Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Editorial Introduction to Issue 51: Democratising Cultural Heritage

Richard Waller introduces Ariadne 51.

Having emerged from the political arguments of the 1990s about what culture could be funded and whether it was better to fund soccer or opera, we have moved into an age where, in the UK at least, there are arguments as to what actually constitutes British culture. Fortunately more people are deciding to do culture for themselves than remain passive witnesses to the pundits' debate. The place where they are doing it is online and they are not waiting to see whether their offering attracts the experts' approval - and sometimes, admittedly, one might argue more's the pity.

For the political class the clubroom has had to admit of a networked computer which already reaches beyond politicians' Web sites. Concerned about the lack of interest in conventional politics among young people, they look with concern, as do the TV companies, to the enthusiasm for sites such as YouTube. And with good grounds, if one considers the assertion during this Spring's Annual JISC Conference [1] that most of the action during last year's National Union of Students election was generated on Myspace. There are understandable concerns about the quality or usefulness of the material on such sites and no doubt someone will come up with an analysis; the key point is that they are there and they are extremely popular.

Chief among the advantages of such interactive sites is their empowerment of users to put up their own material in much the way they would like. But such empowerment is hardly new: in Supporting Creativity in Networked Environments: The COINE Project, Geoff Butters, Amanda Hulme and Peter Brophy describe an approach to enabling a wide range of users to create and share their own stories, so contributing to the development of cultural heritage in their own area. I remember well the article in Cultivate Interactive on the early stages of the Project [2] at the time - nearly five years ago now. It struck me even then that to provide interested parties with the ability to put their material onto the World Wide Web without the need for great technical expertise was quite a departure. As the authors say themselves, 'The involvement of non-experts in creating recordings of cultural heritage, in whatever medium, so as to capture the experience of 'ordinary citizens' in their own terms, could lead to richer and more illuminating collections as new insights and previously hidden information is revealed. This democratises the creation of cultural heritage, removing it from an elitist monopoly, and provides new perspectives on local, regional, national and international events.'

Yet in the age of YouTube it is possible to claim that this project remains something of a departure for a new reason. 'As a hosted service, the COINE system was designed to be attractive to small institutions without ready access to technical expertise. However, such institutions often have high levels of professional and sometimes domain expertise (especially in areas such as local history) and utilising this gives them a significant benefit over 'free for all' systems (as MySpace and YouTube have become), because the authority of the institution gives credence to the objects created while mediation enables the worst excesses, such as blatant breach of copyright, to be avoided.' The authors point out that the mediated nature of the system was particularly beneficial in the view of participating institutions such as schools whose staff could rest assured that this was an environment in which their pupils could happily participate and succeed. They also make a telling argument for the system's persistence given the long-term nature of the institutions participating. The combination of localised expertise and quality through the mediation of material and support for contributors does mean that the localised and relatively small services may well last.

Arguably they have something different and more valuable to offer over the much larger global systems: support, authority, collective provenance, maintenance and persistence.

Many if not most journalists are unaware of the history or structure of the Internet and may at best be able to recognise the importance of a name like Tim Berners-Lee. Relatively few will know that he heads up the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in its work to bring relative sanity to a technology that is in as much need for standards as was the technology-disrupting railway industry in its early days. Last month I had occasion to attend a seminar given by Henry S. Thompson at UKOLN and whom those same journalists would no doubt describe as one of Mr. Berners-Lee's lieutenants. In the seminar I was immediately struck by the passion which Henry brought to his subject and the undoubted importance of the work being undertaken by The W3C Technical Architecture Group of which he is a member. In his article for Ariadne, Henry introduces the W3C's operations and the remit of the Technical Architecture Group (TAG) and what he describes, quite rightly, as the mission of the TAG: namely its stewardship of the architecture of the Web. Such stewardship is characterised by three major activities: "to document and build consensus around principles of Web architecture and to interpret and clarify these principles when necessary; to resolve issues involving general Web architecture brought to the TAG'; and "to help coordinate cross-technology architecture developments inside and outside W3C.' Henry goes on to provide an account of W3C's past work and the issues it is currently addressing. They include versioning, passwords over the Internet in the clear, abbreviation for URIs, the 'self-describing Web' and the future of (X)HTML. Henry also lists for us the coming issues for the TAG and completes an article which is indispensable reading for anyone wishing to update themselves swiflty on the issues behind the architecture of the Web from W3C's perspective.

I am indebted to Andrew Treloar and David Groenewegen for their article ARROW, DART and ARCHER: A Quiver Full of Research Repository and Related Projects in which they describe three inter-related projects to support scholarly outputs and the e-research life cycle. The authors provide a description of each repository project's design and development and add considerable food for thought from an Antipodean perspective on what continues to be a theme of unabating interest. I look forward to their next contribution to the Magazine.

In the current context of a new generation of students who are at ease with ICTs, much consideration is being given to how best to employ new technologies in e-learning as well as promoting digital literacy. In her article Using Blogs for Formative Assessment and Interactive Teaching, Lisa Foggo provides us with a case-study of using a blog for formative assessment. Grounds for its adoption were how its interactive nature engaged participants while at the same time proving beneficial to teaching staff since it permitted measurement of student expectations and their level of satisfaction with library sessions. While reservations are expressed about how best to manage the time such use demands, there is no doubting its benefit to students and staff alike in its capacity to help students analyse and assess their work thereby providing them with a greater understanding of their learning aims.

It is something of a common expectation among researchers that they can carry out a range of research-related tasks online whether they be collaborative in nature or are related to search and retrieval. However, much of the software which supports such operations derives from the users' local infrastructure but also via specific interfaces with relatively few links between them. This environment can pose researchers a number of hurdles in the areas of authentication, information finding and sharing across applications. In her article Developing a Virtual Research Environment in a Portal Framework: The EVIE Project Tracey Stanley provides an overview of the EVIE Project at the University of Leeds, funded under the JISC Virtual Research Environments Programme, and looks at how it tested the integration and deployment of key existing software components within a portal framework.

Phil Bradley has chosen in his column on search engines this issue to enquire Why Ask Me, and Does 'X' Mark the Spot? as he takes a look at different versions of Ask to see how it is developing and investigates whether and how it is emerging from its days as an online butler.

In the field of providing support to ever hard-pressed researchers I have no doubt but that Kevin Emamy and Richard Cameron offer another topic of direct interest to them in their contribution entitled Citeulike: A Researcher's Social Bookmarking Service. They describe a tool which assists researchers gather, collect and share papers and which may be characterised as a fusion of Web-based social bookmarking services and traditional bibliographic management tools. As regards the former aspect, the authors point out that '[b]ecause users' collections are now stored on a Web server rather than in a proprietary bibliographic database locked away on a desktop computer, it is now possible for users of Citeulike to browse each other's collections.' Moreover, as with COINE, this site is sufficiently specialised in the sense that it caters only for academic papers that it holds particular value for researchers. Consequently new contributions are more readily discovered and shared between more naturally formed interest groups, formal or otherwise.

In the first of two Get Tooled Up articles for us this issue, Matt Thrower provides us with a general background and rationale for the process of employing the virtualisation of servers while Eddie Young provides an account so far of the trials and implementations carried out at UKOLN in respect of Towards Virtualisation: A New Approach in Server Management. I look forward to seeing where next their investigations take them. In our second article of this variety, I am indebted to Steve Hitchcock who confides that project film production turns out to be a very long way from the (relatively) safe ground of producing a paper or writing a presentation. '[W]hen the camera points at you, [it] can challenge all sorts of sensitivities', he writes. In his article Hold It, Hold It ... Start Again: The Perils of Project Video Production, Steve relates how he survived the ordeal to tell the story of the Preserv Project video and provides a raft of tips and wisdom gleaned from his experiences of marshalling colleagues for their appearance, directing, storyboarding, editing and much more. There is no doubt in my mind, reading his contribution, that planning and communication come top on the needs list for such a venture, but his account points once more to the nostrum that the people involved are the single most determining success factor rather than the technology.

OpenID is a technology around which, maintain Andy Powell and David Recordon, there is increasing interest. Recent commitments to OpenID by AOL, Microsoft, and other Web 2.0 services would appear to locate this single sign-on system in the thick of discussions about online identity and access management. In their article OpenID: Decentralised Single Sign-on for the Web take a brief look at OpenID and ask what relevance it has to e-learning.

As usual, we offer our At the Event section, as well as reviews on a work offering a comprehensive discussion of e-learning and accessibility, a book for Web trainers, teachers and instructors, a work challenging traditional notions of literacy, the latest edition of a primary reference work for practitioners responsible for the development of institutional information architecture, and a practical guide for librarians on blogs and RSS. In addition, of course, we provide our usual section of news and events.

I hope you will enjoy Issue 51.


  1. The JISC Annual Conference 2007, Ariadne issue 51, April 2007 http://dev.ariadne.ac.uk/issue51/jisc-conf-rpt/
    See section entitled The Learner's Experience of e-Learning
  2. Brophy,P. "Cultural Objects in Networked Environments - COINE", Cultivate Interactive, issue 7, 11 July 2002

Author Details

Richard Waller
Ariadne Editor

Email: ariadne@ukoln.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/

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