V. Key Issues and Recommendations
Technologies for tomorrow’s digital cultural heritage
With the advent of networked communication, the provision of access to cultural heritage resources has become one of the main activities of cultural heritage institutions. It has initiated a paradigm shift from building collections to providing seamless access to digital cultural heritage resources. This requires the convergence and interoperability of diverse systems.
From a technological point of view, to enable seamless access across sectors means finding a compromise between a high level of interoperability, the granularity of provided metadata, and the quality of search results. The higher the granularity of metadata the better the search results, but at the cost of interoperability. What has been achieved so far is the ability to search across sectors, yet at the expense of search quality.
The primary barriers to seamless access today are related to the following issues:
To achieve seamless access to cultural heritage resources as the basis for other future services, the following issues need to be actively approached:
Recommendation 50: The European Commission, special interest non-governmental organisations, international standards consortia and ALMs together will need to continue to co-operate to establish sector standards.
Experts envision different stakeholders for standards synchronisation. These are a central European Union standards authority, non-governmental organisations, national/regional bodies and international consortia. Therefore, a first step is to establish consensus on an international cultural heritage standards authority and its tasks. To do this, all relevant stakeholders need to be involved to develop a viable model on how to best reach agreement on sector standards and dissemination of results.
Recommendation 51: The European Commission, national governments and regional authorities as primary funding bodies should actively promote the use of announced or open standards by making standards compliance a requirement for future funding for proposers of cultural heritage projects.
As primary funding bodies, the European Commission as well as national governments are in the position of making standards compliance and other quality measures part of the agreement with proposers. Therefore, they need to issue clear guidelines for the submission of different types of electronic documents. This ensures future accessibility in the long term.
Recommendation 52: National governments and regional authorities should set up co-ordination and dissemination infrastructures that help cultural heritage institutions to make informed decisions on future technological developments.
Besides a national help desk, experts participating in the DigiCULT study especially favoured the foundation of regional cultural Research & Development (R&D) centres to actively support smaller memory institutions in the regions through a range of services.
As members of all important standards consortia, these regional cultural R&D centres would:
Recommendation 53: With the help of European Commission framework programmes, projects that focus on building target-group specific intelligent guides to cultural heritage resources should be solicited.
These intelligent guides should include:
Today, the volume of material to be digitised is the most pressing digitisation issue, and related to it, the need to select. With growing scale, the nature of cultural 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 cultural object digitisation into the overall workflow within cultural heritage institutions.
In addition, 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.
Recommendation 54: National governments and regional authorities should formulate clear digitisation programmes that can guide cultural heritage institutions to formulate organisational digitisation policies (see also the chapter: National Policies and Initiatives).
Recommendation 55: Anchored in national digitisation programmes, cultural heritage institutions should formulate organisational digitisation policies that transparently state the selection criteria based on:
Recommendation 56: Funding bodies of digitisation projects, i.e. national governments, regional authorities as well as non-governmental funding bodies should give a funding preference to projects that prove a good understanding of why and for whom material is digitised.
However, there is a risk that the barrier for small ALMs is too high to participate in digitisation projects because they often lack the expertise and the resources to fulfil these funding requirements. There is a need for a knowledge-based online support tool that could help small institutions to get a first assessment of their collections and ensuing digitisation requirements. A second step could be to get institutions in touch with experts, so as to improve their chances of gaining access to sources of funding through appropriate programmes.
Recommendation 57: The European Commission should sponsor pilot Research & Development projects and solicit studies in the following areas:
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 methods of long-term preservation such as technology preservation, migration and emulation are regarded insufficient methods to preserve digital objects over the long-term. In fact, they are considered short-term solutions to long-term problems. To make things worse, experts do not see any rapid technical solution to the problem in sight.
Yet, for cultural heritage institutions to take a "sit back and wait" approach until the whole scene has settled down and the results of research are known, would be the wrong strategy. Instead, they should develop sound principles and policies for the creation and acquisition of digital material that will help them to provide those materials with a significantly improved chance of survival.
Given the urgency of the problem, immediate action from all stakeholders at various levels is required.
Recommendation 58: National governments and regional authorities need to take immediate action on long-term preservation and formulate a strategy for digital preservation as part of a national information policy. The strategy should involve setting up a network of certified organisations to archive and preserve digital cultural resources.
A national preservation policy should include a clear idea on who should be responsible for the preservation of digital cultural heritage in the future. As digital preservation is a costly undertaking that requires great expertise, we recommend the establishment of a network of certified organisations that take care of different types of material. These organisations should closely co-operate at the national and international level and actively seek to participate in Research & Development trials to foster documentation and information exchange for guidelines. These organisations should also monitor all relevant developments in the digital preservation area. Features of such certified trustworthiness could include: experience in digital archiving, participation in R & D activities, organisational stability and longevity.
Recommendation 59: The European Commission should support Research & Development in the following areas:
Today, we face a situation where electronic material on the web is constantly disappearing. As voluntary responsibility is considered too risky, there is an urgent need to draft the legal framework that regulates the responsibility of archiving and preserving electronic material. Such regulations need to satisfy both, authors and publishers as content rights holders and the archival institutions that represent the interests of the users.
Recommendation 60: In those European Member States that have a legal deposit system, national governments should expand the legal deposit to include electronic and born-digital material.
Recommendation 61: In countries without a legal deposit system, national governments and regional authorities should nevertheless appoint trusted organisations to collect, make accessible and preserve born digital cultural resources. These trusted organisations should then enter into negotiations with content providers to approve on rights agreements for deposit and future use.
Recommendation 62: The European Commission should support actions to raise awareness for long-term preservation of born digital resources outside the cultural heritage community.
In particular, such actions should address industry as well as all other areas where born-digital material is created, to facilitate awareness at the beginning of the resource life-cycle, at the creation stage. To this purpose, the European Commission should also publish preservation guidelines for non-cultural sectors (e.g. accompanying measures, take-up actions, etc).
For memory institutions to reach broader audiences, they need to move beyond resource discovery and offer services that also relate to people’s lives. This means to use one’s core competencies, i.e. the knowledge and expertise of curators, librarians and archivists on holdings and collections, to build knowledge-rich multimedia information resources that provide explanation and guidance as well as additional context. In addition, cultural heritage institutions need to provide the tools to enable users to create their own meaningful stories.
To generate those knowledge-rich, interactive multimedia services, memory institutions need tools and systems that are interworkable. These tools and systems should integrate people in collaboratively shared spaces that are both interactive, allowing a high degree of user involvement and control, and intelligent, systems that are able to "learn".
Immersive interactive environments as one key area for museums, personalisation and customisation tools, intelligent recommender systems, new forms of navigation support and intelligent guides as well as non-technical authoring tools and distributed hypertext systems for collaborative work, are only a selection of tools that cultural heritage institutions will need at their disposal in the future. In addition, there will be a range of other systems that are currently used and further developed in other industry sectors that will support memory institutions to deliver the kind of tailor-made and highly interactive services that allows them to fully unlock the value of their resources.
However, the true achievement does not necessarily lie in the ability to understand all those systems in their technical detail, but to put them together and integrate them with existing collection management systems. Due to the lack of technology skills but also of business and marketing know-how, cultural heritage institutions should seek co-operation with private companies, larger institutions or new types of cultural heritage institutions that provide the skills and know-how they lack.
Recommendation 63: In the 6th Framework Programme for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration Activities, the European Commission should solicit proposals in the following areas:
Recommendation 64: To minimise the risk and gain access to knowledge and skills they lack, cultural heritage institutions should seek strategic partnership with intermediaries, private companies, and/or larger cultural heritage institutions to commonly build the kind of new cultural services customers will demand in the future.
Experts estimate that less than 10% of all cultural heritage institutions in Europe are in the position to participate in the digital era. The great majority of memory institutions - the local museum focusing on the history of a village, the community or church library or the highly specialised historic archive - do not even possess the human, financial and technological resources to participate in the Information Society.
There is a risk of widening the gap between the leaders in the cultural heritage sector and the technologically less developed institutions by focusing Research & Development (R&D) projects exclusively on technological innovation. In addition, the formal and administrative criteria to partake in European Union R&D projects are too high. The biggest impediment here is the lack of capacity in the cultural heritage sector.
Recommendation 65: The European Commission needs to lower the entry barriers for small memory institutions and develop a slip-stream model for R&D participation.
Similar to the SME programmes that are an established part of EU-funding, future European R&D programmes should leave room for initiatives that allow smaller cultural heritage institutions, that do not yet work with information and communication technologies, to participate. Such programmes should focus on consolidation, sustainability and technological innovation but also on teaming up between the leaders in the field and technologically less developed memory institutions.
Teaming up with organisations that already have much experience and using them as centres of excellence, could be one way of approaching the threat of a technology gap between cultural heritage institutions. In the proposal evaluation, a bonus should be given not only for technological innovation, but for projects that demonstrate knowledge-transfer to technologically less developed institutions (slip stream model).
Recommendation 66: National governments and regional authorities need to lower the entry barriers for small memory institutions and actively foster co-operation between large and small cultural heritage institutions for knowledge transfer.
Recommendation 67: In the 6th Framework Programme for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration Activities, the European Commission should find a good balance between the funding of innovative, high risk projects and R&D programmes that allow smaller cultural heritage institutions to catch up.
Experts estimate that 90% of all cultural heritage institutions are not yet ready technologically to participate in the Information Society. On the other side, we have a small percentage of technological innovators and early adopters who successfully implement the latest technologies in their business. The two groups have very different needs.
The greatest challenge for the 6th Framework Programme for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration Activities is to find the right balance for funding targeted Research & Development programmes that support both the leaders and the laggards in the cultural heritage sector.
Cultural heritage is an application domain that traditionally does not drive technological innovation. Nevertheless, cultural heritage poses some of the most challenging questions for technology that are not yet solved, e.g. highly complicated knowledge representation problems with extremely complex requirements such as fuzzy concepts, temporally changing views of knowledge objects and different schools of interpretation. Contrary to popular thinking, the cultural heritage sector could in fact, be a very good application area for building new technologies as it offers many technological challenges that could be drivers for significant innovation.
The above assertion can be justified: cultural heritage is about knowledge. Furthermore, it is about knowledge in a societal context and even more complex, about knowledge whose societal context changes over time. Thus, cultural heritage institutions should be prime users of knowledge technologies and, interestingly, by creating catalogues and classification schemes, they are themselves in the business of developing knowledge technologies (albeit with often inadequate tools).
One of the major policy recommendations is to foster the use, adaptation and adoption of knowledge technologies by cultural heritage institutions, and to foster further exchanges of expertise between cultural heritage experts and knowledge technologists.
Recommendation 68: Foster collaboration between intelligent cultural heritage and FP6 Knowledge Technologies.
In future Research & Development programmes, cultural heritage applications should become testbeds for innovative knowledge technologies.
Recommendation 69: Combine knowledge bases, learning systems and agent communication systems under a common vision related to cultural heritage and ambient intelligence.
The vision of "ambient intelligence" requires a combination of technologies: existing knowledge repositories must be made accessible through appropriate knowledge exchange standards.
Recommendation 70: Foster research into business models and systems for trading cultural content, leading to the exchange of knowledge goods between diverse societies.
Media companies are interested in acquiring content in order to create media products from it (Microsoft, Warner, Bertelsmann, etc). ALMs are prime holders of content but have little experience in adding sufficient value to it in order to develop the content they own into products. It is therefore suggested to support research and development on business models that relate culture and economy in ways that demonstrate the value of cultural heritage not only in quantitative terms, but also in qualitative terms.
Recommendation 71 (advanced research programme): Foster research into cognitive engines that process artefacts of cultural heritage autonomously.
This includes technologies for feature recognition to ultimately enable semi-automatic cataloguing, systems that can aggregate feature spaces to symbolic representations, as well as technologies that can manage culturally aware interpretation of interactions between agents, be it human or machine based.