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Handbook on cultural web user interaction
First edition (September 2008)
edited by MINERVA EC Working Group "Quality, Accessibility and Usability"

1.1 Users and services in cultural web applications: websites and portals

In keeping with the Lisbon strategy1 of March 2000 that refers to a “society founded on knowledge”, cultural institutions are called upon to deploy the most effective tools of communication available: this has led in recent years to a renewed focus on the user and a consequent review by online cultural institutions of the manner in which services are offered to the public. In this context, the creation of an interactive environment, dedicated to the transmission of information, knowledge and culture, is of fundamental importance. It must clearly communicate the identity of the institution and its mission and demonstrate a commitment to high quality. The website of a cultural institution that offers well organized and clearly structured content clearly demonstrates enthusiasm for innovation and change. Any such website must take into account strategic marketing and usability, must include functional graphics, must offer simple routes for access to content and must deliver services that can be personalised for each user2.

A website or portal which is effective and user-friendly is a central objective for those who decide to use Internet as their “virtual desk”. In the case of cultural institutions, libraries, museums, etc. this objective is reinforced by the realisation that such a web resource is an institutional source of knowledge and a tool for propagating such knowledge. The opportunity to offer users a selection of contents in a clear and efficient manner is a requirement of the highest priority.

At the present time cultural institutions must address the need to create websites that are not just a virtual “double” but also a strongly recognizable, identifiable and credible space where information must be available to all users, from the neophyte to the online expert. Constructing the website of a cultural institution (be it a museum, an archive, an individual library, information centre or network of libraries) is an operation that must take a variety of competing factors into account. Among these are the needs and characteristics of the users and the peculiarities, values and mission of the institution. The identity of the institution and the value offered to the end user must both be retained.

When we speak of converting to digital we don’t just refer to the change of the infrastructure that transmits information but to the information dimension and the intrinsic value of that information. The mission of a cultural web/portal site (CWA)3 is becoming increasingly complex, as the information expectations of the online user become more sophisticated.

Knowing users’ expectations and trying to satisfy them is a “universal mission”, that applies both to the individual cultural institution building its own site and to more complex bodies that use a site not to represent their identity but as a vehicle for the knowledge and services that form their reason for existence. There are however some peculiarities that permit us to deliberately use the term “website” rather than “portal”: to say “website” means refer to a cultural entity4, even a temporary one, that is not solely a tool for transmitting and organizing knowledge but is also the manifestation on the web of precise cultural objectives. According to Wikipedia “a website [...] is a collection of web pages or a hypertextual structure of documents that are accessible with a browser through the World Wide Web on the Internet”.

When, on the other hand, the use of the term “portal” is preferred, it is clear that reference is being made to the concept of a “service provider”, an entity which adds value with respect to the offerings of individual sites: that something extra that sets aside the identity of the cultural subjects and deals directly with customer satisfaction.

According to the Open Directory Project Initiative, to be considered a portal, a site should have the following characteristics:
                        •     Search Engine / Directory
                        •     Groupware and collaboration
                        •     Knowledge management
                        •     Content Management
                        •     Workflow
                        •     Multichannel facilitation
                        •     Personal signature
                        •     Business intelligence and applications integration
                        •     Integration with identity management
                        •     Infrastructural functionality

Within the cultural sphere, from the user perspective, the differences between a website and a portal can be summarized as follows:

Influence of the identity of the source on the perception of quality: a user who accesses a site such as that of a public library, museum or other cultural institution gives due consideration to the identity of the specific institution as well as to the site content. The perception of the site in question will be determined not only by the cultural content that it offers, but also by the history of the institution it represents, by its mission, by its functional organization and by its internal and external relations. In this sense the user interacts with the site content while remaining conscious of the identity of the institution that is providing the site. On the other hand, in the case of a portal, the quality perceived may be determined more simply by the degree to which the content satisfies the needs of the user, without any influence from the identity of the portal.

Simple versus complex organizational model: while for websites the organizational model usually reflects a single organisation being responsible for all aspects of the site and its content (even if outsourcing all or part of the editorial and technological services), for portals a more complex model may apply. In fact, the information and technology resources which underpin a portal may be numerous, often decentralized. An important part of any portal is its ability to sustainably integrate content provided from disparate sources, and to offer a seamless user experience without compromising the rights of the content owners.

Diffusion and organization of knowledge versus content searching and service provision: by the term “site” we usually mean a structured collection of web pages that provides content and services, even without the addition of advanced tools for navigation or research. The term “portal”, on the other hand, refers to an application that mainly offers services for more complex interaction with users, usually based on content present in other cultural web applications that can be chosen by users through a (more or less advanced) search engine and/or directory.

Personalisation and user profiling are often important elements of portal functionality. A core objective of any portal is to add sufficient value to encourage the user to return and use the portal on a regular basis. In order to achieve this, the portal should enhance the navigation and content discovery process for all users. It should also offer, as much as possible, options for the customisation of the user experience.

                        Website        Portal
                        Perception    Derived from institutional identity by:
                        of quality      1. Drawing on the history of the institution
                                            2. Reaffirming the institutional mission
                                            3. Delineating the institutions' own parameters and specific content

                                            Derived from the aggregation of institutions across the portal by:
                                            1. Identifying the common history or thematic character of the portal
                                            2. Reaffirming the shared mission of members in the portal
                                            3. Recognizing the synergies between sister institutions and commonalities
                                            of content

                        Complexity   1. Defined by the singular characteristic of the institutional authorship and content
                        of structure  2. Managed and maintained by a specific institution
                                            3. Distinct user-base
                                            4. IP managed by institution

                                            1. Defined by the multiplicity of authorship and content
                                            2. Decentralized management by both institutions and portal managers
                                            3. Seamless integration of disparate user-bases
                                            4. IP managed by portal managers while recognizing the rights of the institutional
                                            content owners.

                        Knowledge   1. Structured collection of web pages for content and services incorporating
                        management    local tools for navigation and retrieval
                                            2. Familiarity with the institution and its collections allows users to find what they are
                                            looking for with simple searches using a site-wide search engine.

                                            1. Complex services and interaction with users incorporating advanced navigation
                                            and retrieval tools
                                            2. Personalization and user profiling amplify the portal's functionality and allow
                                            for the customization of user experience for different kinds of users

The potential of portals

In spite of the tremendous potential of a fully-integrated portal, once aggregated, the wide variety and complexity of a portal's content and multiplicity of services may become truly daunting.

At the same time, clearly cultural portals are targeted to the very same user base as are individual institutional websites, and, in doing so, appear to act as competitors, rather than facilitators of content in a battle to attract the user's interest and loyalty.

However, once institutional websites and cultural portals are coherently integrated. both entities stand to gain as a result.

While individual institutional websites foster long term relationships with those users who are already familiar to them, their content may not be known - and therefore not found - outside of their traditional user base. By aligning themselves to a municipal, national or pan-national thematic portal they are greatly extending their visibility and in doing so, their accessibility to new users outside of their traditional user-base.

If a portal targets a broad user-base to include all citizens across geographically disparate regions, this demands the development of strategies; such as advanced search and retrieval mechanisms, special navigation routes, multiplicity of language, etc. at a level that is often beyond the scope of the individual institution. Through the development and implementation of these kinds of shared resources, a portal will reach a much larger user base than any singular institution could ever hope to reach on their own. In addition, methodologies developed at the portal level; such as the harvesting of user profiles, responding to the demands and expectations of users through evaluation and feedback mechanisms from a critical mass of users may be pooled for the benefit of all members of the network, thereby enhancing visibility and accessibility to cultural content at the local level.

Even straightforward access to institutional information such as location, opening hours, etc.: in addition to the shop window onto the cultural heritage they steward, means that more people will be able to find a specific institution, exhibition, collection or single object and be able to make their plans to visit, or simply browse accordingly.

n conclusion, pooling resources in this way, not only quantitatively increases the reach of the collections available to the individual user, but also amplifies the qualitative depth and breadth of cultural content for students, young people, tourists and researchers, providing them with the tools that allow them to discover content intuitively; and in their own language. Access to content they seek may then be granted where ever the user is located, while acknowledging and preserving the local cultural and intellectual distinctiveness of the richness of the content at its source.

1.1.1 Libraries

The main objective of a Library institution is to be a transmitter and source of knowledge, aimed at the largest possible user base. Libraries perceive a great opportunity in new technologies especially for reaching new user populations.

The intrinsic characteristics of the web encourage libraries to offer digital reference services that can promote the birth and growth of a remote user base. Such a remote user base is difficult to characterise; as a result it is challenging to establish and measure user satisfaction. If improved services are to be offered, and satisfaction to be increased, libraries must identify who remote users are and what type of requests they make. A focus group activity, one of structured interviews as well as a careful analysis of the data offered by registrations can contribute elements which support making the right choices.

It may first of all be possible to draw up a profile of the user base divided into levels of expertise. On the basis of this framework, websites can be planned that achieve user satisfaction for all users by applying suitable mediation levels. For cataloguing we can give the following definitions:
                        •     traditionalist users: users that are deeply bound to traditional research tools who find it difficult to use the Internet generally
                        •     beginner users who wish to develop an expertise with regard to new technologies and only rarely use OPACs (Online Public Access Catalogue)
                        •     skilled users who normally and preferably use OPACs for overcoming geographical barriers and make use of a strongly customized service.

Good practices British Library New York Public Library      Digital libraries

A digital library is a library in which collections are stored in digital form (as opposed to print, microform, or other media) and accessible by computers. Both the physical and the digital library offer a service to their users, in that they both make collections available through specific kinds of search and retrieval systems. The digital content is normally accessed remotely via computer networks. A digital library, from the ICT point of view, is a type of information retrieval system. Librarians may consider a digital library as another space of cultural mediation and conversation, similar to a library but in a digital environment.

There are three fundamental components in a digital library:
                        •     The collection: this is made up of text, images, video, sound and metadata (see 4) and includes both a permanent collection and temporary collections with a specific life span
                        •     Theaccess services: these must enable the user to rapidly and easily find all that he or she seeks and to extend the search to linked documents. The access systems include the user interface, the research and identification systems and the systems for navigation and connection to the information desired. In the first place the users’ requirements must be determined through the use of feedback mechanisms (see 2.6)
                        •     Theuser: users act alone without intermediaries, and they are not limited by space and time. Because the user is an active agent, a digital document may be dynamic, and has a life cycle in relation to different users at different times.

There are numerous creations at the current time on the Web defined as digital libraries, including:
                        1.   thematic or academic repositories accessible on the Web of documents/publications (based for example on the open-source DSpace platform)
                        2.   digital repositories characterized by a prevalence of content items born and collected within the project
                        3.   collections of publications or multimedia material that were originally in analog form, made accessible on the web following their digitisation
                        4.   lastly the websites of libraries, archives, museums and other cultural institutes may be defined as digital libraries in that they offer documentation, publications, as well as multimedia.

Good practices Gallica
Project Gutenberg

1.1.2 Museums

Unlike the nature of the services required for a repository of books (both for the physical or digital library), or even to some extend the way an archive is conceived by its users, museums are perceived, first and foremost as locations of physical artefacts; housing objects that are usually characterised by their authenticity, pecuniary value, and their uniqueness. 

Digital artefacts, in contrast, signal endless clone-ability and a built-in temporality.  After all, unlike the self-evident durability of the material artefact, once the electricity has been turned off, the digital object simply disappears. Why then bother to locate the digital object in the museum that encapsulates science and culture for posterity, when the object that is being scrutinised simply fades away at the end of the day? The very intangibility of the digital object inevitably becomes a provocation to the museum ethos of materiality and stability, and, through its ethereality, a challenge to the very core of the museum mission. 

In addition to this fundamental challenge to the museum ethos is the idea that with the digital artefact in the museum, there is no longer an 'original', and, to confound things even further, as these objects are replicated and disseminated just as easily outside of the museum as they are in the gallery, why would the visitor even bother to come into the museum in the first place?

These are the kinds of questions that not only concern museum curators, but also the museum public when encountering an online presence of the physical museum.  However, in spite of these very rational concerns, electronic museums are, and will continue to become more and more visible over electronic networks, and, as they evolve, visitors and users will discover the richness of the collections, even as they are mediated beyond the museum wall.

While there is a disparity between the leading museums in Europe who have build themselves impressive mirrors of the physical museum in terms of making their collections available online in meaningful ways, most of the small institutions across Europe have made do with modest websites; offering information such as ticketing, group bookings; perhaps with an online gift shop and a showcase of the highlights of their collections.

However, even with the most impressive of museum websites that are able to disseminate the depth and breadth of their collections online (see and the virtual museum will clearly never be a replacement for the 'real thing' and the experiencing of seeing the material object in the physical gallery with ones own eyes.

A separate analysis may be required for the users of online museums especially with regard to the question: does the real user base coincide with the virtual one? That is to say, is there commonality between those who physically visit a museum and those who visit its website, or. are the two experiences totally separate? The virtual route could be seen as an introduction to, and not a substitution for the real one; it can be used as a preparation for a future visit or as a review of a past experience (see in-depth, p. 19).

Clearly there are still barriers to visiting a real museum; the prohibitive cost for some families for example, the distances need to travel to a particular institution, or a sense of alienation from a cultural institution.

Institutions, such as museums embody powerfully coded experiences, where Bourdieu suggests one needs a studious comprehension of iconography of the many schools and styles in order to gain intellectual access to art5.

Some people, in fact may even perceive the museum as a highly intimidating space, particularly when they sense they don’t have the cultural capital to take part in the experience, they may not wish to come into the museum at all.

Virtual museum, on the other had are free, easy to navigate and accessible to all and may, in fact be attractive to those who rarely vist museums, other than in their own home town, or even never to have gone inside of to a real museum before.

The role of the virtual museum may be thus summarized:
                        •     To act as an opportunity to prepare for a real visit
                        •     To evoke the pleasure of a museum experience after the visit
                        •     An extension of the knowledge gained from a visit
                        •     For an opportunity to engage with the museum community between visits and to stay connected
                        •     For those users, who for various reasons may never visit a particular museum but who may wish to access exhibitions or collections remotely.

In addition to benefits the web presence brings to the physical museum outlined above, the web museum may also offer the following advantages:

                        1.   When the digital artefact is embedded in an educational context, it may act as learning object in its own right, serving to document and contextualise the physical collection in new kinds of learning scenarios.
                        2.   As the digital museum acts as a pre or post-visit reference, this enables new kinds of hands-on, minds-on interactions with the collection that were not possible during the physical museum visit (rotating an object, collecting and comparing different artworks, magnifying a miniature work of art, etc.).

                        3.   When works of art, and new media expressions are born-digital, they represent new kinds of artistic practice, art forms and interfaces.  This kind of artistic practice, (web art, net art, interactive art, etc) is dependent on the web and in fact cannot be represented outside of the web architecture.

Nowadays there are many museums that offer collections over the web; in many cases there may be thousands of works presented online. These collections are organized according to descriptive standards, are codified on the basis of an historical-artistic tradition and are catalogued appropriately by museum professionals across the hundreds of different kinds of curatorial departments. These systems are the responsibility of the museum curator, whose professional service is appreciated not only by the layman, but also by experts, researchers, and colleagues in the field.

Drawn from the museum tradition of the thematic exhibition, new kinds of narratives can now be spun over the web and the examples of story-telling (see can now re-contextualize collections as virtual narratives that are both compelling, and inspiring.

As web interfaces move towards Web2.0 platforms, innovative ways of renewing the relationship between the museum and their publics are now possible, and we are witnessing how these new opportunities to re-engage their audiences with the museum are being taken up with a passion both by museums and their public all over the world.

Good practices Louvre Hermitage - Virtual Academy Every object tells a story   


The research studies of the CHIN (Canadian Heritage Information Network) are very interesting: since 2001, the year that the Virtual Museum of Canada (VMC) was put online, the needs of the web users in relation to the users of the physical museum institution are being studied. “There is anecdotal evidence to suggest a link between the two, suggesting that on-line content actually increases the interest in visiting a museum. One of the most common uses of museum websites is for visitors planning a visit to the physical museum”.

In 2003 a research study was planned that foresaw two investigations to be carried out in parallel:
                        •     Analysis of the real users of a network of Canadian museums
                        •     Analysis of the users of the Virtual Museum of Canada

The investigation showed that 81% of the visitors to the “real” museums used Internet for work or pleasure and 22% of these had previously visited the website of the museum in which they were now for better planning their visit. The information is interesting if we consider that to the question “why did you not consult the museum website before visiting it?”, 31% answered that the experience of visiting a museum is spontaneous and free and isn’t planned, 28% answered that they already knew the museum very well and 21% got the information necessary through other media.

The research experience highlights the strong cooperation that can exist between museum institutions and their websites, by addressing various audiences with a range of requirements. The most interesting information that emerged is:
                        •     Users consult the website before visiting a museum in order to plan the visit and to have all the practical information necessary for reasons of organization.
                        •     Users consult the website after having visited a museum to deepen their knowledge about the works and the content that they found most interesting with an aim that is definitively exploratory and to increase their knowledge.

Lastly 70% of those who had navigated the website before the physical visit to the Museum stated that they had visited it for organizational reasons and a good 30% said that the virtual visit encouraged them to visit in person. 57% of the real visitors to the museum stated that they were encouraged by consultation of the web pages against 43% that stated they were not influenced. Nobody stated that the web visit was counterproductive or that it discouraged them from visiting the Museum.

As regards the visitor profile, we note some differences: while the real visitors of the museum network in question were composed of 47% men and 53% women, in the case of the website the percentages are 43% men and 57% women.

As regards ages as could have been expected, in the case of web users the over 55 group decreases (13% against 20% of real users), while the young and very young visitors increase (23% against the 15% of the 25-34 group and 10% against 8% of the 15-24 group). As regards visitors over 65 the percentage of the web users falls to 5% against 16% of the real visitors.


Wendy A. Thomas, Sheila Carey, Actual/Virtual Visits: What Are The Links?, Paper presented at Museums & the Web 2005,

1.1.3 Archives

In common with libraries and museums, archives play a role in the conservation and development of cultural heritage. Traditionally however there is a different relationship between archives and users, linked to the nature of the archive material and access to it and type of research that it is possible to carry out.

Archives differ from libraries in several ways. Traditionally, archives:
                        1.   Preserve primary sources of information (typically letters and papers directly produced by an individual or organization) rather than the secondary sources found in a library (books, etc.)
                        2.   Have their contents organized in series rather than as individual items. Whereas books in a library are catalogued individually, items in an archive are typically grouped by provenance (the individual or organization who created them) and original order (the order in which the materials were kept by the creator)
                        3.   Have unique content. Whereas a book may be found in many different libraries, depending on its rarity, the records in an archive are usually one-of-a-kind, and cannot be found or consulted at any location other than the archive that holds them.

Access to the contents of an archive is typically overseen by specialized personnel and relies on the use of special mediation tools, the finding aids, because the archive document, contextualized as it is in an order peculiar to the originator (bodies, families, people, etc.) cannot easily be found and used without knowing how to navigate the archive itself. This makes a considerable impact on the way in which archives address their users. Traditionally archive users were people who were expert and aware of the peculiarities of archive order, although over time the archive audience has extended to “non specialized” users, guided by practical and administrative interest or indeed by curiosity.

Thanks to the spread of international descriptive standards and the digital treatment of research tools and documents, it is increasingly common to deliver archive mediation via web interfaces: archives have assumed the character of research space and virtual knowledge, in which the degree of mediation in their use between user and document is reduced. Within this context, in addition to offering a guide, tools and digital documents, it is becoming increasingly common for archives to experiment with bringing the world of archives closer to web users. Thus, the educational value of the content (the document or the archive series) is enhanced by its presentation via the user-friendly web environment.

Moreover recent trends in the so-called participatory web – or web 2.0 – are beginning to filter through to the online archive world, enriching the research and use of the documents in systems of folksonomy and social tagging (see 1.2.4). The adoption of these tools means that archives respond to user requirements by:
                        •     facilitating access
                        •     helping users to more easily identify the archive documents that meet their requirements
                        •     sustaining their interpretation
                        •     providing information over and above the classic information of the archive description, so that users can better interpret the archive documents.

Good practices National Archives of Australia Virtual Room Public Records Office - Just for kids

1.1.4 Temporary events
                        The websites of temporary festivals, events and exhibitions primarily carry out the function of “advertising window”. These are coordinated with other marketing avenues to make an event known and so bring the greatest possible number of people to visit the exhibition. For this reason a section of such websites may often be dedicated to operators of the world of information, such as journalists and press agencies.

                        The creation of these “instant websites” is often entrusted to professional content creation and marketing agencies who are external to the cultural entity. Such creation may be supported by mixed “consortiums” (cultural entities, sponsors, etc.) who collectively promote the exhibition.
                        Special care is given to the presentation of basic information about the event, including a programme with complete and current information on the content of the exhibition or event (subject, curators, promoters, agenda, etc.), on the location where the exhibition is being held (including geographic coordinates, means for getting there, etc.), the opening dates (including possible extensions), times, costs, etc.

                        Another important function is that which deals with the services for users both on-line and on-site, such as bookings, on-line ticket offices, guided visits, multimedia, catalogues, e-shop, café, cloakroom, video streaming, photo gallery and press releases.
                        The topic of the conservation of the contents of such ephemeral “instant websites” is now becoming an objective in its own right. It is frequently addressed by the establishment of an archive of such ephemera that can be consulted along chronological lines.

Good practice Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival 

1.1.5      Research and education services

In an online context, the leading centres of research and education are well known to those involved in the sector, be they students, research scholars, experts or simple net users searching for information about learning opportunities. Public and private bodies often appear integrated into a single entity that provides web services at 360 degrees.

Within the public sector there are numerous examples where teaching, scientific research activities and, generally speaking, scientific and technical consultancy activities are carried out by one entity: the centre of excellence. One or more cultural web applications can correspond to the one such entity.

Secondary schools and colleges may provide contents and services for students, teachers and parents; universities often build online digital archives to cater scientific and didactic documents, professors’ curricula, and research activities. Moreover they offer interactive service for all university actors.

Portals and websites which focus on centres of research and training are characterized especially by a strong demand for information from the users. The nature of users varies considerably depending on the specific function carried out by the site and so on the composition of the reference community. However, such sites often adopt communication strategies aimed at the general public, including the provision of overview and editorial content which is expressed in simple layman’s language.

Good practices Italian Research Portal Christ’s College Finchley, UK  

1.1.6      Cultural portals

A portal, conceived as an organization for achieving user satisfaction, must necessarily utilise tools that are able to satisfy the demands of the user in such a way that the perceived quality received is high and that allow the user to extend his knowledge, so as to create a strong relationship of fidelity. A portal replaces a site when it adds value to the tools that it users, or when the value which it offers is greater than the sum of its constituent parts. “For the users, a portal is surely only useful if it meets a real need that users have, and in a way with which they are comfortable. As such, the portal needs to do more than any of the current offers being presented. To facilitate this, there is need for continued work on ensuring interoperability of systems”6.

We must review the idea that metaphorically describes the network as similar to a sea in which it is possible to freely navigate and without any type of limit. Even if the web superficially appears to be freely navigable, it is actually formed of elements (sites) which can guide the user to travel according to established routes. This approach doesn’t limit the freedom of the user but rather it emphasizes the influence that sites can have in directing the exploration of online content, thus making the exploration more effective.

If a classic website has the potential to influence the user in this manner, this is even more so the case for a portal, which by its nature orders, addresses, chooses, organizes and facilitates access to the many resources present chaotically and indifferently in cyberspace, ever fuller of non structured data and information that are therefore difficult to recover and hard to believe reliable.

While we recognise the overall heterogeneity of web users, it is reasonable to identify four macro categories of users that a portal must necessarily foresee, as it pursues its mission of delivering user satisfaction:
                        •     Specialist/educated users (research scholars, teachers, etc). This user base mainly uses the portal to satisfy a need that is linked to its working and study activity. Acquiring and constantly maintaining efficient know how, checking information, deepening its knowledge and keeping up to date are some of the reasons that drive this user base to use the portal.
                        •     Scholastic use: (school and general education). To discover, evaluate, choose, organize and use the information which one considers necessary for educational reasons is the motivation that drives this type of user.
                        •     Professionals:professional people and those of the sector. These are users that use the portal as a work and knowledge resource. The portal services should therefore be amenable to customization and should allow a rapid and simple overview of all the activities carried out. The existence of a virtual newsletter would be a good idea for this type of user.
                        •     General/curious users: users that access the portal driven by curiosity and the desire for cultural growth. This type of user sees culture as an accessible, open, participatory and free resource. These users learn of the portal by word of mouth and are stimulated by different interests. For this type of user we can refer to the concept of attractive quality because, driven by curiosity, they have a scale of priorities that can be quite easily inverted.

The use of cultural portals is obviously closely dependent on the use of the Internet generally and on its penetration both in physical terms (spread of broadband) and in terms of its use entering the consumer mainstream. The Internet has gradually become a familiar tool for a great number of people, with rates of takeup increasing particularly in the last year. The cultural portal may therefore address not only web users but also those of TV, radio, and other media with a view to integration.

There are some very interesting examples of cultural portals that highlight how profiling users is considered central7 for future planning and development.

Good practices American Memory from the Library of Congress TEL

1.1.7 Cultural tourism portals

To return to the theme of general/curious users, we must consider the phenomenon of cultural tourism8. The idea was born in 1970s and was promoted by institutions such as ICOM (International Council of Museums) and UNESCO. It foresees cultural exchange and the promotion of individual cultures through the dissemination of knowledge regarding the architectural, landscape, artistic or archaeological patrimony. Tourism is considered a platform of dialogue and intercultural exchange and in that sense the web presents exciting new opportunities.

When the profile of the user that uses the web to satisfy a cultural tourism requirement is taken into account (man/woman/ between 25/45 years, medium-high social class, used to travelling), it is important to remember some essential characteristics of services aimed at such a user base: availability of infrastructure that makes navigation simple and immediate: simple and rapid access to the Internet; use of the network for various reasons: e-commerce, information search, entertainment, etc. This type of user is certainly quite skilled in using the net, has achieved a middle-high level of education and a fair knowledge of English and is in the habit of travelling.

Good practice Spain.Info 

Annex - Good practices British Library                                                                                                                LIBRARY

This website was chosen as an example of how access to content can be arranged according to user categories. The BL site favours a simple approach that everyone can use (represented by a search form in a central position in the home page) but that at the same time allows the user to identify himself with a precise category and therefore to be able to use additional content and services (represented by one of the two navigation menus).

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom: it owns more than 13 million monographs and over 920,000 magazines (information updated to June 2007). The BL site contains all the information on the library and its collections, providing digital resources through its integrated Opac and through specific digital library projects: Collect Britain, Online Gallery, Virtual Exhibitions, Learning.

In recent years, the BL too has had to face innovation in terms of Web accessibility and usability and the inevitable consequent need for update; in 2007 the home page was renewed and the site was completely revised with the objective of restructuring the presentation of its content.

A central element is the search form placed at the centre of the page and highlighted by a coloured frame. This form can be used to search global content that includes the Web pages of the BL, the integrated Opac, the periodicals and the digital library (understood as the interface for digital collections), Collect Britain, with all combinations being possible. The main search form, that makes it possible to search across four completely different sources, differentiates the results from the various sources by using a colour to represent each source. This distinction is clear even in the visualization of brief descriptions. This method allows any user to copy the descriptions and be able to easily adapt them for other work, because they are presented in a way that is suitable for their reuse and quotation.

Next to the simple search form, we find a link for more advanced research and for the search tips and advanced searching instructions, with detailed explanations on the different sources and the research syntax. If we observe this transformation with a view to profiling users, it appears to be clear that the BL offers itself as a site for everyone, where the logic is the perfect search engine and where there is no need for the user to define himself as belonging to one category rather than another.

At the same time, however, BL offers tightly focused services for four key audiences: through one of the two horizontal menus users can access areas that offer specialized services and contents:
                        •     For higher education leads to a section that offers services and resources especially for researchers and university libraries
                        •     For business leads to a section dedicated to those who are accessing the portal for work reasons
                        •     For librarians has a series of ad hoc structured services (LIS Service, Bibliographic services, Resources for research, Preservation)
                        •     Press leads to the press and communications service of the BL
                        •     Job vacancies is dedicated to job offers
                        •     Contact us is a directory that links the possible questions and requests regarding services, a questionnaire for feedback and a map for finding one’s way to the BL.

One of the greatest strong points of the BL is the way that the structure and arrangement of the many research and audience-specific paths tries to derive the maximum end-user benefit from an endless documentary patrimony. The same abundance is found in the special catalogues that allow a specialist to immediately identify the tool that suits him best.      New York Public Library                                                                                  LIBRARY

This important United States library, founded in 1895, uses its website to pursue its traditional library mission of choosing, collecting, preserving and rendering accessible “knowledge accumulated in the world, without distinction of income, religion, nationality, or other human condition”. Through the NYPL Collection of Downloadable Media you can directly access a wide range of historical and cultural documents arranged in digital collections that include rare manuscripts, images, audio files and video and e-books.

In June 2006 the library launched a new initiative putting on its website the e-audio, that is to say, the digital audio versions, of seven hundred volumes chosen to respond to the taste of all types of public.

Digital audio is destined to revolutionize relations between readers and books, putting books on the same level as digital songs, that is to say demolishing what remains of the difference between written and oral culture. To borrow an e-book means linking in to the website, choosing the title preferred and downloading it on to one’s own computer to then open the file and read it like you do with paper books purchased in a bookshop. The digital audio version offers even more: the file that is downloaded free of charge from the site that is accessible around the clock and seven days a week is a recording and can be listened to not only on a portable or fixed computer but also on easy to use latest generation portable high-tech products such as CD readers and digital music readers such as MP3 Players or the ever more popular Ipod. In contrast to traditional audio-books, which are found on sale in cassette form and which can only be listened to on awkward recorders, «e-audio» books occupy the space of a digital file and hundreds of them can fit in an Ipod.

It was in the fact the widespread diffusion of MP3 Players and Ipods among the younger generation that encouraged the New York Library to offer this new service and stay abreast of the times. Library users today are more technologically sophisticated than ever before and the aim of this initiative is to allow them to have access to these volumes in the format that they prefer. Hence the possibility of replacing old style reading with listening to files at any time and in any place with the sole limit of having to respect the ritual and irrevocable twenty-one days of time that the New York Library establishes for public lending. Once that date has passed the digital audio file will no longer be accessible because a “secret key” inserted in the book will close it definitively, making it disappear in an instant from lists and micro-screens. All this is guaranteed by the on-line registration of the reader-customers, each one of which has a recognition code of a maximum of ten digits thanks to which he can access a virtual library in which he will find not only literary classics such as Moby Dick by Herman Melville and the Broker by John Grisham, but also essays by Theodor Adorno, reports from the war against terrorism, updated studies of electronics, mathematics, economics and psychology as well as dictionaries and language courses.

To supplement the majority of files that are valid for 21 days, the library offers a special catalogue of “always available e-audio” that contains 100 digital titles with an unlimited lending time.

The NYPL Digital Gallery section of the website of the New York Public Library provides users with 275,000 low resolution images, with free access for educational, teaching, creative and research purposes. The Gallery is constantly updated data base, containing the results of the campaign of digitisation of the collections preserved in the Library of photographs, manuscripts, Japanese prints, images of New York City, maps, rare documents and much more. High definition images for personal and professional use can be obtained through the Photographic Services & Permissions.      Gallica                                                                                                DIGITAL LIBRARY

Gallica is the digital library of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (National Library of France). Established in 1997, it was one of the first European digital libraries with free access. From the user perspective, Gallica is a multi-target digital library, open to all types of user, from the most specialized (skilled users, for example, people of the same profession, researchers, students) to the least expert (beginner users, or of the simply curious). For the first type of user, the traditionalists, the obstacle is not the web’s characteristics but the Internet medium itself. As well as providing a general service that can be accessed through the use of a non-specialist terminology, Gallica permits the user to find an item in a precise category which means acquiring a profile of his own: the Gallica Classique section, for example, is aimed at a purely scholastic and university audience, whereas by offering a whole set of collections on the subject of travelling, the Voyage section is focused on a public that is passionate about travelling and professionals in the area. A help section provides clarification on navigation, on the modalities of research available and (through a link to the FAQ) a user can send an e-mail with specific questions to the library.      Project Gutenberg                                                                           DIGITAL LIBRARY

Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books, or eBooks. The Mission statement available on the Project wiki says that “the mission of Project Gutenberg is simple: to encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks. This mission is, as much as possible, to encourage all those who are interested in making eBooks and helping to give them away. In fact, Project Gutenberg approves about 99% of all requests from those who would like to make our eBooks and give them away, within their various local copyright limitations.” Project Gutenberg is not supported by financial or political sponsors, therefore is powered totally by volunteers. The Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation (PGLAF), a not-for-profit corporation registered in the state of Mississippi, USA, is the corporation that receives and processes donations to Project Gutenberg, and pursues fundraising opportunities.

There are over 20,000 free books in the Project Gutenberg Online Book Catalog in more than 50 different languages and dialects. A grand total of over 100,000 titles is available at Project Gutenberg Partners, Affiliates and Resources. The catalog can be browsed by Author, Title, Language or “Recently Posted”, or by categories (Books, Audio Book, computer-generated Audio Book, human-read Data Music, recorded Music, Sheet, Other recordings, Pictures, moving Pictures, still). A special version of any eBook can be downloaded and read on Palm organizers or smartphones.

Project Gutenberg is a participant in Yahoo!’s Content Acquisition Program. This provides a search of book metadata (author, title, brief description, keywords).      Louvre                                                                                                               MUSEUM

The Louvre was one of the first museums to present a digital version online.

Through the site we can discover how the museum is organized in terms of opening times, prices and ways of visiting, so satisfying the requirements of a user that intends visiting the “real” museum and using real virtual tours.

There are facilitated access routes for three different categories of visitor through a navigation menu on the home page. Thanks to these it is possible to immediately see events and offers selected on the basis of the user’s profile:
                        •     Professionnels (professionals and business people)
                        •     Enseignants (those interested in informing themselves, such as students)
                        •     Jeunes (- de 26 ans) (younger people)

There is a series of services available to users. Among these is the glossaire (glossary), a detailed list of definitions corresponding to terms regarding the works exhibited in the museum; the agenda, a selection of appointments not to be missed and a search engine covering museum events that enables the user to carry out a search according to three criteria:
                        •     Period or date: Sélectionnez une période ou une date
                        •     Type of event (Visites guides, Ateliers, Musique, Lectures, Cinema, Concerts)
                        •     User profile (Tous les publics, adultes, enfants & familles, groupes, handicapés).

The Louvre content can also be enjoyed through the aid of an audio-guide (both in English and in French) through a slow sequence that can be paused to access the description of the work that is of interest.

There are also an online ticket office and a boutique that functions like a real shop in which a constantly updated trolley keeps track of preferences and purchases.

As well as representing the achievement of the concept of integration and synergy between the real and the virtual, the example of the Louvre site is interesting because of the way the centrality of user emerges very clearly. With routes for experts, young people, students, teachers and the disabled, the site permits an absolute personalization of the experience.      Hermitage Virtual Academy – Virtual Academy                                            MUSEUM

The Hermitage site was chosen among the good practice examples because, among its services to the public, it offers the Virtual academy, structured in a series of ‘monographic’ routes that permit the online visitor to the Hermitage of St Petersburg to contextualize by multimedia means the most important holdings in the museum’s collections. There are six introductory routes that go from Egyptian to Roman history, to biblical studies, to the ‘time of the knights’ and to Rembrandt’s painting, and also include the history of the Winter Palace.

Each route explores the cultural and social significance of the works that have made the museum world-famous, through a brief introduction that offers general information and at the same time makes a clear connection between the masterpieces of the museum and their respective periods and cultures.

For network users the Virtual Academy offers the chance to get to know the collections, discovering their charm and meaning in this way. It may be linked to a plan to visit St Petersburg, or a moment of interest in the artistic contents at the centre of the ‘routes’, limited by what is available online, or indeed it may also be an opportunity to reflect and review after having visited the Hermitage.      Every object tells a story                                                                               MUSEUM

When the collection is created by the users...

There has been particular interest for the experimental initiative Every object tells a story promoted by the Victoria and Albert museum in cooperation with the Tyne & Wear museums, the Birmingham museum and the Brighton & Hove museums. The initiative was addressed to museum curators and operators and explores the value of story-telling in enriching the museums’ collections. The public was invited to contribute stories which relate directly to objects in the collections of the museums. The project applied the potential of user generated content (UGC) to create a new way of engaging with artistic collections, driven by the interest of the public.

The mission was immediately clear in the home page: “Every object tells a story is a collection of stories about objects written by people like you about objects that interest you. If you are enchanted by your grandfather’s watch or if you have a collection of objects that you want to share, send us your stories and discover what others think of them”.

How to participate: just choose an object about which you care particularly, upload one or two images and send the title of the story and the text, or the audio or video of the story connected with the object. Special attention is paid by the initiative to security and copyright aspects

The part of the site dedicated to the museums’ holdings is not restricted to material produced by the museums’ experts; users can comment on the content or indeed publish a new story linked to that resource. The site thus contains collections of objects, arranged into nine main categories (visual arts, entertainment, fashion, home, infancy, hobbies, nature, beliefs and ideas, science and technology). The collections include objects from within and beyond the museums’ holdings, presented and described by the users themselves, as well as by the creators and curators of the collections. The website is moderated and the contributions sent are checked before being published ( August 2008, the service is not running; video available on YouTube: http://www.

Every Object Tells a Story: family learning through objects in the home and in museums

This project was funded from the University of Sheffield’s Knowledge Transfer Opportunities Fund, which aims to turn research into something people can use. The original project was called ‘Ferham Families’ and was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Diasporas Migration Identities fund. The project aimed to look at the relationship between objects in the home and the narratives of migration of families of Pakistani heritage. The project involved five families who were able to share their stories and objects with the team. The stories and objects that were collected were displayed in an exhibition in Rotherham Arts Centre in March 2007.

The Dock Museum: Every Object Tells a Story

The importance of objects in the Museum Collections often depends on the local people and stories associated with them, rather than what they look like and what they were designed to do. A section of the web-site is designed to show that, when you visit the Dock Museum, there can be more to its exhibits than meets the eye. The sample objects are all on permanent display. Follow the links you may find out more about them, and see some of the other objects in the collections that help tell their stories.      National Archives of Australia – Virtual Room                                           ARCHIVES

The Virtual Reading Room project was promoted and developed by the National Archives of Australia. It delivers an online environment for perusing the ever-expanding collections of digitised documents from the National Archives of the Australian Government. Virtual Reading Room has a decidedly educational mission, so much so that in 2006 it was awarded a prize as the best site addressed to secondary school classes.

The main objectives of the site are to:
                        •     offer an online tool for consulting documents on the most important events and themes of Australian history in the 20th century
                        •     support teachers and students in their research and in the consultation of archival records (digital documents, photographs, maps, posters, films, etc.)

The profiles of the audience on which the project focuses are:
                        •     students (of primary and secondary schools)
                        •     teachers and educators

The homepage of the site is very simple and functional. It uses a structure that is very typical of online databases: on the one hand an “editorial window” which captures the attention of a curious user, one without a precise navigation objective; on the other an access point to the resources, more suitable to users with precise information requirements.

The Worth a look section presents in its homepage three archival records that are periodically rotated. These are presented as if they were editorial pieces, capable of interesting a user and capturing his attention.

By clicking on one of the titles (for example “Australia – the land of opportunity”) a user is shown an archival record, consisting of images and descriptive elements. Among these are key words that act as tags, identifying and categorising resources by topic. Some records are accompanied by an “About” page that explores the content of the digital record and increases its educational value; this encourages users to consult the resource and provides additional ideas, dates and information.

Virtual room permits registered users to “save” the record in their personal area, adding notes and comments to it for subsequent consultation.

The Explore function offers two methods of access:
                        •     navigation of records by topic
                        •     search of records by topic or year

The navigation of records is based on a topic-based classification system. The use of “speaking” tags contributes to making the classification system more intuitive for the user, who can gradually streamline his choices until he reaches the material that interests him.

The research function permits any user to search for resources simply through key words or the date of the documents. As in the case of navigation, the user can filter records on the basis of the presence or lack thereof of educational content relative to the archival record.      Public Records Office – Just for kids                                                         ARCHIVES

Within the rich and well-organized site of the British Public Records Office, there is a series of interactive games for young children, “Just for kids – games and activities for children”. These resources form part of the larger project “The learning curve”, dedicated to education and long-life learning on historical themes, inspired by the motto bringing history to life.

The page that gives access to the eight different interactive resources of Just for kids acts also as a presentation of the Public Records Office in simple but effective language.

1.   Tudor Joust permits the young virtual fighters to choose their armour as a knight and participate in a joust. At every stage of the game a herald can give aid and precious information on the words and historical concepts mentioned (heraldry, armour, horses, role of a knight, etc.)

2.   Tudor Hackney virtual world is a three-dimensional virtual reconstruction of a city, Hackney, at the time of the Tudors, on the basis of historical studies. The site provides rich information on the daily life, building techniques and typical places of an English medieval city.

3.   The Train invites young users to make a virtual train run as far as the sea. The train game, inspired by the game ‘Trivial Pursuit’ only proceeds if questions regarding history and custom are answered correctly.

4.   Victorian Crime invites users to “Patrol the streets as a ‘peeler’, catch the criminals and decide their punishment”. It takes place in the mid 19th century. As well as being an interactive game (that also proceeds by replying to historical questions) it has some records dedicated to original archive documents regarding crime and its suppression in history.

5.   Moving Here Multimart invites the user to “Play a shopping game and win recipes for food from around the world”. The context of the game is the organization of a big party to celebrate two hundred years since the great migration from England; users are asked to make purchases on the basis of recipes from all over the world.

6.   The game Codemaster makes it possible to “Send and receive coded messages with a real cipher used by French spies”.

7.   Crime and punishment! is actually composed of two separate games dedicated to crimes, judicial activity and punishment in history. Who decides the law? It’s a Tug of War and Guilty? You be the judge, which can only be accessed by replying to specific questions on these topics. These questions can of course be answered after having read the related educational content and documents.

8.   It’s World War Two: How would you cope? is composed of three different games that take place at the time of the Second World War: Bomb Shelter, Shopping in war-time and Escape from the Blitz. Here again, the wealth and effectiveness of presentation of the historical questions, supported by archival documents and high quality graphics must be noted.      Berlinale – Berlin International Film Festival                                         TEMPORARY EVENT

The Berlin International Film Festival is an event with great cosmopolitan participation: every year apart from the general public more than 19,000 professionals from the world of cinema and 4,000 accredited journalists participate. 400 competing films are projected.

The website has sections dedicated to general information and services for the general public (from the presentation of the programme, the places where the festival will take place, on-line sale of tickets and of objects linked to merchandising) as well as news and services specifically for journalists. Journalists can all the information needed, e.g. for accreditation, making appointments and arranging photographic shoots.

Notable among the on-line services is My Berliner, a personal area that can be accessed through registration, where users can manage a personalized space in which to save appointments, information and press releases on the films in competition.

Without registering it is possible to participate in real time through the video streaming of the most important moments of the competition, such as the prize-giving and the press conferences of the producers who took part in the Festival. All film clips remain accessible on the website; in addition, videos of previous festivals can be consulted in the archive.

The Berlinale website can be consulted both through a timeline that starts from 1951, the first year of the Festival, and through a search engine. Information on the films competing, on the juries, press releases, photos and videos of the Festival can all be retrieved.      Italian research Portal                                RESEARCH AND EDUCATION SERVICE

The National Portal for Italian Research was created by CINECA (Consorzio interuniversitario italiano (Italian Interuniversity Consortium)) and promoted by the Ministry for Public Instruction, Universities and Research (MIUR), research bodies and universities. Through it, citizens can identify and contacts researchers from all sectors (national, public, private, scientific, non-scientific), both in applied and basic research.

The main objective of the portal, which is aimed at citizens in general and also at special categories of users (such as students, schools and businesses), is to highlight big and small research projects and, above all, those who carry out research in indoor laboratories and in the great natural laboratories (Space, Earth and Sea), from the infinitely large to the infinitely small.

Another objective is to offer a tool for linking and coordinating Italian research activities and to raising their profile internationally. The research projects are described both in Italian and in English. The portal also addresses businesses, promoting engagement and exchange of knowledge between the world of research and the entrepreneurial system. This takes place also through tools that promote technology transfer and spin-off activities from the research domain to the business world.

The main actors involved in Italian Research are the researchers, who update the portal with material and documentation and information about of scientific articles published in national and international specialized magazines.

The portal is managed by an internal editorial staff that presents activities and research studies in simple language, proposing walk-throughs, detailed investigations and interviews to stimulate and assist the user in navigation and reading.

As well as the editorial contribution to the identification of the most important topics within the projects, text mining techniques are used to permit the automatic analysis of the data and suitable information retrieval. The theme of research is a multidisciplinary one. A simple reading of the titles by subject does not in fact permit a non-expert to see the real topics hidden beneath or to identify interdisciplinary connections. To do this the entire text is analyzed using text mining techniques; in particular, the techniques of clustering (automatic grouping) aid the editor by making it possible to identify the main thematic groups. The information available is automatically organized by the system into themes and it is thus possible to identify the most important topics in terms of numbers of content items. Connections between topics that are apparently distinct, but have a common terminology, are also highlighted.

The research activities can reviewed in the portal using a ministerial classification by technical-scientific subject, by geographical area and, in some cases, by strategic programme. A classification by level of copyright has also been introduced in order to facilitate the search for material that interests the business world. Such a classification job, if carried out manually, would require a range of domain experts and a great amount of time. In the case of ricercaitaliana it was decided to use automatic classifiers for the texts. An automatic classifier learns to recognize, from a group of pre-classified documents, the characteristics of the relevant categories and is able to reclassify any new document in one of the aforesaid categories.                                            RESEARCH AND EDUCATION SERVICE

UK Student is a British portal, aimed at university students and teachers. It offers a directory of online educational resources for researchers preparing essays or dissertations. The directory offers a substantial collection of articles written by British and non-British scholars, specifically for students. It aims to reduce the risk of plagiarism, within the research environment.

The debate on plagiarism is in fact an important topic in universities and academic circles. According to a “Times” survey, ( education/article630886.ece) a third of university students admit to having unlawfully “copied” ideas from books or Internet and one in ten stated that they had searched for material for research studies online.

The articles presented in the Academic Directory have been contributed directly by leading international scholars, with the full consent of the copyright holder. Students can study and quote the articles in their graduate theses, certain of the authenticity of the source, rather than opting for “cut and paste” whereby fragments of works found on the Internet are copied and inserted in a new work, which is then presented as an original essay of a student.

A section is dedicated to guidelines and tools on writing style and on how to prepare an abstract, an essay, a thesis or a curriculum vitae. The users of the portal can also comment on all the articles and share them thanks to social networking tools.

The portal’s functions are also important for academic teachers, who can find out through it about the research activities and results of their colleagues. They also gain an important reference source that can help them save time in their educational activity.      Christ’s College Finchley, UK                                     RESEARCH AND EDUCATION SERVICE

Christ’s College Finchley is a secondary school with about 1000 students, situated in the East Finchley area of London. The website of the school provides information and services for students, professors and parents. The central part of the site has a frame in which information belonging to various thematic areas is noted. The subjects are listed in the main menu situated on the left of the home page, where the user can choose the section desired from: news, news regarding the college, direction, curriculum, sixth form, life inside the institute, photographs and examinations.

The site also allows users to register for a newsletter and a mailing list.

From the main menu you can access two special services provided by the College: the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and, accessible by clicking on the item BLOG. The VLE ( is a software environment that optimises student learning through the use of a group of on-line tools that are useful for assessment and communication between students and professors. Other examples of tools offered by the VLE are: questionnaires, organization of groups of students, uploading of content, wikis, blogs and RSS.

The entire project is aimed at improving students’ communication and learning.

In the left-hand column of the VLE of Christ’s College Finchley there is a list of school subjects: by clicking and entering one of the courses, if you are registered with the site, you can access material on the subject and information on the teachers, their profile and material that they have inserted in the site.

The central area of the page has a blog where comments can be added.

You can see a list of the registered users currently on-line; by clicking on the user name you can view his details. There is also a space for news taken from the BBC and a section where each week the meaning of a word is explained. The extension and development of (VLE) is

By accessing iTunes store you can download free of charge mp3 and mp4 files of a educational nature; there are also blogs in this area on various subjects.

By clicking on the title of a topic you can see a brief abstract and the various files attached (text files, mp3 or mp4) or add a comment.

You can choose the desired topic directly from a list that is available in the home page of the service or by carrying out a free text research.

From this service you can access a page that organically subdivides the material available on-line from:
                        •     The school news site
                        •     The school VLE site
                        •     The school audio + video site
                        •     The school photo site.      American Memory of the Library of Congress                                     CULTURAL PORTAL

The American Memory project, supervised by the Library of Congress, was begun in 1990 following a programme of digitisation of the book and audiovisual patrimony of the Library. The aim was to construct a “national memory” in digital form. Following a pilot phase, American Memory became a flagship project within the sphere of the “National Digital Library Program”. The National Digital Library Programme is supported by the Library of Congress and has the objective of providing free and open online access to the entire digitised patrimony of the Library of Congress and of other public and private institutions. As a testimony to the “American experience”, the digitised patrimony includes written and spoken documents, sound recordings, photographs, illustrations, prints, films, geographical maps and music sheets.

With specifically educational and information objectives, the website primarily aimed at:
                        •     Teachers
                        •     Students and researchers
                        •     Non-specialized but curious users.

In order to satisfy the requirements of all three target audiences, the homepage offers three avenues for navigation and consultation of the resources:
                        •     The section “Browse collections by topic” allows the user to consult the resources through a topic-based navigation system.
                        •     The section “Collection Highlights” informs the user about the presence of collections of digital resources of particular interest, so offering real “narrative” navigation routes. This consultation channel, controlled by a central editorial office, carries out the difficult but essential role of assisting a curious, non-specialized, user who doesn’t have a specific reason for research or precise consultation objectives.
                        •     The section “Teachers” offers a special access channel to key resources, chosen to reflect “the teacher’s point of view”. From a collection of over seven million digital documents, this section extracts and proposes material that may be useful for classroom lessons.

Topic-based consultation is especially useful, because the user can consult the resources through progressive refinements within a single topic. In the site the categories all use clear and simple language. Topic-based navigation organises the consultation interface according to the (mental) model of Who, What, Where and When and makes it possible to adapt to the mental parameters of the user. As well as consulting the resources by topic, the user can navigate by historical period, type of resource and place. The most “editorial” section of the site, Collection Highlights, managed by an editorial board, highlights two collections by periodic rotation: the aim is to encourage access to collections and resources that would otherwise be submersed in the vast digitalized patrimony.

The use of a guided ‘editorial’ avenue to online resources forms part of a user centred communication strategy. Particularly in the case of digital libraries, the quantity of information available is so large that a user who is curious, but who is not used to using topic-based navigation or is frightened by the results of a simple search, could be dissuaded from pursuing navigation. The guided narrative dimension inside library sites offers a promising design approach to meet the needs of curious, browsing, non-specialist users.

If one of the main objectives of the American Memory project is to facilitate the discovery and consultation of everything that has formed the “American experience”, it is only natural to assist schools, offering teachers tools and material useful for their class work. The “Teachers” section offers a series of functions and sub-sections, aimed at meeting the needs of educators. Didactic routes on topics such as civil history and American culture, prepared by the teachers themselves, are made available to the wider user community. A collection of educational games and play activities are based on the digital resources of American Memory and stimulate the curiosity and learning of students. The links between collections are an effective tool to help teachers to stimulate the critical spirit of their students, by comparing digitised materials. The community and professional development areas are useful for teachers for sharing ideas and material, such as thematic bibliographies or for exchanging information by chat.

Ask a librarian is the usual on line service for helping users in searching bibliographic resources. Through the use of tools such as forms or of synchronized conversation such as chat, a remote user can quickly receive assistance.

We would like to point out lastly the very effective system of Help on line, which can be reached both from the primary navigation menu and from within the topic-based navigation. The style of navigation is clear and effective and it offers various help methods, depending on what is needed and on the navigation context: help on how to use the multimedia contents, help on how to use topic-based navigation of resources or the usual FAQ. The “Contact” section offers users the chance to interact with the personnel of the Library of Congress both to request information and to provide comments or point out technical, typographical or linguistic errors.

                                                    TEL – The European Library                                                                CULTURAL PORTAL

The TEL portal gives integrated access to about 150 million documents (bibliographical news and digital documents) of 23 national European libraries, aiming to add value to their knowledge, information and cultural content. The initiative promotes access to information that is open to everyone and the development of the diversity of European cultural heritage.

The presentation of the content reflects these values: the portal tends to emphasize the cooperative and “national” nature and one can easily identify what resources are made available by each library, OPAC and special collections. The different languages tend to highlight the desire to unify, while respecting each country’s identity. The home page intuitively invites a simple research with a “Google-type” form, with the possibility to refine it according to very specific categories: Default list of collections, Maps & atlases, Cartography, Photographs, Posters and images, Portraits, etc.

The presentation of the portal aims to be simple and transparent, through a friendly interface, minimal graphics and a generous size of character. A lot of space is devoted to the Organisation section, which gives useful information on the initiative and allows interaction with the users. This interaction is suggested by a range of services, among which are a user guide for users using the portal for the first time, a very detailed FAQ, technical information on the browsers and operational systems supported, access to the bi-monthly newsletter including back issues, and a media service for communiqués and press releases.

Through non-obligatory registration, users can save their searches to continue them in future sessions. The Contact &Feedback section is a page dedicated to the staff with photos and profiles that the users can contact for questions or details according to the profile that they prefer. In this case it should be noted that the portal addresses all users, aiming to simplify the research process for everyone, with the minimum use of jargon or specialist terminology. The registration and newsletter service, the beginner user guide and the help sections available at any stage of the research all highlight the user-centred nature of the portal.      Spain.Info                                                                    CULTURAL TOURISM PORTAL

A portal that has successfully created functions linked to cultural tourism is Spain.Info, the official portal for tourism in Spain (Segitur). It offers a multilingual database of museums and special tourist sites that can be accessed through a simple or advanced form of search, an interactive map, etc.

Through a navigation menu on the right, a central area dedicated to news, and a search form on the left, the user can immediately identify the portal’s focus and address his own information requirements.

The simple search form used by a user who is less aware of his requirements is flanked by another form that identifies and organizes the resources by independent community, province and city. When none of these options is of interest to the user, he can also search through the interactive map.

The portal offers a series of additional services:
                        •     User registration: through registration a user can receive the newsletter and use the traveller’s journal,
                        •     Newsletter: through the newsletter a user can receive by mail news and updates that can be personalized by profile/requirements
                        •     The traveller’s journal: an area in which to create and keep track of his journey, with stops, routes, etc.
                        •     Weather
                        •     Roads and routes
                        •     Virtual postcards

1 “Become an economy based on the most competitive and dynamic knowledge of the world, able to achieve a sustainable economic growth with new and better jobs and a greater social cohesion”, in: Declaration of the European Council of Lisbon, 23rd and 24th March 2000.

2 Cfr. MINERVA, Handbook for quality in cultural websites: improving quality for citizens, Identity,; MINERVA, Cultural Website Quality Principles, especially the principle “User-centred”: “taking into account the needs of users, ensuring relevance and ease of use through responding to
evaluation and feedback”,

3 “A Cultural Web Application (CWA) is considered to be every Web Application where the content deals with cultural and/or scientific heritage and its ramifications, and where at least one of the following aims are realised: 1) supplying and spreading cultural and scientific information; 2) existing as an instrument for education and scientific research. A Cultural Web Application is one of the most effective instruments available to the Cultural Entity for fulfilling its mission and satisfying the needs of the widest possible number of users. A CWA must reflect the identity of the Cultural Entity and at the same time guarantee technological standards that raise its quality”,

4 According to MINERVA, a cultural entity is “An institution, organisation or project of public interest in all sectors (archives, libraries, archaeological, historical-artistic and scientific, architectural, intangible ethnographical and anthropological heritage), whose stated aim is to conserve, organise and give access to culture and cultural heritage. Cultural Entities are repositories for basic materials and half-products”,

5 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, R. Nice (trans.), Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 217-219

6Cfr. Paul Miller, The concept of the portal,

7Cfr. http://

8Cfr. Ricard Monistrol, Ponencia Seminario Grupo DigiDoc 24/5/07, Proyecto de investigación
financiado por el Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia (referencia HUM2004-03162/FILO).

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Quality, accessibility, usability

Best Practices