Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Editorial Introduction to Issue 55: Digital Lives, Digital Values

Richard Waller introduces Ariadne issue 55.

As far back as a work reviewed in Ariadne Issue 41 [1], the notion of personal collections was not exactly novel, but as Pete Williams, Katrina Dean, Ian Rowlands and Jeremy Leighton John remark in Digital Lives: Report of Interviews with the Creators of Personal Digital Collections 'the inexorable march of technological innovation' has served to encourage people to amass increasingly large and diverse personal collections of information about themselves and the people and issues that matter to them [2][3]. Alive as I am to the disadvantages that have come with the development of the World Wide Web, they are greatly outweighed by the attendant benefits and in particular the democratising effect that it brings, not least in the form of enabling ordinary people to promote that which is important to them. It should be added that such a drive is not confined to the Web alone: at a time when this country is coming to terms with the loss of yet another national treasure [4][5], it is worth noting that Guardian Unlimited in September 2005 began to publish the obituaries of 'other lives' [6] alongside those of the famous and notable [7]. This growing collection will do no harm in reminding us and social historians to come, that, by sheer weight of numbers, ordinary people benefit this society considerably more than its 'celebrities'.

The authors raise a wide range of important issues. For example they write, 'Not only the media and formats but, as we discovered in our research into digital collections, also the contents of works created by individuals are changing in their exploitation of the possibilities afforded them by the various software applications available. We need to understand and address these issues now if future historians, biographers and curators are to be able to make sense of life in the early twenty-first century. There is a real danger otherwise that we will lose whole swathes of personal, family and cultural memory.'

They allude to the whole matter of curation of valuable digital assets. Already, it occurs to me, the whole tangled issue of, for one example, email curation, must begin to have its effect upon the biographers and historians aforementioned. While the collective correspondence between Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis [8] may not represent essential reading even to the litérateurs among us, it was recorded and retained, whereas one may justifiably fear that the correspondence of the next generation of authors, including Kingsley's son Martin, for all I know, may not be so well preserved and contextualised.

There has been work to investigate this far-reaching issue [9], but concerns of biographers and literary researchers as to the imminence of a 'personal correspondence Dark Ages' are by no means exaggerated in my view. Neither am I convinced that matters will improve when it comes to other, newer forms of electronic communication, as encompassed in what the authors cite, 'As Jones says in his comprehensive literature review on the subject, "much of the research relating to ... PIM is fragmented by application and device ...", by which they mean email, the Web and paper or electronic retrieval'. As has become increasingly true of the electronic age, the means by which we communicate have splintered into a mosaic of applications. We should of course retain some perspective upon these developments. There will still be a great deal that can be retrieved and curated. Few, for example, complain about the black hole created by the ubiquitous spread of the personal (landline) telephone in the 1950s and 1960s, and all the communication that particular development ceased to record.

In Digital Lives, the authors focus on the first stage of the digital archive process, people's own digital behaviour, including their adoption and use of various software, and any related training. In this context for example, they made some interesting discoveries about the interviewees' digital behaviours which will interest more readers than specialists in HCI (Human-Computer Interaction). For example, descriptions of habits developed in the use of email will be of interest to us all. Perhaps because, relatively speaking, email has been used for some considerable time, the purposes to which it is now put beyond the early perceived usage are notably more varied. I found myself both 'found out' but also comforted in my discovery of all the 'unintended purposes' to which interviewees put their email application. For example, using email for sending reminder messages to oneself, or as an appointments diary, as a record of work or contacts, to mention but a few.

The authors examine a variety of behaviours but also the values of interviewees, equally important since naturally they influence the behaviour adopted towards technology. For example another area of wide interest will be attitudes to backing up data. A combination of the value creators place upon a digital artefact combined with the level of their technical understanding of storage issues determines to a large degree if and how they are to set about backing that artefact up. This article highlights a wide range of ways in which we should remember that people will ultimately use, adapt or reject the ICT applications being developed according to their personal needs, values, attitudes and understanding.

Sarah Currier in her article Metadata for Learning Resources: An Update on Standards Activity for 2008 makes no claims to writing a critical review of the subject, but rather furnishes readers with a snapshot of the current landscape of educational metadata. She usefully provides some background to the current situation, explaining the position with both the IEEE LOM and Dublin Core models, neither of which, she contends, have enjoyed completely smooth progress. Sarah also points to the work begun by a group under the aegis of ISO which, while seeking to address issues relating to Accessibility and multilingual capability, has occasioned some concern in certain areas of the e-learning standards domain since it could be regarded as heading in a third direction with all the potential problems with interoperability that might involve. Sarah's snapshot details both the difficulties and positive developments occurring in this field.

I am indebted to Margaret Henty who points to the effect that increased computing power and developments in applications is having on research. In her article Developing the Capability and Skills to Support eResearch she indicates the clear economic benefits that increased research capability brings to a nation; but in her perspective from an Australian standpoint, she points to the gap between the potential such technological developments offer and the current degree to which they are being completely harnessed, particularly in terms of effective data stewardship and long-term sustainability. Principal, in my view, among the issues which she raises in this important contribution, is the degree to which the technical skills and personal qualities of practitioners conducting and supporting eResearch will determine the speed at which it grows. Margaret's analysis goes further in that she also points to the division that can also exist between people in the eResearch environment with a high level of subject expertise and their colleagues whose primary contribution is that of technical know-how. Margaret provides interesting and often familiar examples and suggestions in an article that has implications for any organisation engaged in research and beyond.

Margaret Henty's comments on the economic benefits of eResearch resonate all the more in the context in which Martie van Deventer and Heila Pienaar write. In their article South African Repositories: Bridging Knowledge Divides they point to the considerable contribution to be made by generators of open access such as institutional repositories in what, they suggest, is arguably still a divided society. Moreover, they highlight the benefits such co-operation may provide for the rest of Africa. In their article they provide us with an overview of the SARIS (South African Research Information Services) Project as well as an instance of knowledge transfer within this context. Readers who were interested in the issues of 'digital exclusion' in the last issue of Ariadne [10] may be interested in Martie's and Heila's views on the importance of knowledge exchange in this area.

My thanks also go to Mick Eadie for providing us with an overview of the JISC-funded project Images Application Profile (IAP). In Towards an Application Profile for Images he describes the various issues involved in the IAP's development to date and the various problems that such work has identified along the way. They include challenges associated with images and their metadata as well as the potential of the FRBR concept model in this context.

I welcome the opportunity to update Ariadne readers on progress with Intute. Angela Joyce, Jackie Wickham, Phil Cross and Chris Stephens follow up on contributions from Debra Hiom [11] and Caroline Williams [12] in order to describe Intute's ongoing Integration Project, which is promoting and developing integration of Intute content in the UK academic library community. The authors explain how Intute has responded to the ways in which people now access information influenced by the changes brought about by the evolution of the Web, including Web 2.0 technologies. In their article Intute Integration they look at the rationale behind the project, the integration methods offered, technical issues, a case study, uptake, challenges presented, and future plans.

Developments in the ways in which users access information underlie Nick Lewis' contribution on Implementing Ex Libris's PRIMO at the University of East Anglia. Nick points out that 'The problem Primo looks to solve is the overwhelming evidence that users are preferring other search, retrieval and delivery services over the library catalogue and subscribed institutional resources. The reasons for preferring search engines like Google include ease and speed of use, relevance-ranked results, few authentication challenges, and what can be described as the overall aesthetic experience.' He goes on to address the debate about which strategy to adopt when seeking to provide a useful and used search interface to people so used themselves to the likes of Google and Facebook. Nick provides a summary of Ex Libris' adopted strategy within this rolling debate and how, he contends, Primo goes beyond the provison of a library catalogue.

John MacColl also mentions the increased use of Web 2.0 and other applications in the daily round of information seeking, discovery and use by researchers. He describes the position in which the adoption of Web applications currently places research libraries and information services. In Research Libraries and the Power of the Co-operative he also describes how OCLC Programs and Research, formerly the Research Libraries Group, is working to benefit research libraries and their users, and how co-operation is central to providing access to reliable high-quality content in a networked manner.

Having referred to such search engines in his previous columns, Phil Bradley has kindly agreed to go into more detail for our benefit in Custom-built Search Engines. While search engines ought readily to be described these days as 'legion' (particularly if you have been following Phil's many contributions on the topic), I find it highly instructive to realise that 'search engines can only do so much, and unfortunately that's a good deal less than we imagine.' In presenting this rationale for custom-built engines, Phil also provides us with a number of reasons why the most heavily adopted systems do not necessarily serve their users as well as the latter might think. In explaining the benefits of custom-built search engines, Phil also provides us with a further means of determining our own usage as well as strengthening the quality and relevance of the results we receive.

As usual, we offer our At the Event section, as well as reviews on works covering winning strategies for success in public libraries, the individual and society in the digital age, new ways to understand the emotions of users provided by the US information behaviour community, research into computerisation movements and practical guidance on managing software projects. In addition of course we provide our expanded section of news and events.

I hope you will enjoy Issue 55.


  1. "The Web Library: Building a World Class Personal Library with Free Web Resources", Lina Coelho, October 2004, Ariadne Issue 41 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue41/coelho-rvw/
  2. A good example of concerted creativity: Brophy,P. "Cultural Objects in Networked Environments - COINE", Cultivate Interactive, issue 7, 11 July 2002 http://www.cultivate-int.org/issue7/coine/
  3. Also: "Supporting Creativity in Networked Environments: the COINE Project",
    Geoff Butters, Amanda Hulme and Peter Brophy, April 2007, Ariadne Issue 51
  4. Jazz legend Lyttelton dies at 86, BBC News, 26 April 2008 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7367385.stm
  5. Obituary: Humphrey Lyttelton, BBC News, 25 April 2008 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/3477089.stm
  6. For example, 30 January 2006, of a dedicated senior officer in the (then) Probation Service, written by his wife. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2006/jan/30/obituaries.readersobituaries
  7. Published the same day, that of Philip Mishon, prominent philanthropist and businessman, written by Michael Freedland, journalist, author and TV producer. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2006/jan/30/obituaries.mainsection
  8. The Letters of Kingsley Amis, Kingsley Amis, HarperCollins, Paperback, 1280pp, 2001, ISBN-13: 978-0006387831.
  9. Just for one example: Digital Curation Centre: Resource Centre http://www.dcc.ac.uk/resource/
  10. "Ancient Cultures Inside Modern Universes', Edgardo Civallero, January 2008, Ariadne Issue 54 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue54/civallero/
  11. "Retrospective on the RDN", Debra Hiom, April 2006, Ariadne, Issue 47 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue47/hiom/
  12. "Intute: The New Best of the Web", Caroline Williams, July 2006, Ariadne, Issue 48 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue48/williams/

Author Details

Richard Waller
Ariadne Editor

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

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