background image
content.What the question for us is, how does providing raw content, for however worthy
projects outside, help us to deliver, as it were, our mission and show our paymasters that we
are still worth the 30 million a year that it costs - is the raw data, the raw object, images, is
providing those digitally alone going to satisfy?" (DigiCULT ERT, Edinburgh, July 24,
From this statement at least two major questions come up:What is today seen as more
than "raw data or content" and how can institutions enrich and add value to it, in order of
creating something that is more valuable for potential users (including broader groups of
users: e.g. in the educational sector)?
How to add value and create new contexts online?
Asked what new online approaches are there to add value to and create contexts for
cultural heritage collections, participants in the DigiCULT Online Delphi suggested various
concepts and tools. Generally, as Jean-Marc Blais (Director, Programmes Development,
CHIN) has noted, in the virtual environment "the challenges are the same as the ones
facing museums when creating physical exhibitions: How to be relevant to our audiences,
how to cater to their needs, how to attract and keep new audiences." (DigiCULT Delphi,
June 11, 2001) Yet, as the following suggestions show, for "virtual curators" there are or will
be many new approaches available to attract and involve online visitors:
Heritage collections closely linked together in a variety of navigational ways,
semantically rich, adaptive information contexts for the understanding and
consumption of artefacts (digital or otherwise),
have the ability to view collections from multiple points of view,
multiple perspectives and multidisciplinary approaches,
online virtual reality museums, live conferences, multimedia products,
video clips online telling the story of the art or artefacts in the gallery,
artificial intelligence and automated response systems to communicate with
personalities of the past (allowing current ideology to challenge that of the past),
having people add their own stories and meanings to existing collections.
Creating rich environments
One clear route to offer more than "raw data" is what experts call enriched environments
or rich interlinking of diverse materials. Such environments for scholars might have an
emphasis on abstracts, indexes, bibliographic information, reviews, commentaries as well as
the full text of primary and secondary literature, and for communities e.g. in the schools
and lifelong learning field surely would need a higher degree of graphics, images, sound files
and even moving images.
A basic requirement to achieve this are generally cross-sector interoperability and in
particular metadata. As Dennis Nicholson, Directorate of Information Strategy, Strathclyde
University, states,"the creation of enriched environments (...) we certainly tend to see very
much as a metadata issue.The better the metadata, the more descriptive and controlled and
structured the metadata, the better chance you have of creating user-adaptive environments,
by which I mean different landscapes for different things for users for different kinds of
purposes." (DigiCULT ERT, Edinburgh, July 24, 2001)
Metadata that would allow for an interlinking of the sources into for example e-learning
environments would need to include elaborated descriptions and interpretations of objects
that can be integrated in higher level contextualising structures, e.g. historical concepts and
narratives.The creation of contextualisations that support processes of learning,