Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Sense of the South West Conference: Collaboration for Sustainability

Katie Lusty reports on a one-day conference on the sustainability of digitisation projects, held in Bath on 8 October 2004.

The conference on the sustainability of Big Lottery Fund projects was attended by about fifty participants from across the country and there were displays by members of the Sense of the South West Consortium, who organised the event.

Approaches to Sustainability

The first speaker was Chris Anderson, Head of Programmes at the Big Lottery Fund, successor to NOF, (New Opportunities Fund). He described the nof-digitise [1] projects, funded to the tune of £50m, as a great experiment. The 150 projects had gained a wealth of experience in particular in the digitisation of learning materials. Sustainability requirements had to be built in to the projects, covering the infrastructure, content and interactivity. These were supposed to cover three years after the end of the project. NOF had provided support including guidance on preparing business plans, workshops and other initiatives to facilitate networking and sharing of experiences. Several general approaches to sustainability were outlined:

Core Need

Ensuring that the website becomes a core part of the organisation's operations. The content should support the core work of the organisation, help it to achieve its performance indicators, make the site so well used and popular that it becomes identified with the organisation's brand image by partners and stakeholders.


Generating income through charges, particularly for access to unique materials. This includes charging for access to high quality digital images (as Etched is doing on a one-off basis and other projects such as Pathé [2] more systematically). It could also include group licences to access high quality images (as SCRAN [3] is doing for example) or serving as a sales point for related goods (as with Tate On-line [4]). There might be potential for licensing similar sites in other countries or packaging materials for provision through Curriculum On-line.

Sponsorship and Advertising

The nature of the site might make it attractive to sponsors or the content of the site might make it possible for third parties to deliver their own services. Specialist sites could be used to support niche marketing. Using the Resource as a Basis for Services to Third Parties For example, the use of equipment to undertake digitisation, as has been done by Bristol's digitisation service, set up when NOF funding made it possible to purchase some expensive equipment.

Using the Resource as a Platform for Further Development

For instance by adding other materials to the database. On a wider level, experience gained from digitisation could be used to support other initiatives, such as eGovernment, Heritage Lottery Fund or MLA [5] strategies.

In conclusion we were urged to use imagination in finding ways of supporting projects through value-added services, income generation, collaboration, looking for best deals on hosting and encouraging user feedback, possibly using competitions as an encouragement. Discussion emphasised the problems of small organisations in achieving sustainability. They were encouraged to look for bigger partners. It proved impossible to elicit from the Big Lottery Fund any commitment to funding further digitisation - the matter was 'out to consultation'.

Susi Woodhouse, Senior Network Adviser, MLA (Museums Library and Archives Council) presented Chris Batt's paper which started by outlining the work of MLA. It was investing in knowledge - leading the drive to unlock the wealth of knowledge in museums, libraries and archives for everyone. It was doing this through advocacy and drawing up policy guidelines. Three main strands were:

The People's Network [6] was held up as a major achievement. On the more immediate theme of digital futures it was clear that the digital content achieved so far through NOF-Digitise and similar initiatives has greatly increased discovery and accessibility. It has encouraged learning and enjoyment and created virtual collections which supported the national knowledge policy'. There is a wide range of public programmes in the UK including Culture on-line [7], Curriculum on-line [8] and a raft of lottery-funded programmes. This has provided added value through virtual collections, new services and wider access, resulting in more active citizens. The problem was that central government may not see the need to do anything further, pointing to the role of local authorities to fund local digitisation programmes, and to the availability of lottery funding.

More to Cyberspace than Google

A significant statistic is the 96:50 ratio - while 96% have access to ICT only 50% use it. Technology must be invisible. There was a wide range of portals available but for most users Google was the main point of access. This produced large numbers of undigested hits. Irrelevance was heightened by the fact that the user was largely invisible to the information provider, collections remained essentially separate and the web was basically supplier-driven, often by commercial suppliers. The resulting invisibility of many key resources could have a significant adverse effect on sustainability, unless issues such as value and impact, new and more inclusive audiences, co-ordination of resources and a greater user focus were addressed. MLA is addressing these problems with programmes which aimed to improve the 96:50 ratio. One initiative was the Common Information Environment Group [9], which included the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) [10], the National Health Service, the British Library [11], the National Archives [12] and the Department for Education and Skills [13]. The Information Environment Model they were developing started with the user and was based on identifying relevant content regardless of the institution that might hold it. The Sense of Place projects were being used as a test demonstrator. The concept of "Myberspace" meant that the user would be more highly motivated by being presented with objects from diverse collections which reflect personal interests. This should require fewer search skills but produce greater user satisfaction, supporting people's progress and making for a more informed society. Discussion revealed some suspicion that what was being proposed was just another portal, and there were already a number of specialist portals available. If Google was already doing the job to the satisfaction of many, why not work with Google?

Future-proofing a Complex Universe

Liz Lyon, Director, UKOLN, then spoke on future-proofing technology. She pointed out that the 'global knowledge space' was a complex universe with:

Interoperability was vital - including the development of thesauri which could provide semantic interoperability. The life cycle approach to building digital collections could help: considering issues of creation, management, development, access, repackaging. Several information infrastructures or environments were under development: e-Learning, JISC, Virtual Research, Common Information. Even more standards were available - a list of thirty was shown, including Dublin Core [14], Z39/50 [15], MARC [16], etc.

Digital preservation and curation was vital. The BBC Domesday disc [17] was held up as an example and today the average life of a web site was 44 days - the lifespan of a housefly! Here too there was more than one approach: the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) [18], ERPANET [19], the Digital Curation Centre (DCC) [20], the UK Web Archiving Consortium [21]. Persistent digital identifiers could be an answer to the ephemeral nature of the Web - but again there was more than one initiative.

Liz then outlined how UKOLN was seeking to help the information community, citing the role of the Technical Advisory Service which drew up technical standards and guidelines, published papers and ran workshops. UKOLN had also developed the EnrichUK [22] portal which hosts the nof-digitise [1] projects.

In conclusion the landscape was still shifting, vocabularies were varied and there was the ironic situation that standards and interoperability could stifle innovation.

Sustainability in and through Europe

Those whose minds were suffering from overload by this stage were not helped in the after-lunch slot when Rob Davies of MDR spoke on the Sustainability of Cultural and Heritage projects in and through Europe. He outlined his work on SeamlessUK, a finding tool for community information which stretched across local and national providers. The sustainability of this had been hit by rival programmes, not least one from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, each with different taxonomies. Work was now in hand to merge the taxonomies and collaborate more closely. In Europe there seemed even more room for overlap. Acronyms, abbreviations and projects abounded:

An added problem was that the extension of the European Community eastwards means that there are more applicants for the available funding. Then there were the structural funds - more abbreviations:

Other programmes of more potential relevance for libraries include:

It's not easy to obtain money from these sources! Their relevance to the sustainability of existing projects is in any case small - they were really looking for innovation. Applicants had to be ready to submit proposals in a short time-slot and then often had to wait for ages. They also needed partners in other countries. The odds were about 5:1 against acceptance; there was no guaranteed continuity; after three years, projects were off chasing funding once more.

However Rob pointed out that not all projects may need to do this:

So, perhaps we should hope that our projects are not quite significant as to require us to explore the labyrinthine corridors of Europe.

Sustainability Closer to Home

A return to local practicalities with Tim Badman, who spoke as Team Leader on sustainability issues and partnership working on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site [29]. He described the site, essentially a walk backwards in time as one progressed from east to west through successive geological layers. He drew comparative examples from Egypt where environmental preservation had made great strides in recent decades. He maintained that sustainability was difficult to define and difficult to achieve as things had an inherent tendency to fall apart. He drew an amusing analogy with an animal. It has to have:

It was important to promote the work of a project, to regenerate and consult and (continuing the biological analogy) to produce offspring - i.e. successor projects.

Sustainability through Sponsorship

Finally Phil Gibby, Director, Arts and Business South West, discussed how sponsorship could help secure sustainability. Cultural sponsorship had grown from £500,000 in 1976 to £120m in 2003 and had extended from theatre, opera and dance to a wider range of projects. Museums received £20m and "heritage" projects some £5m. Sponsorship had evolved from patronage through tax breaks, through the concept of being a good corporate citizen to looking for some sort of return on investment. There was therefore a mixture of motives: the more altruistic wish to put something back into the community, or the thought that it might enhance the brand image. So businesses might want an association with our product or access to our market. The presentation ended with a six-point guide to chasing sponsorship:


Did the day answer any questions? For me it simply raised more. Working in a changing landscape where it will take some time for things to settle, I will be looking for salvation closer to home. The materials in Devon's collections have been digitised primarily because of their value to Devon. It is therefore Devon that will have to grasp the nettle and, while we can look for fairy godmothers in Europe, the prospects are dim (or even Grimm). The way to sustainability in Devon is for digital preservation to become one of the core functions of the MLA community in Devon, using basic, no- frills standards to archive what we have achieved so far. Thereafter the arrival of special projects will just be the icing on the cake.


  1. nof-digitise http://www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk/content/digitise.asp
  2. British Pathé http://www.britishpathe.com/
  3. SCRAN http://www.scran.ac.uk/
  4. Tate On-line http://www.tate.org.uk/
  5. Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) http://www.mla.gov.uk/
  6. The People's Network http://www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk/
  7. Culture on-line http://www.cultureonline.gov.uk/
  8. Curriculum on-line http://www.curriculumonline.gov.uk/
  9. Common Information Environment Group http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=wg_cie_home
  10. Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) http://www.jisc.ac.uk/
  11. British Library http://www.bl.uk/
  12. The National Archives http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/
  13. Department for Education and Skills DfES http://www.dfes.gov.uk/
  14. The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative http://dublincore.org/
  15. Z39/50 http://www.loc.gov/z3950/agency/
  16. MARC http://www.loc.gov/marc/
  17. "Domesday Redux: The rescue of the BBC Domesday Project videodiscs", Jeffrey Darlington, Andy Finney and Adrian Pearce, July 2003, Ariadne Issue 36 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue36/tna/
  18. Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) http://www.dpconline.org/
  19. ERPANET http://www.erpanet.org/
  20. Digital Curation Centre (DCC) http://www.dcc.ac.uk/
  21. UK Web Archiving Consortium http://www.webarchive.org.uk/
  22. EnrichUK, portal for the nof-digitise projects http://www.enrichuk.net/
  23. European Teacher Education Network (ETEN) http://www.eten-online.org/
  24. Telematics for Libraries : PUBLICA http://www.cordis.lu/libraries/en/projects/publica.html
  25. PULMAN http://www.pulmanweb.org
  26. CALIMERA http://www.calimera.org
  27. Minerva http://www.minervaeurope.org
  28. Michael (Multilingual Inventory of Cultural Heritage in Europe) http://www.michael-culture.org
  29. Jurassic Coast World Heritage Web site http://www.swgfl.org.uk/jurassic/

Author Details

Katie Lusty
Professional Services
Torbay Council Libraries

Email: Katie.Lusty@torbay.gov.uk
Web site: http://www.torbay.gov.uk/libraries

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