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12
DigiCULT
D
EVELOPMENT OF THE
S
EMANTIC
W
EB
M
UST
B
EGIN AT THE
G
RASS
R
OOTS
L
EVEL
A
N INTERVIEW WITH
J
ANNEKE VAN
K
ERSEN
,
D
UTCH
D
IGITAL
H
ERITAGE
A
SSOCIATION
,
T
HE
N
ETHERLANDS
By Joost van Kasteren
T
o be successful, the Semantic Web for the
cultural heritage sector will have to develop
from the grass roots level. A top-down
approach whereby institutions have to squeeze
themselves into a certain format is not going to
work.' Janneke van Kersen has strong views on the
initiatives that are currently being undertaken to
develop a Semantic Web. `They are not going to
work for the cultural heritage institutions if you do
not take into account the position that they are in.
Especially not if the institutions are forced to
overhaul their digitisation projects completely.'
Kersen graduated in Art History and did a
postgraduate course on Historical Information
Processing. Since 1999 she has been a consultant
with the Dutch Digital Heritage Association
(Vereniging DEN), which supports cultural heritage
institutions large and small in developing strategies
to face the digital future.
The key objectives of the DEN are to assist
institutions in digitising and documenting their
collections according to high quality standards, and
assuring cross-domain and cross-institutional access to
heritage information in a context-rich, structured
environment.The methods used to realise these
objectives are: knowledge dissemination, best practice
and standardisation.The Association propagates open
standards like XML, OAI and Dublin Core
(qualified).
The DEN has approximately 60 member
institutions, among them most of the large heritage
institutions of The Netherlands. It provides access to
the databases of the member organisations through
the portal http://www.cultuurwijzer.nl.The
Cultuurwijzer (culture pointer) to the collections
uses the Aqua Browser to search for terms in a non-
hierarchical associative way. Databases can also be
accessed through subject fields based on the Dublin
Core standard. Research is carried out to apply the
Art and Architecture Thesaurus in a post-coordinative
way, using it as an additional search aid.
Kersen: `The Dublin Core has some drawbacks but
it is one of the few international standards available
for exchange of information. Mapped to the 5 Ws:
who, where, what, when and why, it turns out to be a
nice tool for interoperability across the databases of
heritage institutions. Of course, we have to accept a
certain kind of fuzziness and lack of precision
compared with domain-specific access at the
institutional level.'
According to Kersen, a real Semantic Web is still a
long way off. `We simply do not have the tools yet
for a meaningful exchange and representation of
information. XML and RDF do not provide the
interoperability that is needed. On the other hand, I
do not believe in developing a fundamental ontology
to give meaning to information on the Net. It looks
to me like the 18th-century endeavour to write an
encyclopaedia that contains all the knowledge in the
world. I am afraid it does not work that way. A lot of
knowledge, even scientific knowledge, cannot be
described in a logical way. Especially in the arts a lot
of "knowledge" is the result of heuristics and
associative thinking. Apart from that there is the
practical problem that cultural heritage institutions do
not have the money and the staff to describe their