Conclusion: Future Perspectives
What has been described as "dreary future" in the situation analysis at the beginning of this Executive Summary, can turn into "some sunshine", if the various stakeholders and decision makers in the cultural heritage sector take action. Although some of the issues described here, may not be solved within the next five years, the experts participating in the DigiCULT study are confident that the majority of challenges will bring us closer to the goal of unlocking the value of the cultural heritage sector.
A future with a vision
At present, defining clear visions for the future of the cultural heritage sector is on the agenda of several European Member States. And other national governments, who have not yet set the course for the future development, will do so in the context of comprehensive European initiatives like eEurope. In the future, such a clear vision embracing a diverse, multicultural and multilingual perspective of cultural heritage will provide the basis for all political action and inform programmes and implementation initiatives. If national governments really succeed in expanding the vision of cultural heritage to also provide room for the many different cultural and, literally, multilingual voices within society, there is the possibility of governments using culture as an integrating force within an increasingly fragmented society. In addition, national cultural heritage policies will define access to information as a basic right of all citizens in the Information Society, with this access being free of charge.
In 2006, national governments will have clarified the responsibility of who is taking care of born-digital cultural resources. Depending on their different administrative structures and funding mechanisms, national governments will either establish central or distributed archiving services. In addition, with regards to a legal deposit for electronic resources, national libraries will play an important role.
In 2006, digitisation policies will be in place that provide a clear road towards a critical mass of cultural heritage resources. Education will be one of the key drivers in the cultural heritage market, and educational institutions, teachers, students, and life long learners will constitute the most important user groups of digitised cultural heritage resources. Although intellectual and other non-economic values will be acknowledged, national governments will stimulate public interest in cultural heritage resources especially in the educational and tourism sectors and actively create market demand for digital cultural products and services. However, the primary measure unit to determine the value of cultural heritage resources will be their use, and not necessarily their commercial value in the market. Moreover, what the public purse will pay for is the intellectual value, not the commercial value of cultural heritage resources.
In 2006, a top priority of cultural heritage institutions will be to increase the capacity of their human capital. Supported by regional and national information support centres, they will receive professional training to increase their technology skills and improve their knowledge in project management. These centres will also provide technical support, especially for small and under-resourced cultural heritage institutions.
In 2006, there will be no more trial and error approaches to digitisation. Cultural heritage institutions will digitise traditional holdings based on clear policies and strategies that are mainly driven by a strong demand for high quality digital learning material. They will split functions with technologically specialised organisations, who have been set up to manage and archive digital collections. Thus, cultural heritage institutions can focus on their real value (contextualisiation, knowledge, expertise) and need not enter into risky and expensive activities beyond their capability.
In the networked environment, co-operation at all levels, between sectors and between institutions working at different scale, is a key success factor. There will be intensive information exchange on all topics that demand a co-ordinated and consensual approach, such as digitisation, standard compliance, best practice and quality procedures. In addition, by teaming up with centres of excellence, small institutions especially can benefit from successful know-how transfer (slip stream model).
With regards to presenting their collections and holdings, they will face the challenge not only of presenting digital objects, but of enriching and augmenting user experience using their knowledge and expertise, through easy-to-use tools.
However, in the networked environment, cultural heritage institutions will also face increasing competition as users do not differentiate between institutions but instead assess organisations by a set of clearly recognisable sector standards. Only institutions that implement best practice standards into their day-to-day work will reach the necessary level of quality. For example, the ability to interact with digital cultural artefacts will be one quality measure and organisations that fail to meet these standards will be rated as second class and mediocre. The result will be declining user numbers, and linked to that, decreased funding from public bodies.
Running commercial services
In 2006, there will be a clearer view of the conditions under which cultural heritage institutions can gain some margin in commercial ventures. Memory institutions will increasingly run commercial services, yet their business activities will be communicated and understood as activities undertaken to recover some of the costs they have incurred in providing their services to the scholarly and educational communities, as well as to society at large. For going commercial, intermediary organisations in the cultural heritage sector will play a key role.
If public investment covers the initial costs (over a suitable time period that goes beyond the normal project period of 3-4 years), cultural heritage institutions will be able to cover the running costs. Yet, additional funding will be needed to continue implementing a target-oriented digitisation programme. Instead of trials to convert cultural heritage institutions into commercial units that search in vain for the hidden commercial value in their collections, a strategy is in place to develop cultural and historical themes together with cultural industries and the media. This thematic focus approach is used to bring interesting cultural and historic material into the market. By establishing certain themes that commercial companies (e.g. publishers) and other stakeholders can buy into, cultural heritage institutions have clues at hand in order to purposefully "mine" their collections.
There will be a strong public interest in the new landscape that is manifest in the usage of digital resources and services for a variety of personal, group related and local purposes. These users will not necessarily be the current clientele of memory institutions but new types of users. Leading institutions will also use the latest technologies to attract the attention of the younger generations.
New user platforms and virtual protected environments will be key areas of the technological landscape of tomorrow’s cultural economy. They will be the places to go first for a variety of user groups, be it school classes, lifelong learners, and tourists. Within the "attention economy", these new platforms and protected environments will function as collectors and aggregators of attention for the offerings of cultural heritage institutions and the many contributions they give to the knowledge society.
Basic indicators for the success of cultural heritage will be: the number of existing platforms, the multitude and plurality of services offered, and overall, if services are used by certain larger user segments.
Open and/or established sector standards will be used widely but semantic interoperability and multilingualism will still be a challenge. With regards to seamless access, users will be able to directly search and retrieve information from heterogeneous cultural databases, using more intelligent search tools that deliver better quality results. Some multilingual search engines will be available, although information about objects will remain in the native language. Through the widespread use of authority files and thesauri, users will receive adequate search results. Digital objects will be presented in enriched, highly interactive environments and can be manipulated, altered and used to create one’s own story. User will be supported by intelligent and increasingly knowledge-aware technologies.
Through European, national as well as regional initiatives, the majority of small cultural heritage institutions have established a web presence, and have reached a skills level enabling them to participate actively in cultural heritage projects.
One of the issues that will not be solved within the next five years is long-term preservation of complex digital objects. Although cultural heritage institutions will have a better understanding on how to actively manage the life-cycle of different media types, the available technological solutions and strategies will remain short-term answers for a long-term adventure.