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14 DigiCULT
D
IGI
CULT E
XPERTS
S
EEK
O
UT
D
ISCOVERY
T
ECHNOLOGIES
FOR
C
ULTURAL
H
ERITAGE
By Michael Steemson
F
or almost two years, DigiCULT Forums have
been disentangling the World Wide Web, drill-
ing through the reactionary rock strata of
resistance to change and lighting up the shades of
virtual communities, all in the cause of quickening
cultural heritage sector interest in the new, exciting
information society technologies.
Echelons of DigiCULT experts debating in places
like Barcelona, Darmstadt, The Hague and Edinburgh
have urged mobilisation of digital development forces
inside museums, libraries, archives and galleries. It has
been a hard campaign.
And so, for a change, the Sixth Forum, meeting in
Rome, looked at the sector from the outside. It asked,
on behalf of cultural heritage clients everywhere:
`How can we find something if we don't know it
exists.' It was the perfect question to address in the
2,700-year-old capital of Italy where, if Vespa volleys
and Fiat Uno flocks can be evaded, unsuspected her-
itage is to be found down every cellar or strada con
diritto di precedenza.
What the DigiCULT Forum 6 academics, scientists
and archivists sought were suitable resource discov-
ery technologies ... digital processes to search cultur-
al heritage (CH) institution cellars and stradas to offer
professors and populace a whole-of-sector view of
their subjects. It was a lot to ask of the Rome Elev-
en, ten men and one woman, as they gathered under
the painted ceiling of the book-lined Sala Alessand-
rina, the virtual reading room of the Imago II digital
imaging project at the Rome State Archives (Archivio
di Stato di Roma) in the city's suitably named Palazzo
della Sapienza (Palace of Wisdom).
The search continues a series of round table
debates for the European Commission's Information
Society Technologies Directorate, acquainting cultur-
al institutions with the wonders of information tech-
nology. Earlier forums had studied such subjects as
the Semantic Web, digital learning objects and digital
asset management.
Forum 6 launched into its work inspired by an
erudite exposition on the enormity of the task from
Swedish digital library scientist, Traugott Koch, the
senior librarian for the Lund University libraries, ear-
nest in patrician beard. In his dissertation, this Journal
of Digital Information (JoDI) editor walked the experts
through a list of concepts and approaches to resource
discovery technologies. He had been doing a `little
research', he said, modestly (actually he has been at it
for the best part of fourteen years), in `automatic clas-
sification and resource discovery re-using traditional
knowledge organisation systems, most recently with
the EU's Renardus Consortium
1
service trying to
provide cross-searching, cross-browsing in highly het-
erogeneous and distributed resources.'
This was certainly the stuff the Forum had assem-
bled to discuss. The participants listened intently as
the Swedish expert continued: the basic difficulty was
that the objects to be sought were not self-describ-
ing and were isolated within large collections. Then,
there were the sector's differing cultural and histori-
cal views of terms and concepts, its need for greater
awareness of catalogue and retriev-
al metadata schemas, multi-media,
multi-linguality, Web authoring to-
ols, mark-up languages and so on.
Mr Koch expected the Forum
would discover that `there are not
enough digitised catalogues of
finding aids or whatever to speak
about objects and documents' and
would find a need for more sec-
tor co-operation and co-ordina-
tion in developing its digitisation
standards. In the wider world, elec-
tronic access infrastructures -
registries of vocabulary, semi-auto-
matic metadata creation tools,
knowledge management systems,
authority databases and dynamic,
1
Renardus: Internet
search-browse access to
participating European data
provider records; http://
www.renardus.org