Editorial Introduction to Issue 53: Unlocking Our Televisual Past
Given Ariadne's recent attempts to gather in contributions in the field of digital cultural heritage, which once upon a time would have found a home in Cultivate Interactive, I am particularly pleased, after some enquiries and kind offers of help along the way, to secure an article entitled The Video Active Consortium: Europe's Television History Online by Johan Ooman and Vassilis Tzouvaras. There will come a time when our civilisation will be assessed as much upon its cultural development as its historical path or scientific progress. The assessors, provided they can migrate the material successfully, will almost certainly turn to the digital cultural heritage of 20-21st century television for a view of how our society informed, educated and entertained itself in these times, to borrow the Reithian formula for a moment  - i.e. television as social history. Even a cursory glance within this magazine will lead readers to realise that the amount of broadcast material in need of rescue  is already massive and the challenge not inconsiderable . While there have been developments in this field  thanks to the continued support for preservation measures, I doubt many are claiming we are out of the woods as yet.
Despite the mountain of material in question, however, the authors point out something of a surprising irony. While there can be no doubting the considerable degree of interest in broadcast material across Europe and beyond, emanating from heritage professionals, educators and the general public at large, the current degree of access to this material is severely limited. That the demand is most definitely there is proven by the enormous success of sites such as YouTube which has come from nowhere in the space of two years or so. Thus it is to be welcomed that one of the principal aims of the Video Active Project is to provide much greater access to European broadcast material. It is evident from this article that the challenges are not insignificant. Quite apart from matters such as Intellectual Property Rights and interoperability, this project inevitably encounters a difficulty that would trouble a US equivalent considerably less: the need to provide information and access to the material to speakers of a wide range of European languages. The intention in the first release of the portal will be to cater for ten.
The barriers to success might be regarded by some as high; but equally the benefits accruing from this work are probably higher.
I am indebted to Martin Feijen, Wolfram Horstmann, Paolo Manghi, Mary Robinson and Rosemary Russell for their contribution on DRIVER: Building the Network for Accessing Digital Repositories across Europe. They contend, "Local efforts to embed the repository within the research processes of an institution are not always successful. What is needed is the embedding of repository use in research and research publication processes on a large scale, across Europe." However they also identify an issue with institutional repositories which is likely to persist for some while, namely the manner in which they are perceived by researchers and writers of scholarly material. Unless, as the authors maintain, a repository is able to meet what nowadays are the high expectations of users in terms of search and retrieval as much as the ease of the deposit process for contributors, matters may not progress as desired.
In the third of this issue's contributions from mainland Europe, Leo Waaijers picks up the thread of Ariadne's material on Dutch initiatives and provides and overview of recent achievements in The DARE Chronicle: Open Access to Research Results and Teaching Material in the Netherlands in which he remarks that while notable successes such as Cream of Science, Promise of Science and the HBO Knowledge Bank are among the welcome products of the DARE Programme, there should be no underestimating the importance of a new infrastructure which in the long run will support easy and reliable open access to research results and teaching material right across Dutch Higher Education and research institutions. This puts me in mind of Martin Feijen and his colleagues' assertion that operations on the grand (and in their context European) scale are required if there is to be a sea change in behaviours.
Given that we have many of us have long passed the point where we will ever be able to listen to our music collection all over again, even stored on an iPod, no one will be particularly surprised that keeping up with the amount of information generated these days is practically impossible in any average-sized field of activity. This has major consequences for professionals, for example in the area of medicine, the oft-quoted example; but the ramifications are no less significant for researchers in whatever domain as the magnitude of material that might be relevant to research being undertaken constantly increases. Sophia Ananiadou writing on The National Centre for Text Mining mentions a weekly output of 8,000 scientific papers. Even if scientists did not have to engage in the process of seeking funding for their research as an integral part of that work, their capacity even to identify in outline the research likely to be relevant to their undertaking is seriously compromised by the sheer amount of reading required to achieve such an outline. As a consequence text mining will prove a major support to researchers in their efforts to get their hands round the edges of the field they are investigating. I am grateful to Sophia for picking up the thread for us from the initial article on NaCTeM.
While perceptions and opinions of Second Life not only vary between practitioners but even between tea breaks, I have hesitated to commission contributions on the topic until SL had managed to work itself at least part-way round the Gartner Hype Cycle. As a consequence, the contribution from John Kirriemuir, a former editor of this organ, has been most welcome. The article usefully provides a succinct description for any readers who have never quite got around to investigating it. Then The Second Life of UK Academics embarks on a consideration of the uses to which SL can be put in our sector, using the outcomes of one of a series of rolling reports examining the take-up of Second Life across UK Higher and Further Education. John is to be congratulated for achieving a helpful balance far from the extremes of unquestioning enthusiasm and the equally counter-productive stance that condemns before the technology can have possibly reached the point of either nascent viability or utter oblivion. I am glad I waited.
I am also indebted to Chris Hilton and Dave Thompson for describing Further Experiences in Collecting Born Digital Archives at the Wellcome Library in which they provide their approach to the building of sound procedures and relations in their work with donors and creators of born-digital material. It is more than evident since their initial article that they have learnt a lot in the interim. Practitioners in a similar situation will most certainly find something useful in the procedures they describe and the conclusions they draw. Not for the first time in such partnerships as they describe, the importance of good communications and the establishment of trust is not to be under-estimated.
Sue Manuel and Charles Oppenheim set a hare running in Googlepository and the University Library as they ask, 'What effect is Google having on the information-seeking strategies of students, researchers and teachers? Where do libraries fit within the information continuum? And ultimately, what services should they look to provide for their users?' They point out that the concept of Google as a form of repository was raised at this year's JISC Conference. In addition to considering how librarians have responded to the changing scene driven by the development of digital resources, the authors look into the use of Google in HE libraries and make us aware of the drawbacks with Google that still persist (even if not all users are necessarily aware of them). They consider Google as a repository in terms of information literacy and resource provision and go on to consider the distinct features associated with repositories and the value they hold for the Higher Education Community. Their conclusions are inevitably thought-provoking.
As usual, we offer our At the Event section, as well as reviews on on the principles of the data management, podcasting and a new edition on the use of regular expressions for text processing, as well as a review of a trenchant critic of Web 2.0. Finally, I am grateful to Lorcan Dempsey for completing Ariadne's review of the massive The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland begun last issue by John MacColl. In addition of course we provide our usual section of news and events.
I hope you will enjoy Issue 53.
- BBC Hardtalk interview, 10 July 2007 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/hardtalk/6288668.stm
- "Can We Save Our Audio-visual Heritage?", Daniel Teruggi, April 2004, Ariadne Issue 39 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue39/teruggi/
- Wright, R. "Preserving Europe's Memory", Cultivate Interactive, issue 7, 11 July 2002 http://www.cultivate-int.org/issue7/presto/
- "Digitising an Archive: The Factory Approach", Duncan Burbidge, April 2006, Ariadne Issue 47 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue47/burbridge/