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V I . 4
C u l t u ra l h e r i t a g e f o r a l l :
L o w - b a r r i e r a c c e s s t o c u l t u ra l h e r i t a g e
An open and integrative approach to cultural heritage not only demands that a multitude
of cultures should be represented in a nation's cultural memory, but equally important, it
highlights the need to provide easy and affordable access to the cultural heritage resources.
Therefore, an effective cultural heritage policy needs to address the various aspects that
determine ease of access to cultural heritage resources, including cost of access, the technical
barriers but also the intellectual and physical impediments that may prevent citizens from
accessing digital cultural heritage resources.These aspects partly interlock with challenges of
a larger Information Society policy.
No cost/low cost access to digital cultural heritage resources
Providing access and keeping cultural heritage resources accessible is first and foremost a
political matter as it demands a clear commitment from national governments to make sure
that all citizens can have access to cultural heritage resources.This implies making sure that
access to cultural heritage resources is, if not free of charge, so at least affordable.
In most European Member States, the notion prevails, that citizens should have free
access to public cultural heritage resources. Especially the Scandinavian countries hold a
strong opinion that access to information and resources in the custody of public cultural
institutions should be free of charge.This notion is anchored in a philosophy of enlighten-
ment and the fundamental principle that access to information is the basis for a free and
democratic society. For many cultural heritage institutions this has been the guiding
principle so far, yet it implies that if it is not the users who pay, a third party needs to carry
the cost. Recently, however, in the emerging digital cultural economy, national governments
seem to be putting increasing pressure on cultural heritage institutions to charge for cultural
services. Of course, this creates a conflict between a vision of free access for all and the
desire to recover at least some of the money that has been invested.
Experience from the museum world shows, for example, that charge fees is one of the
best ways to shut out citizens. As Oliver Watson,Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK,
knows from experience:"We were an institution that granted free access completely. Now,
we have the experience that putting up charges at the door, our visitor figures dropped
dramatically. [Yet,] even at the best that raises something like 5% of your running costs per
year." (DigiCULT ERT, Edinburgh, July 24, 2001) For a museum, whose budget in most
cases is closely tied to the number of visitors that come through the door, such a drop in
visitor figures can be detrimental.
On the contrary, there are even examples where national governments seriously discuss
options to extend the idea of providing universal services for all citizens to the Internet. At
present, the Danish government is discussing a cultural service on the Internet to become a
universal public service with the same status as public broadcasting." It is highly important
to draw a clear line between what should be available as public service and what not. In
Denmark, for the time being, the entire public service concept is being discussed in the
sense of how a public service can be managed on the Internet", explains Pia Vigh, Manager
of KulturNet Denmark. (DigiCULT ERT, Edinburgh, July 24, 2001) Obviously, the Danish
Ministry of Culture considers the Internet a public medium that is as important as
television or radio, and a cultural service on the Internet being of similar importance to
broadcasting to be worth public funding.