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11
pleting the questionnaire. So the technical
requirements change for example, with a
reproduced work, there will be a level of
degradation from master to sub-master
and storage might be required, whereas a
duplicable work, which involves no loss,
just needs details of how to acquire the
objects or ingredients needed to construct
the work.'
I
t would appear that every eventuality
has been accounted for, no small feat
when you consider that this is an initiative
dealing with works in `ephemeral media'.
However, while the paradigm is delibera-
tely not prescriptive and the questionnaire
by necessity not exhaustive, there are some
technical elements of the documentation
process that allow the initiative to function
effectively. `Some would say the whole
questionnaire is about metadata. But some
fields are concerned with consistency
across institutions.This is a new paradigm,
which is developing an inter-institutional
database of works in variable media from
seven institutions.This will mean that,
when online, you can look at what other
institutions have been doing and share
ideas, compare case studies. So it's all about
metadata, consistency and formalising
practices.'
W
hile the issue of accessibility might
have produced security concerns
in any other context, not so at the Guggen-
heim: `The emphasis is really more on
keeping the art in the public domain rather
than keeping it in private.We might use a
database with lockout protocols, and
encryption is good, but we don't try to
keep anything secret.The VMI is about
time and limits how long can we go
with the current state of the artwork? It's
a temporal frame, not a spatial one. So it's
better - and the artists want this too - to
increase access rather than worry about
keeping people out.' Indeed, collaboration
and interaction form the heart of the VMI,
with a broad range of consultants and con-
tributing Guggenheim staff comprised of
artists, curators, and museum, preservation
and media professionals.This would appear
to be its main strength, in enabling artists
and institutions to reach a consensus on
how the dematerialised art object can be
allowed to survive in such a fluctuating
technological and cultural climate.
S
o too is the initiative's sensitivity to the
artistic process a key feature of its early
success. Far from being brains in a vat or
relics in a dusty vault, at the VMI the artist's
imagination is encouraged to explore a
whole new realm of possibilities, exhilara-
ting as always, and free now of the inhibi-
tions that would otherwise threaten both
spontaneity and longevity.
B
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I B R A R I E S
I
n the United States, the National
Science Digital Library constitutes
arguably the largest single digital library
effort in the academic world
(http://www.nsdl.nsf.gov).With tens of
millions of dollars in funding and dozens
of collaborators, the NSDL strives to revo-
lutionise all levels of scientific learning.
But while the NSDL is conceived as a
multi-agency effort, its focus on scientific
education poses both opportunities and
challenges for those of us working in the
humanities.The NSDL is important not
only in itself but because it reflects the
broader phenomenon that most digital
funding is aimed at scientific data.Those
of us working in the United States, for
example, will probably encounter substan-
tial pressure to build on the infrastructure
Heritage Digital Libraries: Needs and
Components. European Conference on
Digital Libraries, Rome; Springer.
Historical data become more valuable
over time - persistence is crucial:
Cultural heritage digital libraries must
aggressively address the problem of digital
preservation.The problem is particularly
serious for complex knowledge sources
such as lexica or encyclopedias. Humanists
may be less able than their colleagues to
retrofit gigabytes of complex materials, but
humanist reference works are used for
decades, if not longer.
Access to the cultural heritage of
humanity is a right, not a privilege:
The record of human achievement is a
public good and should be accessible to
every citizen. At present, private corpora-
that our colleagues in projects such as the
NSDL have established.We therefore have
an obligation to participate as early as pos-
sible in projects such as the NSDL and in
digital library development in particular. If
we do not take an active role in defining
the particular needs of cultural heritage
collections, we may find ourselves con-
fronted with systems that work well for
circulating physics pre-prints or biological
datasets but are ill-suited to the needs of
historical and cultural materials.
T
he following seven strategic needs of
cultural heritage digital libraries are
offered as a starting point for debate and
an instrument to provoke discussion rather
than as an, in any sense, final list of recom-
mendations. For a more detailed discussion
of this topic, see Crane, G. (2002), Cultural