background image
10 DigiCULT
Humanities must stem from other sources, in particu-
lar, from inspiring teachers on all levels and the edu-
cational efforts of the heritage institutions themselves.
S
ERVING
C
OMMITTED
E
LECTRONIC
T
RAVELLERS
AND
L
EARNERS
H
eritage institutions are working hard to cre-
ate and expose metadata about the objects they
hold in their often heterogeneous, multi-media col-
lections (e.g. records, images, sound, video, etc.), and
increasingly they create and provide access to repos-
itories of digitised items. Heritage objects are also
strongly related to different historical and cultur-
al views and interpretations, whereas in other infor-
mation domains terms and concepts may be taken as
given and retrieved out of documents without much
consideration of contexts. Consequently, the heritage
sector is rich in knowledge organisation systems such
as controlled vocabularies to assure semantic consist-
ency and interoperability.
However, these huge efforts often seem to fail to
result in an adequate return on investment in terms
of interest and appreciation, discovery and valuable
uses of heritage resources and services. Is there a mis-
match between these resources and services and the
needs and expectations of broader user communities?
If so, how large is the mismatch with respect to avail-
able and potential searching, browsing, navigation and
other concepts and mechanisms?
In order to sort out what kinds of needs the her-
itage sector should be able to serve, in the overview
below we concentrate on the two largest user groups,
`academic' and `educational' users. Furthermore, the
different user groups' objectives and tasks, current
modes of resource discovery, and potential advanced
and future options are described.
Academic Users
Overall, academic user groups scholars, univer-
sity teachers and students will seek highly struc-
tured and authoritative information resources and use
resource discovery tools for domain experts. How-
ever, they will also welcome enhancements in tools
that both inform and direct, including more intuitive
browsing and personalisation mechanisms.
Main objectives and tasks
Scholars, university teachers and students research
on, locate, identify and compare specific heritage
objects with like examples. In order to validate a
hypothesis in Arts & Humanities studies (e.g. history
of culture and science), they contextualise and inter-
pret the objects, and prepare publications, lectures
and seminars that consolidate, expand and mediate
knowledge.
Current modes of resource discovery
There already exists a wealth of resource discov-
ery services and tools for academic user groups such
as online bibliographic information services, subject
gateways or full-blown resource discovery networks
such as the UK RDN.
20
With respect to online her-
itage databases, academic user groups will expect and
use:
| Finding aids for special collections and archives;
| Multiple entries to collection information, e.g.
search by subjects, object types, function, names,
dates, etc.;
| Advanced search, e.g. for devising combinations
to mine collections, ideally across distributed,
cross-domain databases;
| Opportunities to use thesauri that display vocab-
ulary terms in hierarchies and tree segments;
| Mechanisms that suggest search terms, phonetic
spellings, correction of typing errors;
| Zoomable images, links to sources, a glossary
function, and copyright information.
Advanced and future options
When browsing the topics of interest of, and con-
tributions to, conferences in the area of informa-
tion retrieval research (for example, ECIR or ACM
SIGIR
21
), anyone will come to at least three conclu-
sions: the area is extremely broad; there is much work
in progress; and many topics will find a strong interest
of academic user groups, such as topic detection and
tracking, information extraction, text summarisation,
collaborative filtering and recommender systems, nat-
ural language processing, cross-lingual and multilin-
gual issues, image, audio and video retrieval.
However, the picture changes somewhat if we ask
where scholars, university teachers and students will
find convenience and productivity gains with respect
to their main objectives and tasks (as described
above). What we would expect to be of prime inter-
est in resource discovery will then, for example,
include:
| A stronger integration of resource discovery
within the `workbench' or `toolbox' of scholars
and students, such as networked thesauri
22
and
reference management tools.
| Personalisation and sharing of discovery strate-
gies and results: For example, Historyguide.de
offers to store favourite searches and automatically
17
For a more detailed
description, see `Resource
Discovery - A Definition',
Research Data Network
CRC, Resource Discovery
Unit, University of
Queensland, http://archive.
dstc.edu.au/RDU/
RD-Defn/
18
Cf. Carl Lagoze:
From Static to Dynamic
Surrogates. Resource
Discovery in the Digital
Age. D-Lib Magazine, June
1997, http://www.dlib.
org/dlib/june97/06lagoze.
html
19
Cf. Tim Bray: On
Search, the Users (17-
06-2003), http://www.
tbray.org/ongoing/
When/200x/2003/06/17/
SearchUsers
20
UK RDN, http://www.
rdn.ac.uk; among the
eight subject gateways or
`hubs' of the RDN are a
Humanities (HUMBUL)
and an Arts & Creative
Industries (artefact) hub.
21
ECIR04, http://ecir04.
sunderland.ac.uk; ACM
SIGIR 2004, http://www.
sigir.org/sigir2004/
22
See the article by D.
Tudhope and C. Binding
in this issue.