I X . 1
M a k i n g c u l t u re a c c e s s i b l e
Cultural heritage experts widely agree that providing access to the rich European
cultural heritage resources has become the primary focus for European memory
institutions.They also agree that cultural collections and holdings kept in archives, libraries
and museums all over Europe are at their best when used. As a result, what we have seen
within the last five years within the community of European heritage institutions is a
paradigmatic shift from building collections to providing access.
This paradigmatic shift was partly driven by the emergence of the Internet.The Internet
has greatly expanded one particular function of memory institutions in a dimension and
quality yet unknown: providing access.Through the networked, distributed nature of the
World Wide Web (WWW) and ICT-based end user devices such as mobile phones or
PDAs, archives, libraries and museums have now the potential to reach and be accessible
by completely new audiences world-wide. Networks enable users of cultural information
to search and retrieve innumerable resources, without the limitation of geographical,
institutional or sectoral borders.
In this networked environment, access to digital resources promises:
increased and enriched use through the ability to search widely across networks,
new contexts by manipulating, comparing and studying distributed resources,
new scholarly use through the provision of enhanced services enabling widespread
dissemination of local or unique collections,
digital cultural resources generated in collaboration with others over networks,
clusters of related cultural or scientific works that encourage different perspectives,
annotated cultural resources with relevant factual information, commentaries, and
interaction with cultural resources, i.e. by viewing objects from different angles,
zooming in and zooming out, choosing video sequences, etc.,
knowledge about collections and holdings,
a variety of cultural communities, and
"virtual collections" through the flexible integration and synthesis of a variety of
formats, or of related material, scattered among many locations.
Yet, to meet these promises and to fulfil user needs, cultural heritage institutions find
themselves confronted with the challenge to create "shared network spaces" (Cathro, 2001)
through which they deliver databases, collection guides, exhibitions and digital surrogates of
Unlocking the value of cultural heritage: From masses of raw data to structured
The concept of a shared network space goes far beyond simply putting online an
institutions digital catalogue. It resembles more a "hybrid information environment"
offers users "an appropriate range of heterogeneous information services in a consistent and
integrated way via a single interface. It may include local and/or remote distributed ser-
vices, both print and electronic.The environment will provide some or all of the following
functions: discovery, location, request, delivery and use, regardless of the domain in which
objects are held. Domains may include libraries, archives, museums, government, ...".
(Russell, Gardner, Miller, 1999)
The phrase "hybrid information environment" was coined by UKOLN, UK.