Web Magazine for Information Professionals

SCRAN: A Taste of Scotland and Food for Thought

Bruce Royan outlines an epic millennium project to digitise much of the culture and heritage of Scotland.

The images that the year 2001 bring up are either seductively utopian or dimly dystopian from an information and technology point of view. Visionaries either see an information rich world with constant online access - built into your clothes in some scenarios - or HAL 9000 calmly saying, "I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave."

There is probably no doubt that we will have the technology, but can we build a bionic information system? From where is the valuable content - the material that has meaning, rigour and depth going to come? It's almost a truism in information circles that the Internet is a mess -with the ridiculous stored cheek by jowl with the sublime. And how do we make sense of this heterogenous material and provide intelligent links that meets the needs of those in education, at home and in professional life?

picture of sword As anyone with a trusty copy of Chamber's Dictionary will tell you, SCRAN is a scottish word meaning provisions - food. It is also an acronym for a far reaching information project to provide unique access to Scotland's material culture. The Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network is going to be one provider of that valuable material discussed above.

Supported by funds from the UK National lottery , SCRAN [1] is a Millennium Project with important founding partners such as the National Museums of Scotland, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and the Scottish Museums Council. Representatives of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum [SCCC] and the Conference of Scottish Higher Education Principals [CoSHEP] are also on the board emphasising the strong educational element that is at the centre of its work.

It will have spent รบ15 Million by the end of 2001 to translate material culture into a networked multimedia resource bank for study and appreciation. SCRAN's core will be 1.5 million records of artefacts, buildings and sites of interest. 100,000 of the most important of these will include online multimedia resources: video or sound clips, animations, graphics, plans, virtual reality objects and in particular, colour photographic images.

While SCRAN will benefit from existing records in institutions, it is accepted that some upgrading will be necessary and grants are available to turn records that were originally created for the purposes of *inventory control*, into tools for information *disclosure*. This implies an emphasis on access points, jargon-free descriptions of the objects and their context and cross references to other materials and web sites.

Multimedia resources are being digitised by grant aided projects with individual resource holders or consortia. For example, the Royal Commission are currently contributing arial photographs and maps; Historic Scotland are digitising 500 images of historic sites open to the public; the Highland Folk Museum are contributing scenes from rural life; Glasgow Art Galleries are adding their collections of Impressionist Paintings, and there are other projects underway from Dundee to Shetland, and from Aberdeen to Skye.

All this imagery will be available via a user friendly interface, on the World Wide Web. Small images, suitable for fast internet access, will be freely and openly available to all. Larger, higher definition images, suitable for inclusion in multimedia programmes and presentations, will be available to licensed educational users. The highest quality images will also be available for commercial exploitation, for a fee which will be passed back to the original copyright holder.

It is expected that making large amounts of high quality copyright - cleared multimedia available to educational users in this way will greatly encourage the development of interactive courseware and interpretive material, and SCRAN is also funded to grant-aid the development of 100 such "multimedia essays", to be published on CD-Rom or other new media. Such projects must have an educational focus, and many will be targeted at the school, college or university curriculum, but SCRAN also sees its educational remit as covering Lifelong Learning, and the funding of such products as gallery guides or site interpretation tools will not be ruled out.

Over the next few years therefore, SCRAN products and services will be available at a wide range of outlets, including libraries, schools, universities and the home.

A home user, anywhere in the world, would be able to retrieve a record describing, say, a favorite painting and download a web quality version of the related image (thumbnail size or a little larger). Such use, it can be argued, supports the Collection's educational mission and may attract visitors to the institution, without compromising the possible commercial exploitation of the painting (for which a web image would be wholly inadequate).

An educational user (accessing from an institution registered with SCRAN as such) would, with appropriate safeguards, additionally be able to gain access to an educational quality image (say half a screen at 72dpi, 256 colours). This would be adequate for a teacher or lecturer to incorporate into locally produced, non-commercial courseware; or a student to use in a report or his/her own multimedia essay.

Such images would be lower definition versions of the archival image, which will have originally been digitised at the highest resolution currently available. Rights in this level of reproduction will remain with the original owner of the object, and copies will only be released under specific circumstances agreed with the rights holder. In practice, we expect that many institutions will come to regard SCRAN as a sort of clearing agency for commercial reproduction rights, and the web resource base as a "seed catalogue" from which picture researchers can order the commercial quality images they require, the fees being passed back to the IPR holder minus a small handling charge.

The development by SCRAN of this resource base bringing together the holdings of many institutions and in many media will give rise to synergies that can at present only be guessed at. The recent National Museum of Scotland CD-ROM "Investigating the Lewis chess pieces" showed some of the benefits of bringing together digitised images of related objects now held in institutions hundreds of miles apart. Bringing together different media may be even more effective: one of the early SCRAN projects will include a digital reunion between Celtic charm stones that have long lain in silence in the National Museums, and recordings from the sound archives of the School of Scottish Studies of the Gaelic incantations that once gave them power.

We believe that the model that is evolving for SCRAN is one in which every stakeholder stands to gain. Cash-strapped museums and galleries will have a new source of grant-aid for innovations in fulfilling their educational remit. Teachers will be given unprecedented access to high quality resources for incorporation into their teaching, without having to concern themselves with copyright issues. And the people of Scotland will gain a millennium monument at least as valid as those being planned in concrete and steel: a source of quality content among a range of infrastructure projects, and a means of interpreting and celebrating Scotland's history and culture with the aid of its future technologies.


[1] SCRAN Web Site,

Author Details

Bruce Royan is the Chief Executive of SCRAN
Email: b.royan@stir.ac.uk