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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 funda-
mental 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'."
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.
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 programme and a central point in every
cultural heritage policy. 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,
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.
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 sectors will be an essential component of every organisation.The
governing principle of these networks will not be competition but partnership.
McGuigan quoted in Throsby, David (1999): Economic and Cultural Value in the Work of Creative Artists. In:The Getty Conservation Institute
(2000).Values and Heritage Conservation. (download 12-03-2001).