of technological development
  • Methodological and co-ordinated approach to digitisation

 

 

1) Value of cultural heritage

In the last years, the cultural heritage sector has gained much political attention due to its economic potential and its importance for market development in the Information Society. The expectations that cultural heritage institutions will become active players in the emerging information economy are high, even within national governments and regional authorities. Yet, to measure cultural heritage in economic terms alone would miss its true value. As Jim McGuigan remarks: "The notion that a cultural product is as valuable as its price in the marketplace, determined by the choices of the ‘sovereign consumer’ and by the laws of supply and demand, is currently a prevalent one, albeit deeply flawed. Its fundamental flaw is the reduction of all value, which is so manifestly various and contestable, to a one-dimensional and economistic logic, the logic of ‘the free market’." (McGuigan, 1996, p. 31, quoted in Throsby, 1999)

The true value that cultural heritage institutions deliver to society is often indirect and non-financial as they strive to provide intellectual enjoyment and raise awareness about the importance of cultural and historical knowledge. Added revenue or the ability to generate revenue often happens indirectly, for other sector economies, i.e. regional development, tourism or the publishing and media industries. As primary funding bodies national governments and regional authorities should be aware that what they are financing goes far beyond the economic value, but is a cornerstone of establishing a society’s cultural identity.

 

2) Education as the key market

In the future education will be the most promising and therefore most significant market for cultural heritage. The experts participating in the DigiCULT study suggested that education should be the focus of every digitisation policy and a central point in every cultural heritage programme. Information and communication technologies are an effective channel to deliver new learning resources to the educational community and empower cultural heritage institutions to fulfil their educational as well as social functions.

To Mark Jones, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, UK, education is so important that it should become part of the core business of every archive, library and museum (ALM): "ALM resources are vastly undervalued and underused as an educational resource. It’s not all about money. ALMs should be doing this as part of their core business, it improves collection management as well as access." (DigiCULT Interview, August 9-10, 2001).

Therefore, when selecting material for digitisation and producing new cultural heritage resources, memory institutions should follow a multipurpose approach and always keep the educational purpose in mind.

 

3) Co-operation and co-ordination

In the networked world, the demand for unique cultural heritage resources does not stop at the institutional walls, but highlights the need for co-operation and co-ordination. As Jennifer Trant, AMICO, USA, noted: "It’s a major technology thing, that technology demands collaboration." (DigiCULT Interview, August 8, 2001)

Therefore, archives, libraries and museums need to enter into new relationships with their environment, other institutions across sectors, private businesses, intermediary organisations and new user groups. Major objectives of these partnerships are to collaborate in the cost-effective creation of new services, to co-ordinate digitisation programmes, define standards and structures to provide seamless access and to share resources. Networks with other institutions across sector will be an essential component of every organisation. The governing principle of these networks will not be competition but partnership.

As Andreas Bienert, Prussian Heritage Foundation, State Museums of Berlin, brings it to the point: "There will be network services or no services at all. ... If we do not achieve a very new quality of information by using information and communication technologies, then we cannot legitimise expensive and very time consuming efforts in this field. ... It is absolutely necessary to achieve this kind of co-operation." (DigiCULT ERT, Berlin, July 5, 2001).

Ultimately, what it comes down to is the need to not only integrate technological systems but people.

.

 

4) Strengthening small cultural heritage institutions by increasing their competence and capacity

Looking at Europe’s memory institutions from the viewpoint of their awareness of new technologies, we are confronted with a wide spectrum with regards to the adoption and exploitation of the benefits information and communication technologies offer to these organisations. On the one end, there are the pioneer institutions and early adopters of information technologies among libraries, archives and museums. These institutions have a clear plan for digitising their collections and spearhead market development by thinking of innovative ways of how to better exploit their digital collections also commercially on the world wide web. On the other end of the spectrum, we find mostly small archives, libraries and museums, which are neither aware of the new technologies and their possibilities nor do they possess the financial as well as human resources to actively participate in the new development.

In the future, it will be a challenge for the European Commission as well as national and regional governments to increase the capacity and competence in small cultural heritage institutions and create the conditions that allow those under-resourced organisations to participate in the Information Society.

"As a curator in a small institution, I feel the lack of employee expertise in technological areas is one of the most pressing problems for adoption of new technologies. Definitions of work practices are focused on exhibition and research development, placing technological expertise low on the list of qualifications for employment. In a small institution, where no staff are hired specifically to perform these functions, the responsibility falls on individuals to develop policies and programs often with scant knowledge of development in other cultural institutions. Individual achievements are all wrought in the face of either instructing and training other staff members while, at the same time, needing to keep abreast of technological developments and carrying out the duties for they are employed." (Geoff Barker, Macleay Museum, DigiCULT Online Delphi, May 22, 2001)

 

5) Long-term preservation and born-digital objects as key drivers of technological development

As ever shorter technological innovation cycles replace existing technologies at a breathtaking pace of 2-5 years, the urgency to address long-term preservation to avoid the inevitable loss of our cultural heritage becomes ever more pressing. Current methodologies of long-term preservation such as technology preservation, migration and emulation are regarded as insufficient methods to preserve digital objects over the long term. In fact, they are considered short-term solutions to a long-term problem. As Greg Newton-Ingham, British Universities Film & Video Council, describes this disadvantage of digital technologies: "It is a technology with the minus that it self-combusts." (DigiCULT ERT, Stockholm, June 14, 2001)

Although cultural heritage institutions face high risk related to the uncertainty about the rapid changes in technology, taking a "sit back and wait" approach would be the wrong strategy. Instead, they should develop sound principals and policies for the creation and acquisition of digital material. In addition, national and regional policy makers need to take immediate action and formulate strategies for digital preservation as part of a national information policy.

Immediate political action is also needed with regards to the ever increasing volume of born-digital material. Born digital material are resources that have been created with the help of information technologies, and demand particular hard- and software for reading and viewing. The explosion of electronically published material currently puts enormous pressure on cultural heritage institutions, as they lack the regulatory framework that entitles them to properly collect, store, make accessible and preserve these resources that are published on the World Wide Web. Given the fact, that many web resources disappear within a short time period, without such legislation or other mechanisms that allow cultural institutions to collect these data, a vast amount of our future cultural heritage will inevitably be lost.

 

6) Methodological and co-ordinated approach to digitisation

Today, the volume of material to be digitised is the most pressing digitisation issue, and related to that, the need to select. With growing scale, the nature of object digitisation changes considerably and poses problems to cultural institutions that are not yet solved, such as mass digitisation, integration of metadata at the point of digitisation, the internal transfer and storage of huge amounts of data and, of course, the exploding costs related to all these tasks. Volume and scale of future digitisation highlight the need for automated processes and integration of object digitisation into the overall workflow within cultural heritage institutions.

This requires the establishment of comprehensive selection policies that are driven by a clear understanding of the why and for whom material should be digitised. Organisational policies for digitisation should be directed by a national digitisation programme to set priorities and avoid the duplication of work.

As Erland Kolding Nielsen, The Royal Library, Denmark points out: "I could see that unless we started from above discussing what should be digitised - what are the objectives, what are our responsibilities and what are not - then you could spend a lot of money on small projects everywhere and commit the Danish sin, as I call it: a little bit of everything, for everybody, everywhere." (DigiCULT Interview, June 28, 2001)

The following section gives an overview on the recommendations for the different addressees of the study, decision makers of European archives, libraries and museums (ALM) on the one side, and policy makers at the European, national and regional level, on the other side. A more detailed description of the recommendations and overall conclusions follows in the second part of this Executive Summary.

We would like to point out that the study consortium is very aware of and recognises the differences that exist between institutions in the various cultural heritage sectors regarding their size, the subject matters that they cover, their missions and purpose, as well as in what might be called their horizons, whether they are local, national, international, where their funding comes from and where they are positioned in public perception. These distinctions make a difference in what ALMs see as success in any part of their ventures including the digital world. Therefore, the decision makers of ALMs need to interpret the following recommendations within the framework of their institutions, to fit their own requirements.

Back to top