This section presents the proposition that the Internet is here to
stay and that its characteristics, what it enables us to do and the
expectations it creates make it a powerful agent of change.
We are living in the middle of a revolution in the way in which we
handle, swap and trade information. Just as the industrial revolution
was spurred on by a machine - a steam pump - so too is a machine at
the heart of the information revolution: the computer. The early 1980’s
saw the beginnings of this revolution - it was in 1982 that Time Magazine
announced its Time Man Of The Year: the Personal Computer.
Information technology, multimedia and the Internet now receive enormous
press coverage and by now are terms known to most people in developed
countries. The uptake of these new technologies has been rapid and
the number of participants keeps growing. These are not fads; they
will not go away because they are increasingly commercially driven
and they are powerful business and education tools.
Most computers sold this year are expected to be sold with additional
hardware (modems) and software that will put their users on the Net.
The implications of this for museums is that, since their customers
are using the new technologies, it will not be long before they will
expect to be able to access catalogues, records and collections electronically.
Whether museums like it or not, the growing power and functionality
of modern technologies are creating an unprecedented demand for information
and an increasing expectation that access will be quick, easy and
affordable but more of this later in this paper. The emphasis will
be far more towards demand driven criteria as opposed to supply driven.
Public demand in this brave new world is poised to redefine how curators
package, market and manage the collections they hold on behalf of
the public that pays their wages through taxes and entrance fees.
The computers, modems and software now available to users to search,
vet, view, edit and reproduce content from on-line digital archives
are more powerful, relatively less expensive and more flexible than
ever before. Improvements continue to unfold on a monthly basis. The
purchase of multimedia and Internet equipped personal computers by
households is growing which means more and more people will have the
capacity to access digital archives via the Internet.
By the year 2000, there will be very few workplaces and schools in
developed countries without access to at least one computer with the
capacity to access the Internet.
The function of computers themselves is set to undergo sophisticated
changes. Many observers believe that the television and computer will
merge into one unit offering interactive live video, audio, video-conferencing
plus even more computer power than we have today. The TV-PC will offer
unparalleled opportunities to communicate with one another and power
to access and view content on the Internet.
Network PCs are mooted as the next paradigm shift in personal computer
architecture. These computers will be linked permanently to the Internet
from where they will derive all of their application software and
where they will store information. These devices will cost less than
personal computers - recently released models are selling for about
That major computer companies are designing and releasing PC/TVs
and Network Computers, and that computer sales and Internet access
continue to grow monthly, provide further evidence, if any were needed,
that the Internet will play an increasingly important role in education,
entertainment, training and commerce in the foreseeable future. And
there can be little doubt that the number of people using the Internet
worldwide will represent a substantial market for on-line digital
One of the impediments to the use of the Internet for commercial
transactions has been the real concern over security of those transactions.
This stumbling block is being rapidly broken down by the likes of
Visa, Mastercard and American Express who have been co-operating to
produce standards and procedures for the use of credit cards on the
Internet. Meanwhile software giants such as Microsoft and Oracle have
been developing encryption technology to ensure the safe transport
of credit card numbers across the Net.
Banks are increasingly forcing customers into online banking as it
is so much cheaper for them than across-the-counter banking. Of this
we can be certain: both demand and supply led initiatives to purchase
products and services across the Internet paid for by credit card
and/or electronic cash will increase at an exponential rate from 1998
Where does this leave your organisation? What policy have you in
place to be ready, to avoid being marginalised?
At present content on the Internet is delivered to most users via
the telephone network. The cables that carry the data are made of
copper wire and were designed to deliver voice data yet have proven
capable of delivering fax data, colour still images, animations, "live"
audio and even video (though of an unsatisfactory frame-rate and quality).
By using fibre optic cable (broadband) instead of copper wire, it
is possible to deliver video, audio and animations of very high quality
along with all other forms of data at very high speed and at great
volumes. Telecommunications companies in Australia and North America
are establishing broadband services in major cities in order to provide
a superior service and to increase income as a result of increased
traffic on their network. There is every reason to believe their expectation
that consumers will quickly adapt to the quality of reproduction,
speed and interactivity made possible by fibre-optic cable and cease
to be content with anything of a lesser quality. They will increase
their usage of the network as they are lured by the quality and quantity
of material available to them.
This capacity, coupled with the increasing power of computers used
to access the Internet, offers the challenge to employ the highest
of technical standards for on-line access to digital libraries.
Electronic finding aids are becoming increasingly sophisticated enabling
surfers to enjoy a high degree of success in finding what they are
looking for. World Wide Web search engines will take users to the
front door of the digital archive, but it is the finding aid that
assists them navigate through the archive. Overseas projects, such
as the MIT Media Lab Salient Movie and those at University of California,
Berkeley are researching and developing sophisticated finding aids.
As finding online digital archives and then exploring them becomes
easier and more widely adopted, any museum’s archives can be found.
This has quite a profound impact on museums. It effectively means
that any digital archive no matter where it might be, no matter what
its pedigree or quality will be found and accessed by users where-ever
they might be in the world. Will the user care whether the information
came from a webserver sitting inside the Met, Ashmolian, Museum of
Singapore or from a private webserver sitting in an enthusiast’s home
who has become a self-styled, self-made curator of a fabulous digital
collection of 19th century Dutch porcelain?
The rapidly growing number of technology-enabled consumers in developed
nations is creating a vast pool of people seeking information in digital
format in the areas of education, training and entertainment. There
is every indication that governments and numerous public and private
organisations will also increasingly expect access to information
in electronic format held by museums such as public record offices,
archives and libraries.
Access to digital collections via the Internet liberates consumers
from the restrictions of place and time - the walls and doors of our
museums. It brings the collection to the consumer rather than the
consumer to the museum. The act of making collections available on-line
has a number of favourable outcomes.
On-line collections are accessible to those who for reasons of location,
physical disability, working hours, or nature of their work are unable
to physically visit a collecting institution during its normal hours
of opening. In addition to this group are those who become stressed
in public or who simply find visiting institutions too difficult or
The Internet has now made it possible for consumers to be collectors
and curators of their own virtual museum, library or gallery. Whereas
it has always been the decision of the collecting institutions’ management
as to what was placed on the walls, shelves, cases and interactive
multimedia kiosks and what special exhibitions will be mounted, the
consumer is now increasingly empowered to make those decisions as
well - the walls, shelves and cases are inside the desktop computer,
wherever that might be.
The consumer empowered with the choice of content opens new possibilities
for the public and an opportunity for museums as a whole. Consumers
will be able mount their own collections, drawing on images from anywhere
in the world. The most popular sources of images are likely to demonstrate
the following characteristics (not in order of importance) :
- is very well known
- has a superior number of images from which to choose
- has a highly effective search engine, intuitive navigation design
and an extremely user-friendly interface
- provides images of an appropriate quality
- is fairly priced
- offers more relevant and accessible information on each item than
If for no other reason, museums will be compelled to digitise their
collections and make them available online because the public and
government agencies will increasingly demand electronic access to
their collections. Institutions will need to develop strategies to
balance public demand with such things as the owners’ rights, cost
of digitising and availability of resources.
Major museums that do not embark on an effective and efficient online
program will become increasingly marginalised as consumers, both public
and government, become accustomed to accessing digital collections
wherever they can be found in the world.
Not all agents of change come from outside the museum world. Many
within the museum sector are turning to digitisation and digital archiving
as tools that enable them to do their traditional jobs more effectively
Many institutions are viewing the digitisation of their collections
for online consumption as an opportunity to adopt new and more effective
collection management strategies and practices.
For many institutions the digitisation process will help reveal the
extent and actual contents of their collections.
Once an institution embarks on a digitisation programme it is likely
that a number of in-house benefits will emerge.
- research by curators and in-house specialists will be made easier
and more effective
- conservation of material will gain a new emphasis and will be
- the necessary cataloguing and resulting image bank of the collection
will provide valuable collection management information
The preservation of our cultural heritage is a corner-stone of enabling
charters and vision statements of most museums.
The digitisation of cultural items and the resultant digital archives
offer some obvious and potentially powerful aids to preservation.
- handling and use of original items is minimised thereby reducing
the possibility of damage from mishap, overuse or exposure to hostile
- the digital image provides a backup copy (or copies) of the original
- digitisation can offer an immediate replacement strategy for items
that are on the verge of complete deterioration - such as film and
Digitisation may offer an additional but less direct boost to preservation
efforts. Assuming the digitised images are available via on-line services
then wider public access to items may increase awareness of our cultural
heritage. These potential outcomes would validate and possibly help
fund further efforts to preserve that heritage through digitisation
and other methods of preservation.
However, such benefits will only be enjoyed when a number of conditions
are met. The digitisation process must be of appropriate quality,
it has to be managed effectively and the resulting images must be
stored, indexed and catalogued effectively. At present, meeting these
fundamental conditions is proving elusive due to funding problems,
technical shortcomings and the absence of recognised management standards
Having examined the major agents of change, what are the fundamental
characteristics of that change? What is changing? What will be the
impact on museums? What assumptions have we always made about museums
that need re-thinking? (Aspects of this section of the paper were
researched and developed by Mark Minarelli in our Digitisation of
It may seem too obvious a statement to make, but almost all museums
were established in the pre-World Wide Web world. As a result their
charter, mission statements and the expectations of their management
and in some cases boards, do not take into account, in any formal
sense, the online world. Charters and mission statements tend to presuppose
traditional functions and a physical location only in which objects
or material are displayed and to which the public is permitted access.
Institutions are frequently, therefore, not well served or adequately
guided by the legislative frameworks or guiding missions within which
Pressure is being exerted on most museums to become more profitable;
to recover costs where possible and to be less reliant on the public
purse. However, often their charters do not cater well for profit-making
ventures and in many cases, the public benefit purpose is not clearly
defined in their legislation or mission statements and in a period
of profound change this will fundamentally disadvantage the institutions.
The agents of change discussed in the previous section will pushing
museums into new business models and they will have to respond or
wither. Being a business will necessitate changed organisational structures,
skills and strategies. While technological change is one of the key
features driving the transition of museums into businesses and the
convergence of institutions, the challenge will be to not allow technology
to dictate the agenda, but rather to use the technology to give new
meaning to the role of museums.
An important issue for the museums is to delineate clearly, in consultation
with governments, their owners and each other, the dilemma between
their traditional non-profit public benefit role and more commercial
arrangements needed to achieve the potential of the online world.
Users searching for information on the Internet have two main search
methods at their disposal: a global search using search engines such
as Lycos, Magellan and Yahoo; and a known URL (uniform resource locater)
such as www.nla.gov.au (our National Library’s World Wide Web site).
The former lists all registered sites on the Internet world-wide that
claim to hold information on the search topic, whilst the latter takes
the user directly to a site they believe may hold the information.
Combine this with the current and ever-growing predominance of content
from North American collections and it is reasonable to assert that
searches for information on say, endangered species, will result in
finding content held predominantly by North American institutions.
What ultimate impact will this have on museums in countries such as
Australia, Malaysia, Belgium where the size of population and economy,
and the relatively small number of museums mean that they will be
pouring much less digital content into the world wide reservoir of
digital content. Will they be able to compete for the surfer’s custom,
but more importantly, for his or her money?
To compound matters, when choosing URLs, users will select the institution
that either comes to mind most readily or one that they have used
before (and bookmarked it), often because it was found using a search
engine. Thus brand-names such as, Oxford, Smithsonian and the Louvre
will prove difficult to compete against - just as soft-drink manufacturers
around the world, other than Coke, find much to their dismay that
most people think of Coke when they think of soft-drink.
A World Wide Web site if not marketed appropriately becomes a small
desert island in a large ocean - people only find it if they stray
off course on their way to the well known ports. Users are lured by
marketing ploys and sheer critical mass of content to the large sites,
the large ports, and only visit the smaller sites, those small desert
island, if they know they exist. A challenge for the museums is to
develop a strategy that ensures that their online collections do not
become desert islands.
Much of the discussion thus far has centred on digitisation from
the institutions’ point of view. But what of the end user of the digital
archives; what are their expectations and needs and how might this
impact on the way museums approach online solutions?
There has been no thorough market research conducted across Australia
into what the end-user wants from a cultural digital archive in terms
of content, interaction, design, accessibility, cost and value-added
services and what the likely patterns of use will be.
At the risk of being proved wrong by subsequent research, I would
suggest that users want a one-stop-shop World Wide Web site that meets
all their research requirements for content held by collecting institutions.
They do not want to visit each institution’s web site. They want to
search for a topic and be presented with a list of digital objects
(text, photos, video, sound) that they can download and for which
copyright payment, should any be required, can be made easily and
once only for all the items downloaded.
If museums fail to identify and meet consumer needs in this regard
then they risk losing them to the on-line digital archives of other
institutions whether they be in Glasgow, Sydney or Penang.
I believe that value-adding is the single most important activity
a museum can undertake to remain viable in the online world. By value-adding
to a digital object I mean providing:
- additional information to that which has been available to the
general public physically visiting the museum – eg extensive historical
context, detailed provenance, links to other objects in the collection,
hotlinks to other relevant digital collections
- multiple access points – give virtual visitors numerous opportunities
to find objects in the collection and to realise links between objects
- new ways of experiencing an object – eg. using holograms and 3-D
effects; rotating an object giving multiple viewing points; using
audio and visual to provide stimuli and information; animating or
recreating the context of the object’s original existence
- additional services – eg helpdesks, ability to download the object
in multiple formats, copyright information, other museums with similar
collections, reference books and journals relevant to the object
If all a museum does is make available online digital copies of items
in its collection without value-adding to them in the manner described
above then it will be bypassed by the user of the 21st
century. They want more information and stimulus, faster and more
easily accessed than most museums are currently offering. Those that
get it right in the 21st century will succeed; those that
don’t will be marginalised.
The very nature of the Internet breaks down walls and geographical
boundaries rendering the institutional source of the information of
little consequence to the user who is almost solely concerned with
obtaining the information he or she is seeking. As Boyd Rayward (says
in his, Libraries, Museums and Archives in the Digital Future:
The Blurring of Institutional Boundaries
"Libraries, museums and archives in our society have
emerged over the centuries as important organisational components
of what I have called society’s information infrastructure. Their
roles and functions, as they have developed over this period, are
the expression of a variety of cultural and social practices related
to education, research, artistic creativity, entertainment and recreation.
Until recently the distinctive differences between libraries, museums
and archives have rested in part on the formats of the typical artefacts
that have been accepted as their special province. Specialised techniques
have been required to manage these different formats. These techniques
have created organisationally prescribed ways of using the artefacts
by the various clienteles permitted access to them but something was
lost in these immense gains of organisational sophistication. What
has developed does not reflect the needs of an individual scholar
or member of the educated public interested in some aspect of learning
or life. For the individual the ideal is still the personal cabinet
of curiosities that contains whatever is needed for a particular purpose
or to respond to a particular interest, irrespective of the nature
of the artefacts involved - books, objects, data, personal papers,
recorded image, government files."
If we accept that those using the Internet to seek information have
little concern whether the information has come from an art gallery,
museum or say archive, only that they have access to it and that the
content has integrity and is reasonably priced, then this has significant
ramifications for the place of museums in a digital age and for their
digitisation strategies. Should joint ventures between collecting
institutions be pursued – on a profit-making basis?
I can best explain this issue by an example close to home. Australians
seeking content for research purposes or just personal interest have
historically turned to their local libraries, museums, art galleries
and archives. Venture into any Australian museum today and you will
find that their collections include both Australian and non-Australian
content, with the latter sometimes being greater than the former.
Now consider the size of the digital archives being developed in
North America and Europe for on-line consumption and the integrity
of digital archives that will be offered on-line by the likes of The
British Museum and the Smithsonian. The non- native Australian content
held and digitised by Australian museums will be overwhelmed by sheer
weight of the digital offerings emanating from the Northern Hemisphere
and by world recognised centres of academic excellence. As researchers
in Australia shift their mode of research increasingly to on-line
sources they will find most of their non-Australian content coming
from these bountiful overseas sources, which in turn will render the
physical holdings of non-Australian content accessed less and less.
Should museums therefore continue to collect, hold and/or digitise
non-native content? Shouldn’t they concentrate their resources on
collecting, digitising and adding value to content native to their
land, heritage and culture? If they don’t, who will?
The two previous sections of this paper examined the major agents
of change and the fundamental characteristics of that change. This
final section looks at how museums can best manage change. That is,
how they might best adapt to operating in an online world which will
see the differentiation between collecting institutions blur and competition
from museums, libraries and galleries from around the world increase
That the digital age is moving museums into new business models is
a major tenet of this paper. It would be a mistake, however, to think
that institutions were moving from one static, definable paradigm
to another static paradigm. The truth is that there will always be
change. Once that is recognised, museums can set about developing
strategies to transform the challenges of change into opportunities.
If the transformation process is not dealt with appropriately it
has the potential to disorientate institutions and their staff causing
unnecessary stress, ineffective responses and lost opportunities.
However, with the right preparation and appropriate change management
strategies museums can be the masters of change rather than its servants.
The digitisation of collections and public access to digital archives
will, in the long term, have a fundamental impact on the functions
and functioning of collecting institutions. It is likely that departments
and managerial positions will be re-fashioned and/or new ones formed
to deal with such things as digitisation programs, copyright and commercial
issues and maintaining digital archives. Those departments and managers
currently operating in museums will most likely be undertaking quite
different tasks, using new tools and responding to different sets
of priorities and new demands ranging from the curatorial to the commercial.
An effective and efficient transition from the present to the time
when consumers will be able to access a significant portion of national
collections on-line requires significant enterprise, collaboration,
skill and vision on the part of the management of collecting institutions.
Management will need to give of their time and exercise their expertise
in contemplating and finding solutions to the myriad of management
issues amongst which are: the re-deployment of human and physical
resources; budgeting for digitisation; staff training; acquisition
and maintenance of new equipment; the preservation of digital objects,
prioritising what to digitise; and maintaining current projects. Management
may need to acquire new sets of skills in order that they might deal
appropriately with the new issues associated with a digital world.
Given the scope of this new undertaking and the existing commitments
of management, it will be highly desirable to establish methods of
encouraging and supporting professional development in appropriate
areas for management and to explore support mechanisms that will minimise
the burden of change and maximise the efficiency of the transition.
The methods and mechanism that might be employed in this regard:
- workshops conducted on issues such as: risk management, change
management, ownership/copyright, managing staff training, budgeting
- the publication and dissemination of national and international
best practice case-studies
- an Internet site devoted to the publication and dissemination
of professional development material including open discussion groups
establishment of regional management reference groups that meet
to promote collaboration and sharing of experiences and lessons
learnt at a regional level
- a register of projects currently under way or planned in museums
- a register of consultants organised according to the services
The provision of effective professional development appropriate to
the new service in which management will find themselves requires
appropriate needs analysis, planning, resourcing, constant evaluation
The managers of museums hold key positions in the decision-making
process with regard to their online policies. However, it is a point
of fact that most managers of museums, like managers of most similar
sized commercial organisations, grew up in the pre-information technology
age and certainly the pre-World Wide Web age. For most, their schooling
and professional training pre-dates electronic calculators, word processors
and fax machines. They were taught and accessed information in what
are now termed, traditional methods, and they mainly disseminated
their ideas on paper.
In short, managers of our museums did not grow up in our current
information age; rather, they are in the process of adapting to it
with varying degrees of willingness and success. The speed and all-embracing
nature of this revolution challenges managers to anticipate the changes
and to adapt themselves and their organisations appropriately.
It must be said that the successful transition to the online world
and to new business models by each museums will depend to a large
extent on the degree to which managers re-skill and on their vision
of the future.
Digitisation of content and management of digital objects will bring
with it certain obligations and potential liabilities. If we characterise
the obligations and potential liabilities as risks it should be acknowledged
that these risks need to be identified and then managed.
A risk analysis should seek to examine, for potential or actual failure
to meet obligations, the procedures and protocols adopted by the institution
as it undertakes each of the following aspects of creating an online
- staff training
- purchase of hardware and software
- allocation of resources
- the digitisation of physical objects
- copyright and ownership
- indexing and cataloguing
- storage medium
- migration of digital objects
- provision of access to digital objects
Once the risks have been identified risk management systems can be
introduced with the aim of any one or all of:
- eliminating or reducing risks;
- sharing risks;
- and/or transferring risks.
Managers of museums will require support and direction in identifying
aspects of their institution’s digitisation process that require application
of risk management procedures. They will also require expert advice
and would benefit from the collective experience of their colleagues
when selecting and applying risk management policies.
Just as managers of museums will require well targeted professional
development to help manage their institutions effectively in the digital
age so too will their staff require specific training in new disciplines
and techniques. Institutions will require staff whose combined skill-sets
embrace, in the right combination, the following functions:
- preservation, archiving and disposal of digital objects
- cataloguing and indexing digital objects
- preparing objects for digitisation
- the use of online navigational tools and finding aids
- the monitoring of digitisation procedures and performing of quality
- preparation of detailed instructions for digitisation - whether
in-house or outsourced
- technical knowhow in operating digitisation hardware and software
- web graphic design and authoring
- webserver technical expertise
- online marketing strategies and e-commerce
The training of personnel to perform these functions requires a coordinated
national approach in every country similar to that suggested for the
professional development of management.
Within nations and cities the sharing of human resources between
institutions that are in close physical proximity of one-another is
a resourcing strategy that has much to recommend it and deserves careful
consideration. The sharing may take the form of an individual or team
that has particular skills in one or several aspects of digitisation
consulting to all museums in a capital city or region. In addition,
another model may see staff in one institution with specialist expertise
in their cultural sector consult to that sector on a national basis.
Possible advantages of these collaborative models are: the fast-tracking
of online programs; the utilisation of best-practice by all participating
institutions; and the dissemination of knowledge and skills which
will increase the national pool of skilled personnel. An alternative
is the establishment of at least one all-round skilled person who
works solely in the one collecting institution. This approach is based
on the premise that a rapport with staff, availability and an intimate
understanding of the institution’s ethos and vision are essential
ingredients in successful consulting and cannot easily be achieved
if the consultant is operating from outside the institution.
As with so many issues raised in this paper, it is unlikely that
one approach will serve the needs of all. A successful resolution
to this issue is more likely to reside in an approach that recognises
the differing circumstances between institutions themselves and which
offers various models for the timely provision of suitably trained
In the online world, competition amongst museums for home page hits
and for securing customers for digital archives will be intense. And
it is not just the museum down the road that will be the competitor
to watch but the Getty, Louvre, Victoria & Albert – the competition
is any museum, anywhere in the world that has gone online. To compete,
museums will need to develop differentiators that separate them from
the pack. Value-added services, effective web-site design, pricing
of digital objects and marketing are all key elements in differentiating
one digital archive from another.
Differentiating requires market intelligence. Museums have to get
to know what the market wants – what objects in the collection will
people be most interested in (this should instruct the prioritisation
policy for digitisation of the collection), what are the price-points,
what value-added services do people want and how can they be brought
back to the site time, and time again. The market research needs to
establish answers to these questions and to provide on-constant monitoring
of the market-place in this regard.
At his paper presented at the First International Memory of the World
Conference in June 1996, Ray Edmondson, from the Australian National
Film and Sound Archive, proposed this approach to addressing the preservation
crisis facing audiovisual material the world over :
"I believe coordinated action - national, regional
and global - is a strategic necessity if we are going to save the
audiovisual memory of the world. We haven’t always been good at this.
Now we must be. Much has been irretrievably lost; much more is on
the brink; trained and committed people are the foundation of development;
and we need the strategic and collective approach. Nitrate - and acetate
- won’t wait."
Although he was referring to audiovisual objects, Edmondson’s plea
for cooperation and collaboration at a national and international
level strikes at the heart of the way ahead for tackling the significant
issues raised in this paper. The online world has scant regard for
the physical world’s differentiation between libraries, museums, galleries
and archives, so those that can achieve effective collaboration between
institutions across the sectors and within each sector will have an
important competitive advantage over others.
If we do not move efficiently and effectively to provide models and
pathways that help resolve the complex issues facing owners and custodians
of digital information, then we risk losing much of our respective
cultural heritage and of jeopardising the benefits that digitisation
and on-line digital archives promise. The resolve must be found to
ensure that neither of these scenarios comes to pass.
The digital technology of today provides us with new and powerful
means of preserving our cultural heritage and making it accessible
to all in a medium that is empowering, equitable and convenient. However,
the technological revolution in which museums are currently operating
presents several significant challenges to those institutions:
- the rapidity with which new and better technologies are emerging;
- the increasing rate of obsolescence of digital technologies used
to store and provide access to digital objects; and
- the proliferation of hardware and software solutions.
The rapid increase in power and functionality of digital technology
and of the computers in homes, schools and community centres through
which people will access digital archives creates the dilemma of when
to commit to purchasing and/or using new equipment. The promise of
things to come can debilitate the online program yet hasty decisions
can prove costly and more importantly may endanger the long-term preservation
of digital objects. Strategies are needed for anticipating new technologies
and estimating their likely impact on online programs and for evaluating
digital technologies that have been released to assess their suitability
A number of observers have called the World Wide Web an immature
technical environment. This suggests that at some point in the future
it will become "mature" with the attendant stability and
familiarity that that term implies. However, given the history of
technological change over the past fifteen years and the predictions
of even more rapid and far reaching changes into the foreseeable future,
the question arises: will the World Wide Web ever be "mature"?
Will it not always be in a state of flux, with great improvements
always around the corner? The challenge to management then is to manage
The issue of obsolescence may be seen to comprise of two main aspects:
- obsolescence of the media on which digital objects are stored;
- obsolescence of the hardware used to read the media on which data
Digital data, as we understand it, does have a finite shelf-life.
The pits etched into a CD ROM that constitute data and the bits stored
magnetically on storage devices such as hard disks do deteriorate
over time. Yet, even if the bits remained forever on these or new
storage media it is highly unlikely that the hardware used to store
and read that media will itself have a life beyond five to seven years.
If the publicity is to be believed, certain new CD ROMs are
capable of retaining data stored on them for up to 200 years. The
question to ask is: will the technology used now to read these CD
ROMs be available in 10 years’ time, leave alone 200 years from now?
The transition from the 5.25 inch floppy diskette that were marvelled
at when first released to 3.5 inch mini-diskettes over the past five
years is perhaps a more stark reminder of how we misguidedly attribute
immortality to that which always seems exciting new technology. What
future the 3.5inch mini-diskette?
Managing obsolescence requires a collaborative decision-making process
within museums that brings together managers, technicians and accountants
and which is mindful of best practice models, the potential for resource
sharing with other institutions, balancing cost with the obligation
to provide and maintain the means of access to digital information
(even though they might be obsolete in the public arena) and technological
developments either pending or which seem likely in the future.
Managing the issues of obsolescence and migration is complicated
further by the sheer number of technology solutions that are in the
market-place today. Whilst the ever increasing array of possible technical
solutions constitutes a competitive market-place keeping prices down
and encouraging a service ethos, it does mean that institutions are
obliged to vet numerous solutions and solution providers.
For those institutions investigating digital storage formats for
sound recordings there are about twelve viable solutions in the market
place. The number of scanners, digital cameras, compression cards,
CD ROM burners, browser plugins and utilities and other hardware and
software associated with online archives is increasing. In addition,
the number of companies offering solutions is increasing rapidly.
Choosing the right hardware or software platform and solution provider
is a time-consuming and demanding task. It requires a:
- thorough needs analysis to define exactly what technical solution
- very sound understanding of technical issues and of the process
for which the solution is sought so costly and time-consuming pitfalls
might be avoided; and
- well articulated brief so that potential suppliers might understand
the institution’s needs and respond accordingly and so that effective
and meaningful contractual arrangements can be entered into.
Providing resources at appropriate levels presents a number of significant
challenges to collecting institutions. Each raises issues of what
constitutes an appropriate level; what is the most suitable training
program, equipment and software; how should the various products and
services be purchased and maintained; what is the time-frame for the
provision of these resources; and what amount of funds should be allocated
to the digitisation process.
The successful balancing, on one hand, of resources against, on the
other, the institution’s charter and social responsibility requires
constant re-evaluation of the deployment of the former and a deep
understanding of, and commitment to, the latter.
Establishing budgets to undertake digitisation and digital object
preservation can be a complex and often unsatisfactory exercise for
museums and other collecting organisations. There are a number of
inter-related reasons for this:
- digitisation is too new for there to be a sufficient number of
digitisation programs or sufficiently advanced strategies to provide
reliable cost models;
- data relevant to costings from online programs that have been
undertaken is not readily accessible nor has it necessarily been
recorded with view to providing cost models;
- general uncertainty as to what technology to acquire and under
what acquisition model (purchase, rent or lease?) in a market-place
in which new technologies and solutions are unveiled regularly and
where purchase prices reduce over time;
- general uncertainty as to the nature and quantity of personnel
and physical resources that are required or need to be redeployed
immediately and over time; and
- the unpredictability of the rate of obsolescence of hardware and
software and the resultant necessity for purchasing new equipment
and for the migration of data.
In budgeting for digitisation programs, it would be prudent for institutions
to engage in a costings exercise involving a thorough identification
and costing of the physical and human resources required. The experience
of the Australian National Film and Sound Archives and of the Australian
Archives suggest that the most common cost items apart from the cost
of hardware and software, include: research and development, the process
of digitisation itself, and intellectual control, data transfer, storage
and delivery systems, as well as for the training of personnel and
the development of a range of appropriate management systems. Implied
in this list, yet deserving of particular mention, are the cost of
selection, cataloguing and indexing and migration of data.
Of less obvious and immediate impact on the cost is the on-going
cost of maintenance, staff training and provision and maintenance
of electronic or personal "help-desks" in cases where the
public or other institutions have access to the digital archive.
The complexity of establishing a budget is reflected in the somewhat
complex situation where most institutions that embark on a digitisation
strategy will need to undertake and maintain three parallel digitisation
- digitisation of the collection as it existed pre-establishment
of the program
- digitisation of additions to the collection post-establishment
of the program
- preservation of digital objects - both those created via the digitisation
program and those that originated as digital objects
These three programs will, of course, be running in parallel with
all other programs and day-to-day activities undertaken by the institution
and with which they will compete for the finite resources.
This paper has argued that the World Wide Web is forcing a re-defining
of the role and business of museums. This re-defining is being brought
about by agents of change that emanate from the online world such
as: the increasingly sophisticated technology, finding and navigation
aids; consumer demand; and the widely acknowledged benefits that digitisation
offers to collection management and preservation of objects.
Having established that the re-defining of museums is occurring,
the paper then outlines the nature of those changes - that is, how
the World Wide Web will impact on the way museums operate. The aspects
of museums that are being re-defined include: the very business in
which they are engaged; the way they perceive and respond to users,
their role as custodians of the national heritage and culture and
their relationship with other collecting institutions (convergence
as opposed to differentiation).
Finally, in order to provide constructive and helpful advice on the
ways to manage change, the paper dealt with areas such as: management
training, how to resource online programs, collaborative methodologies,
budgeting and the imperative of market research.
The rapid expansion of the World Wide Web into all sectors of business
and government and into our personal lives, together with the more
enabling and user-friendly technologies being developed mean that
museums that do not establish and implement an effective online strategy
will eventually be marginalised by both users and funding bodies.
Last modified: April 7, 1998. This file can be found below http://www.archimuse.com/mw98/
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