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Sunday, October 26, 2008

More on OA to cultural heritage

Nicholas Crofts, Digital Assets and Digital Burdens:  Obstacles to the Dream of Universal Access, text of a presentation at the 2008 Annual Conference of CIDOC (Athens, September 15 – 18, 2008).  (Thanks to FGI.)

Abstract:   Over recent years, a number of high-profile projects have promoted the dream of universal access to cultural heritage through the integration and dissemination of the digital assets held by ‘memory institutions’: museums, libraries and archives. We argue that this vision is based on a number of questionable assumptions about the nature of the obstacles involved, the quality of the digital assets held by these institutions, their objectives and imperatives they face.  The paper concludes that meaningful and sustainable universal access to cultural heritage is unlikely to be achieved through such broad-scale projects, but that other trends can already be detected that point towards a different future, one which challenges the traditional role of museum documentation.

From the body of the paper:

What the foregoing examples seem to suggest is that museums and other cultural heritage institutions may be caught in a Catch 22 situation with respect to universal access to cultural heritage. While making cultural material freely available is part of their mission, and therefore a goal that they are obliged to support, it may still come into conflict with other factors, notably commercial interests: the need to maintain a high-profile and to protect an effective brand image. If museums are to cooperate successfully and make digital resources widely available on collaborative platforms, they will either need to find ways of avoiding institutional anonymity, or agree to put aside their institutional identity to one side. While cultural institutions are wrangling with these problems, other organisations and individuals are actively engaged in producing attractive digital content and making it widely available. Universal access to cultural heritage will likely soon become a reality, but museums may be losing their role as key players.