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I X . 3
B e yo n d t h e i n f o r m a t i o n l eve l : P ro v i d i n g
a c c e s s t o d i g i t a l o b j e c t s
In the past decade, ambitious digitisation projects were initiated under the assumption
that everything could be digitised. In many cases, digitisation was ad hoc, without prior
planning or a clear notion why analogue cultural resources should be transferred into the
digital realm. As one expert expressed very frankly in the online Delphi: Digitisation
projects were initiated with "absurd priorities based around sexy proposals for funders".
(DigiCULT Delphi, June 21, 2001) As many of these projects were under-funded yet over-
ambitious, many of the results lacked quality and sustainability.
Today, the idea of what can be achieved by digitising analogue cultural artefacts and
where digitisation has its drawbacks has become much clearer. Although digitisation is also
undertaken for preservation purposes, for example in public record archives, experts agree
that digitisation has its greatest value in providing access to cultural resources. As Cary Karp,
Director of Internet Strategy and Technology at the Swedish Museum of Natural History,
stated:"By definition, digitisation means the loss of information. (...) Digitisation is not for
preservation but more for protecting the original from wear and use, and giving access
through the secondary format with a good enough quality." (DigiCULT ERT, Stockholm,
June 14, 2001)
Besides recognising that access is the real strength, what has also become clearer over the
last years is that there are some pitfalls which cultural heritage institutions need to watch
out for.
Pitfalls of digitisation
Colin Webb, Director of Preservation Services, National Library of Australia, has
summarised the limitations and pitfalls of digitisation (Webb, 2000):
... from an access perspective:
missing awareness that what is delivered digitally, is only a surrogate of the source
the copying process imposes changes on the ways the material is perceived,
missing legibility: too small, too blurry, too costly if done well,
the way the material is delivered influences its quality (which, on the one hand has
to do with compression, yet on the other hand also with the unwillingness to
release high quality images over the web out of fear of copyright infringements,
digital images are just image and their "content" is not searchable,
besides digitisation, there are other large investments often overlooked, such as
organising and describing material,
issues related to ownership, rights of access, and cultural sensitivities.
All those issues may interfere with access, even though access is what digitisation can
provide best.