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Influences of virtual communities on organisational
Developing the role of cultural heritage institutions as resource providers
Technology, commitment, interactivity, and engagement in conjunction with a topic
or activity of interest to a group of individuals are the key ingredients that lie at the heart
of virtual communities.VCs could provide opportunities for heritage institutions to
engage communities of interested players in discussion, virtual use of, and learning about
the heritage. Increased accessibility of the collections in virtual form can play a role in
promoting communication about heritage issues. Participants in VCs need not be local,
but can come from widely dispersed locations and backgrounds.This diversity brings a
richness of perspective and knowledge to discussions engineers with an interest in
pottery production could be engaged with archaeologists, enabling examination of issues
related to the process of and social organisation of pottery production which might have
been conducted occasionally on a local level, but not often on a global scale.The growth
of virtual communities has already led to a new level of commitment to cultural heritage
institutions in terms of making information on their collections more readily accessible,
particularly when linked with the resources of other institutions.The majority of digital
libraries still follow something similar to the traditional library model, but development
in this area should lead to changes to views on the organisation of and access to cultural
heritage material.
eMarCon (Electronic Maritime Cultural Content)
, an EU-supported project has
worked to create a platform to enable geographically distant European museums and
their visitors to arrange and subsequently experience common virtual exhibitions via the
Internet. Four maritime museums are sharing knowledge about their artefacts as part of a
distributed, but virtual collection. In this way eMarCon engages and serves the needs of a
variety of distributed audiences. Such endeavours are likely to change organisational
behaviour in the cultural heritage sector by shifting the focus away from activities within
the organisation which were previously considered most important, i.e. taking care of
holdings, providing (physical) access to them, attracting more interest in them, and so on.
Supplementing these now are concerns of how best to present collections for the new
media, and how this can be interfaced with the resources provided by other institutions.
Support for communities from the educational sphere
Community building technologies can be drawn on to establish effectively synergies
between educational centres and cultural heritage institutions. As a result of collaborations
of this kind, the work of cultural heritage institution can provide the foundation for
learning communities. A good example of this type of activity is the partnership
Collaborative Mechanisms
and Technologies
247 One example of work in this direction is Gabriel (Gateway to Europe's National Libraries)
(, which provides access to a variety of online services, including OPAC (Online
Public Access Catalogues), National Bibliographies, National Union Catalogues, and digital collections. Gabriel also
features Bibliotheca Universalis, which aims `to put major works of worldwide cultural and scientific heritage
comprising text, images and sound, at the disposal of the general public using communication and information
technology' (
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