background image
I X . 2
P ro v i d i n g i n t e g ra t e d a c c e s s t o d i g i t a l
c u l t u ra l h e r i t a g e re s o u rc e s
From a technological point of view, providing seamless, integrated access to services and
cultural heritage resources is primarily a question of convergence and interoperability. At
the basic level, convergence and interoperability means providing users with the capacity to
treat multiple digital collections in various cultural institutions as one.
For cultural heritage institutions, one of the primary obstacles to providing integrated
seamless access over computer networks relates to the fact, that over the Internet, protected
databases or online catalogues cannot be directly searched. Search engines like Google or
All-the-Web can only provide full-text searches in web documents that are marked up with
HTML.They are not capable of conducting searches in library catalogues, digital finding
aids, registries or other non-catalogue material in digital form.
In addition, a major hindrance for searching across categories and sectors is the fact that
archives, libraries and museums have developed sometimes over centuries different
practices to describe their cultural artefacts.Today, their documentation and object
descriptions are not compatible across the sector.To make these resources searchable and
deliver quality results, cultural heritage institutions will need to find a solution to these
The goal: quality in search results
Although there are still issues that need to be addressed, such as network technology that
is not yet robust and capable enough to support high quality time based delivery, many
technological problems related to offering seamless access are solved.The issues that remain
to be solved are organisational and managerial, and are related to issues such as the use of
common metadata standards across the sectors, which can only be addressed through
intensifying collaboration between sectors.
As Greg Newton-Ingham, Head of the National Advisory Service for moving Pictures
and Sound at BUFVC, UK, made clear:"Whether to provide seamless access, is not a key
issue technically.We can do this, but it is the quality of the results that are returned that is
the key issue." Newton-Ingham links the quality problem to the various ways how memory
institutions describe their collections:"We have no clear way of describing what a
collection is, never mind what is inside the collection.The notion of a collection is very
specific, thus we need ways to translate the internal perspective of what a collection is into a
framework which users can then access in a way they see the world." (DigiCULT ERT,
Stockholm, June 14, 2001)
This difficulty with describing collections will become even more severe as novel, born-
digital information objects appear as a result of new technologies. Existing means and
experiences will be inadequate to describe these new and future cultural heritage objects.
As Rene van Horik, Netherlands Institute for Scientific Information Services, explains:
"The problem with born-digital objects is first and foremost an intellectual problem.What
is it? Is it a `photo' or a `text', or something we know from the `analogue' world."
(DigiCULT Delphi, July 17, 2001)
Yet, reaching the commitment and achieving agreement between all stakeholders in
order to make cross-sectoral access work, is not an easy undertaking."One of the
fundamental barriers we have come across is a cultural one. (...) We have to get passed it
first, before we can provide seamless access of any value." (Sandy Buchanan, SCRAN;