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Empowering institutions to make informed decisions on standards
Despite the awareness that commonly agreed upon standards and standard compliance
are the first and most important steps in realising seamless, integrated access, there is no
internationally accepted set of standards for describing or identifying cultural property
today.
The dilemma with standards, especially when it comes to choosing the appropriate ones
is, that there are so many of them.The Society of American Archivists identified more than
550 standards that affect archival work, during the research leading to the publication of
standard handbook for archival description.This may be a strength, as it opens up many
options for particular problems."The marvellous thing about standards is that there are so
many to choose from. Of course too many choices means no choice at all, but simply
chaos." (Society of American Archivists, 1994)
The multitude of standards that are used in the cultural heritage sector today, is partly
due to the fact that archives, libraries and museums collection description and cataloguing
practices have not developed coherently with the result, that they now rely on many
different set of standards. So, how can memory institutions make informed decisions on
standards without running the risk of jumping on the wrong bandwagon?
Strategies for keeping track of changing standards
Although the risk of jumping on the wrong technological bandwagon is still imminent,
it seems to be something cultural institutions have learned to live and deal with. In addition,
awareness about standards within the community has increased. Nevertheless, given the
constant evolution of standards, the standards jungle undoubtedly will remain an impene-
trable thicket also in the future.
Thus, the questions remains:
how can heritage institutions make informed standard decisions and,
what mechanisms should be in place to avoid that they are jumping on the wrong
technological bandwagon?
The experts participating in the DigiCULT online Delphi survey suggested various
strategies on how to keep track of the current development in the standard arena.They
advice cultural heritage institutions to check the following questions before adopting a
standard:
Is the standard used? Before adopting any standard, cultural institutions should look
out for workable and working solutions not only in the cultural field but also within
the industry sector.The widespread use of standards within the commercial sector
may be a good hint that particular standards can be used safely and are widely
supported.
Who uses the standard? Peer discussion and use of standards by trusted and know-
ledgeable organisations play an important role. Hence, it is not only a question
of how many other organisation are using a standard, but who is using it. Among
the trusted organisations to look at are national institutions (national libraries or
archives) or international standard consortia such as MDA or the CIMI
Consortium.
Is the standard compatible? With adopting proprietary software standards, there is
always a certain risk involved. Hence, cultural institutions are well advised to only
choose software products that support the most important open standards.
In addition, cultural institutions themselves should encourage software producers
IX TECHNOLOGY