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DigiCULT 25
A changing environment, and new `missions`
In the last ten to twelve years the responsibilities
and core tasks of museums and other holders of cul-
tural heritage collections have changed and expanded
steadily.Their functioning has been transformed
because of, for example, new financing models.
Budgetary restrictions of the public hand have
brought about changes in the ownership
structures.Visitors and users expect ever more
spectacular exhibitions or customised services
and, of course, the use of computers and net-
works has brought about considerable changes
in the working environment of cultural and
scientific heritage institutions.
An ever tighter budgetary situation, coupled with
rising expectations from sponsors and users, drives
the need for more efficiency and productivity which
could be enhanced using information technologies,
networks and, in particular, the opportunities offered
by the Internet.To cover the costs of preserving and
making accessible public collections as well as related
scholarly and educational tasks, the institutions will
need to find new ways of marketing and valorising
their assets. One indicator of the impact of these new
`missions' on the heritage organisations is the increa-
sing deployment of databases in the management of
collections as well as related information and pro-
ducts, which today include not only texts and ima-
ges, but also multimedia objects.
From collection management to institutional
At the beginning of the 1990s cultural heritage
institutions that could afford IT systems used them
mainly for the administration and scholarly docu-
mentation of their holdings.Today's collection mana-
gement systems not only provide many more func-
tionalities, but can also be used to interlink the work
of many departments. By integrating the information
produced and exchanged, the classical collection
management systems are developing into systems for
the management of the entire institution.They func-
tion as information tools for all departments that
need to look up object descriptions, digital images,
status reports of restoration, preservation, lendings,
licensing, educational material, articles and other
contextual material.Therefore, enhanced collection
management systems can
become the most impor-
tant and valuable `asset' of a
heritage institution, besides
its collections.
major deve-
lopers of
management systems in Europe (of which there are
not more than half a dozen) are striving to adapt
their systems to the networked working environment
of their customers.They open up and enhance their
systems in such a way that customers can create
information values beyond the level of simple data
entry fields.
The interlinking of previously isolated information
supports in creating `contexts' and the contexts them-
selves generate the kind of information that is needed
to be able to provide knowledge. An example of this
process is the linking of reference material to object
descriptions, which enhances the documentary and
scholarly value and makes the collection database also
more interesting for educational uses.
Such rich, highly structured and interlinked infor-
mation assets and digital objects foster re-use and re-
purposing. Collection databases are already used to
generate dynamic Websites from a pool of always up-
to-date information. Integrated image archives allow
for an efficient marketing of digitised objects, and
classroom material is generated `on demand' from
databases as print or online versions.
Parallel worlds
While in recent years DAMS have been developed
and primarily used in commercial areas such as the
media and other industries, CMS have evolved `in
parallel' in the traditionally not-for-profit cultural
heritage sector. Both systems manage digital assets
and should lead to more efficiency, increased produc-
tivity, and a higher quality of products and services.
Yet, the two lines of systems have different focus
points. CMS are concerned with the management of
By Norbert Kanter