background image
DigiCULT
.
Info
40
T
he concept of a European area of dig-
ital cultural resources stimulated the
critical faculties of David Bearman; his
paper stressed the need for an anthropolog-
ic approach to the user of heritage infor-
mation in the knowledge society. European
policy makers should observe the way peo-
ple use the network and emergent technol-
ogies. This use is never planned, and always
a surprise. He also stressed the importance
of the fact that human-to-human contact
is, and ever will be, an essential aspect, even
more so in a radically networked society.
He opposed `central planning' and features
like a `universal ontology, or thesaurus'.
However, new thought on European dig-
ital cultural policy by nature assumes some
sort of co-ordinated approach by European
member states. In the case of the Lund
Action Plan, there is no tendency towards
centralisation, rather the reverse, nor is there
any wish to create a central ontology. It is
exactly the vision of creating a medium
where citizens can share their wealth of
experience, augmented only by the pres-
ence of material from heritage institutions,
enhanced by the possibility of peer-to-peer
exchange, and enrichment of extant mate-
rial by peers, that characterises this new
strand of thought.
P
aul Miller took a different route to
arrive at the same position. In his view
heritage organisations should relinquish not
the ownership of their digital holdings but
the built-in insularity that makes it very
cumbersome to find relevant and meaning-
ful information about cultural heritage. This
insularity is not a technical problem, but
most often the result of a conscious policy
to put the institution before the content.
He argues that content should be part of a
much larger whole; it should be linked up,
and information on Web sites should reflect
the information needs of the user instead
of the internal structure of the organisation.
Miller stated very acutely the need for a
coherent distributed infrastructure.
T
he idea of an infrastructure that tran-
scends institutional and even national
borders calls for international co-ordina-
tion. Digitisation as a process is not the
central problem; storage, ownership, retriev-
al, preservation, linking and sustainability
are as is the position of collection owners
when we ask them to relinquish the more
obvious manifestations of institutional iden-
tity in favour of greater accessibility and
interoperability of content. These problems,
organised around the themes of `content
owners and collections', `intermediaries and
services' and `enrichment', were addressed
by groups of experts in parallel forums. The
central question was clear: `What will hap-
pen when we create one "basin", or area, of
digital cultural resources?' Institutional jus-
tification and survival often depends on the
economics of discrete and easily identifiable
projects. The conflict between ownership
of resources, of services, of enrichment, and
the necessity to connect everything in a
collective approach will remain unresolved
as long as networked digital heritage will
depend upon an economy of fragmentation.
S
eamus Ross encouraged a more inte-
grated approach; less focused on the
production of discrete resources, and
stressed the colossal value of renewable
and networked digital cultural resources
for all areas of society. In his eyes, howev-
er, the Lund Action Plan has not lived up
to its expectations. Marius Snyders stress-
es the need for co-ordination, for `shared
principles that enable us to characterise
the whole of a process, without specifying
every last detail of the digitisation machin-
ery' and places part of this responsibility
with the governments of European mem-
ber states. With respect to the Lund Action
Plan he confirms the conclusion of Seamus
Ross, the NRG in its current form, work-
ing processes and mandate has not been
able to implement the full width of the
Lund Principles and the vision behind
them. While the European Commission
has the responsibility to support, foster and
stimulate the process of co-ordination and
the development of a unified area of digital
cultural resources, member states and cul-
tural heritage institutions are not entirely
free from responsibility. Snyders, consistent
with the other speakers, perceives a funda-
mental unwillingness in many institutions
to co-operate, to create networks of con-
tent, and to include the user in the infor-
mation loop.
T
he conference stirred the imagina-
tion of many people, not by pointing
the attention to new digital gadgetry or the
latest virtual museum with a 3D tour-de-
force, but by simply stating that information
is not yet at our fingertips. Coming from
different angles nearly every speaker arrived
at some point at the same conclusion, that
this is more a question of mentality, culture
and vision than of technology.
`
The Department of Education, Science
and Training within the Australian gov-
ernment (http://www.dest.gov.au/) set up
a two-year study in order to analyse and
improve our national research infrastruc-
ture. Focusing on issues at a national level
DS
PACE
T
RIAL
AT
ANU: I
NTERVIEW
WITH
D
R
B
RIAN
M
OLINARI
Dr. Brian Molinari

HA
TII,

2004