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International workshop
Rome, October, 17th 2002, Palazzo dei Congressi, Bibliocom 2002

Quality in cultural Web sites

edited by the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali In conjunction with European Commission and Associazione Italiana Biblioteche, within the MINERVA Project

Bernard Smith
European Commission, General Directorate for Information Society

The opportunities for cultural heritage within the 6th Framework Programme for Research and Development

I would firstly like to say that I am pleased to be here today and to have this opportunity to tell you a little about what the European Commission is doing. In the paper I will try to focus on some issues that I believe are of direct relevance to cultural heritage institutions and their continued participation in European-funded research and development projects. Firstly, I will rapidly touch on some of our key policies, strategies and programmes.
Secondly, I will look at a particular action that involves digitisation, and very recently an extension to long-term digital preservation.
Thirdly, I will mention activities in our research programmes, and in particular our future research plans.

Let me start by trying to set the scene. In May this year there was a meeting in London on preserving Europe's public broadcast archives. It was organised by a grouping of our research projects (under the title PRESTO), and some very astonishing figures were mentioned. If my memory serves me correctly these archives hold something like 10 million hours of film, 16 million hours of video and another 20 million hours of audio recordings. However about 75% of the holdings are on old formats that can no longer be read on commercially available equipment. In addition about 35% of the total archive is in such a state that the original will be damaged or even destroyed during the cleaning and digitisation process. Finally they loose every year several 10,000's hours of the oldest parts of the collections. So what does this example tell us? Well firstly they have a pressing need to act immediately since valuable assets are being lost each year. Secondly in many extreme cases their first action must be the right one since the original is often irreparably damaged and they are left only with the new digital original. Thirdly they must constantly address the interrelated problems of appraisal, selection and cost. In addition broadcasters are still trying to understand how to use the new technologies to deliver, or re-deliver, their historical content to the viewer. They will need to manage their assets better using the latest content management applications and the new tools for such things as indexing, tagging, data mining, etc. They will also need a strategy for the long-term preservation of their digital archives that must be intimately linked with the way they provide new services. In addition they must learn how to exploit the potential of the entire archive and not just focusing on a small fraction of its content. In the years to come they will have to digest a changing public-service mandate and a revised public-funding regime, and no doubt come to grips with new models of public-private partnerships. I think that many of these issues sound familiar to you!

Having set the scene let me now look at what the Commission has done over the past 4 years concerning digital preservation issues. Let's turn back the clock to the year 1998 and start with the research programmes.

Culture heritage in the present IST

Cultural heritage issues had a focus in one specific part of the programme of Information Society Technologies - namely in an area entitled multimedia content and tools.
The specific research focus over the past 4 years has been on the networking of Europe's libraries, museums and archives.

Our work has thus focused on:

  • improving access to heritage by expanding the contribution of our libraries, museums and archives; new ways to access heterogeneous, distributed and networked collections;
  • the provision of powerful new functionalities for accessing and managing large-scale digital repositories;
  • new technologies for the preservation of electronic materials and surrogates of fragile physical objects.

We have issued 7 different actions over the past 4 years, and just to give you some idea of the size of our efforts:

  • we have received and evaluated more than 400 proposals with a total requested funding of about 540 million euro, and using more than 150 different independent European experts;
  • we have launched more than 100 cost-shared projects for a total budget commitment in excess of 90 million euro;
  • the projects involve more than 600 participant organisations from a total of 35 countries, and this translates into more than 1,500 man-years of research effort dedicated to Europe's cultural and scientific heritage.
So what about the results so far? Well for digital libraries we are funding about 30 large projects many of them looking at resource discovery, metadata and interoperability issues. We are confident that we will see both new tools and new services for navigating through collections of different types of content. We have also a few research projects looking at different ways of publishing scientific and technical content over the Web, including work on Open Archives. I do not wish to bore the reader with long descriptions of projects, but I will just mention two that have received funding recently. The first is CHLT, which is looking to integrate computational linguistic tools and techniques within digital library environments. This project which includes Imperial College and the University of Cambridge, has a kind of brother project funded by the NSF, and they have a collective objective to reduce the barriers to accessing and reading texts in classical Greek, early modern Latin and old Norse. The other project is METAe, which is developing software modules to automate metadata capture by introducing layout and document analysis in to digitisation software used to create and maintain digital collections of printed material. They have also developed an omni-font OCR engine specialising in Fraktur and old European typefaces of the 19th-century.
In the field of digital preservation we are funding some projects on digital restoration of old film, on video archival technologies, on new digitisation techniques for old manuscripts, and on new business models for exploiting digitised assets. Here I would just mention the project PRESTO, which brings together Europe's major broadcast archives INA, BBC, and the RAI, to develop affordable and efficient approaches and improved workflow for preservation of audio-visual material.
For intelligent heritage we are funding some very practical projects on image capture and management as well as some rather more advanced projects looking at virtual and augmented reality, in particular in the field of digital archaeology. Projects range from Tourbot, which is an interactive robot providing Internet access to museums, through Archeoguide that develops augmented reality, 3D-visualisation, and mobile computing for archaeological site visits, to Vakhum that is building animated computer models and visualisation tools for viewing the kinematics of human movement.
Concerning the issue of community memory "which is a new activity for us" we have now launched a small number of projects looking at new and experimental ways to delivery memory-related services as well as new models for allowing the citizen to become more involved in the way they can create, manage and have access to the future digital memory of society. As an example, CHIMERS brings together museum specialists, teachers and children in the Czech Republic, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Spain to create new forms of repositories of children's views of local cultural heritage using digital maps, GPS and mobile technologies.
The European Commission has also been particularly active in establishing a solid collection of supporting projects covering networks of excellence, training, standards development, awareness building, and benchmarking and evaluation fora. Topics covered by the larger networks include museums, public libraries, digital library researchers, historical film collections, music publishing, national libraries, architectural heritage, and digital preservation information.
And finally we have launched 25 small projects designed to help the transfer of new technologies into smaller cultural institutions. Topics range from the use of GIS for historic gardens, through the role of VR for presenting museum objects and collections, to the creation of 3D models of open-air museums.
Concerning the results so far, more information can be found on the CORDIS Web pages, the eCulture newsletter and the Cultivate Interactive ezine (the www.cordis.lu/ist/ka3/digicult includes details on all the points mentioned in this paper).

eEurope: Creating cooperation for digitisation

Let us move forward to March 2000. The European Union recognised the need to address the emerging challenges of the new knowledge economy, and at the Lisbon European Council of the same year it was decided that we should do everything we can to make Europe the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.
The European Commission created a political initiative called eEurope. Within eEurope 2002 more than 60 different practical actions were identified and I would like here to mention just one of those actions.
This is for Member States and the Commission to jointly:
Create a co-ordination mechanism for digitisation programmes across Member States.
The first step for us was to bring together Member State experts to look at the problem and the nature of the actions needed. We were very fortunate that the Swedish Presidency of the Council provided both moral and practical support and hosted our meeting in Lund. From that meeting emerged something we are calling the "Lund principles" (www.cordis.lu/ist/ka3/digicult/lund_principles.htm). They define the importance of the issues and what actions are most needed.

National Representatives Group

It was decided to create a forum for ongoing co-ordination across all Member States. We have now created a National Representatives Group, made up of officially nominated experts from each Member State. Its mission is to act as guardians of the Lund Principles and to monitor progress of a practical Action Plan. This group meets every 6 months under the chairmanship of the current Presidency, for example the next meeting is planned for 10-11 December 2002 under the Danish Presidency. In fact the meeting in December will include a day dedicated to issues of digital preservation.
The national representatives group shares experiences and provides a common platform for cooperation and coordination of national activities across the European Union. It provides a stable, continuing focus for consensus building between Member States, for promoting good practice, and for encouraging initiatives to support the visibility of quality cultural sites. Another important element is the recent creation of MINERVA, a Network of Excellence funded by our research programme. The network was created with an initial participation of 7 Ministries or related national bodies, and all 15 EU Member States are expected to join in the coming months in fact already another 5 Member States have signed up. MINERVA is a collaborate framework for executing the Lund Action Plan and organising its working groups.
At the European level, these activities have been lent added support from recent European Council Resolutions on "Culture in the knowledge society" and the "Role of culture in the development of the European Union" . More recently the Spanish Presidency (1st semester 2002) took on the challenge to create a framework for long-term digital preservation. A Council Resolution was prepared and has been accepted by the EU Ministers of Culture. The Resolution entitled Preserving tomorrow's memory: preserving digital content for future generations was published in July in the Official Journal. The establishment of a EU-wide action plan on long-term digital preservation may be one way forward.

Digitisation: progress to date

Concerning digitisation the second meeting of the national representatives took place in Alicante, Spain on 16 May 2002 under the chairmanship of the Spanish Presidency and hosted by the University of Alicante. One result is that policies for digitisation now exist in several Member States, and a number have been influenced directly by the Lund Principles. In addition co-ordination networks have been established in most Member States. Candidate projects have been identified as possible good practice exemplars, and a strong indicator of excellence is cross-referencing between countries.
The meeting agreed that one major priority for the next 6 months would be the production of a EU-wide status report on digitisation. Each Member State will produce a progress report, which will be compiled together and widely published early in 2003.

Preserving tomorrow's memory

Let me now turn to digital preservation issues. Late last year we discussed with the incoming Spanish Presidency the possibility to continue the work started with the past Presidencies. The issue of long-term digital preservation, whilst mentioned in the Lund Action Plan, was not really fully developed and as such does not figure as a major objective of the MINERVA network. The Spanish Presidency felt that this was a topic that would merit further work, and possibly justify a Resolution of Council. I must immediately compliment the Spanish Presidency on its courage in taking on such a difficult and complex subject. Long-term digital preservation is not an intuitively simple topic, and there are no short-term easy answers. It is technically complex and challenges the fundamental role of our cultural institutions. Solutions are not available today and it is already clear that there is a lot to be done in the coming years if we are find acceptable and affordable answers to this problem.
For those working in the cultural heritage sector the importance of having clear policies concerning long-term digital preservation is self-evident. In fact a majority of cultural institutions believe that irreplaceable information will be lost if digital preservation issues are not resolved in the near future. However, it is vital to recognise that a comprehensive digital preservation policy could be very expensive and will inevitably result in a substantial mutation in the focus and core functionalities of our cultural and scientific institutions.
So I think it became more and more evident that not only was there a need for a Council Resolution on long-term digital preservation but that now was the right time for such a Resolution. Over the past few months we have hosted three expert meetings, and below I will try to summarise their ideas concerning future actions.

So, what are the possible actions and recommendations? Very rapidly &.

The preservation of digital heritage must become a major policy objective and even an institutional raison d'être. Many cultural institutions already assume responsibility for preserving digital material and most expect to do so in the near future. However few have explicit policies that govern acquisition, conversion, storage, refreshing, and/or migration of digital content. New organisational policies and procedures will be needed that maintain accessibility and authenticity over time whilst respecting cultural diversity and pluralism.
Solutions will not be purely technological, and research agendas must recognise that social, legal and ethical issues will be important in finding practical, acceptable, and affordable solutions for digital preservation. Important questions will need to be answered, for example, such as what should be preserved for the future? Who will archive preserved information and what skills will they need? What preservation meta-data will be needed and who will create the meta-data? Who will pay for it?
Solutions will need to be supported by organisational will, economic means and legal right, and must ensure the preservation of and permanent access to digitally produced materials. Consideration should be given to innovate ways to manage Europe's digital collections such as through national information infrastructures or a system of certified digital archives.
Recognition of digital preservation as a major institutional and societal problem can only be achieved through large-scale, sustainable and significant initiatives that incite and stimulate public support. Large-scale initiatives are essential since they will force the cultural institutions to be explicit about their priority setting and selection criteria, it will bring to the fore other societal issues such as privacy and data protection, and it will oblige the institutions to take seriously the development of revenue generating activities to pay for collection maintenance.

What about the issues of costs and scale?

Today there are no reliable and comprehensive data on costs, nor any proven techniques for estimating those costs. What is certain is that digital preservation could be very costly, and the survival of existing cultural institutions will depend upon the development of new cost, business and financial models and new ways to share those costs between the public purse and business interests. Today digital preservation is seen as a costly "extra" task. Recognising that society cannot collect everything, selectivity will need to be based on a collective understanding on quality metrics and collection appraisal. Automation will also be needed in order to reduce costs, however the way forward must be through the integration of digital preservation functions into the creation process' this is in part a technical issue and in part a issue of awareness about how to create properly so that it can be preserved effectively and efficiently.

Concerning the building of awareness and advocacy of the subject...

It is vital to raise awareness among governments, public institutions and other information producers and holders on the need to safeguard the digital memory as much as possible in its authentic form. It will be important to convince the public since it is not immediately evident that the citizen cares about preserving digital information.
Stakeholders will need strategic guidance, with a particular focus on building awareness with data creators. There is also a need to move away from guidelines and towards specifications which help the smaller institutions deal with the problem.
There is recognition that there is a major skills deficit in the institutions. The "skills gap" needs to be assessed and quantified with a view to what new skills will be need in the future. One option is to create a skills map and develop "fellowship" training and exchange programmes that would transfer knowledge between institutions and could be scaled up to a formal infrastructure.

One way forwards is networking

. A large-scale multidisciplinary and multicultural collaborative model will be needed that both strengthens existing networks of archives, libraries, museums and other documentation services and brings together developers and users of digital information management and processing tools.
In addition an information infrastructure should be evaluated that would be collectively responsible for the long-term accessibility of the social, economic, cultural and intellectual heritage instantiated in digital form. This could be a network of certified repositories or archives meeting standards and criteria of an independently administered certification program. Such a network should not only provide archival for their own content but should also work on behalf of others who do not care (providing failsafe mechanisms). It is not clear how such an infrastructure could be created, what would be the technical and institutional attributes of digital repositories, and how to set standards for institutions as repositories that operate across different existing collecting agencies. It goes without saying that there is much scope for a shared infrastructure to develop economies of scale, however as a final point there is still no convincing benefit model of such an infrastructure (and one that would take onboard all the regional implications and agendas).

And then there are the technical and research challenges.

I will not bore you all with a long list of technical objectives and research issues, however we need work on requirements covering terms of use, data structures, provenance, legal validity, authenticity, etc. We need to validate social and economic models of archives and digital libraries as ways to ensure the future accessibility of information with enduring value.
We need new tools and technical infrastructures. The tools must automate preservation for data creators and warn us when obsolesces occurs. We need new standards and we need to ensure that they are used. And we will need test beds, prototypes and trails that demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of operating on a mass scale.

The 6th Framework Programme (2002-2006)

Let me now turn to the new research programme. In the new Framework Programme, the Information Society will form the largest priority thematic area. One of the key objectives of the future programme will be to find solutions for major societal and economic challenges, and this will include work on health, security, environment, learning, e-government, etc. and also «access to and preservation of culture heritage ». Today this is the only easily identifiable place for cultural heritage, and the working text that we have put forward as a specific objective is as follows: «for cultural heritage the effort will focus on intelligent systems for dynamic access to and preservation of tangible and intangible cultural and scientific resources ».

Information Society Technologies' Work programme 2003-2004

Today the future Information Society Technologies priority has a draft work programme for 2003-2004, and the 1st call is planned for December 2002.
For 2003-2004 it is planned to focus on a small set of strategic objectives, possible only 23 specific topics, and devote 1.725 billion euro over the two years. For cultural heritage the present plans envisage only one single call in late 2002 on the topic of "technology-enhanced learning and access to culture".
The research focus would be on providing a global view of Europe's educational resources and cultural and scientific collections, through advanced services that generate new forms of cultural and learning experiences.
Concerning "access to culture" the key objective is to improve the accessibility, visibility and recognition of the commercial value of Europe's cultural and scientific resources. Specific research objectives are provisionally:

  • advanced digital libraries services, providing high-bandwidth access to distributed and highly interactive repositories of European culture, history and science;
  • environments for intelligent heritage and tourism, re-creating and visualising cultural and scientific objects and sites for enhancing user experience in cultural tourism;
  • advanced tools, platforms and services in support of highly automated digitisation processes and workflows, digital restoration and preservation of film and video material, and digital memory management and exploitation.

Our target is to have, within the next ten years, a stable distributed repository of Europe's digital cultural content as well as assured protection from loss. And for digitisation we hope to see within the next five years systems that are both automated and considerably less expensive than those used today.


I realise that I have jumped around a bit, however I hope I have outlined some of the more urgent challenges facing us, and some of the practical actions we are considering for the future. My first objective is to give visibility to the important challenges facing Europe's cultural organisations' on digitisation, preservation and research. In Europe there are world-class collections of cultural and scientific content and it is normal that we will continue to offer, at the European level, a place to tackle some of these major challenges facing our cultural institutions.
However in order to exploit these new opportunities our cultural institutions must create a true European vision for themselves. They must be seen to move rapidly to establish leadership on key problem issues, and they will need to be much more vocal and militant about their vision for the future and the values they wish to protect in tomorrows society.



Copyright Minerva Project 2003-04, last revision 2003-04-10, edited by Minerva Editorial Board.
URL: www.minervaeurope.org/events/documents/smithbibliocom.htm
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