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Conference Report


D-Lib Magazine
June 2004

Volume 10 Number 6

ISSN 1082-9873

Beyond Productivity

Culture and Heritage Resources in the Digital Age


John Perkins
MusInfo Consulting, Canada

David Dawson
Senior ICT Adviser
Museums, Libraries, Archives Council, (MLA), UK

Kati Geber
Manager, Applications Interface Design
Canadian Heritage Information Network, (CHIN), Canada

Red Line



Building upon earlier meetings in London [1], Washington, DC [2], and Pistoia [3], members of the Cultural Content Forum (CCF) [4] gathered earlier this year in Canada for the CCF fourth annual meeting. Participants engaged in new discussions around information, technology, and creative practices, revisited ongoing work to better understand digital cultural content for e-learning and audience engagement, and agreed to a statement of purpose and activities for a further three-year period.

The Opening Workshop

The Forum began with a one-day public workshop held in Calgary for 75 international participants around the theme "Beyond Productivity: Culture and Heritage Resources in the Digital Age". The workshop used a landmark study released in 2003 by the National Research Council of the National Academies in the United States [5] as a point of departure for a series of twelve presentations intended to provide a fresh perspective on the issues that emerging technologies and uses of them are raising for cultural heritage institutions. The visuals and webcast archive for the all presentations and discussion are available on the CHIN web site [6].

The opening keynote address was by Chris Batt, CEO of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council of the UK. His talk on "Digital Futures" proposed cultural assets as agents of creativity, learning and social cohesion in ways that could be fun as well as informative. He challenged cultural institutions to be leaders in creating digital resources of this nature that are accessible and useful for the benefit of everyone.

The first session featured presentations by Alan S. Inouye, of the US National Research Council's Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, who outlined key findings from the Beyond Productivity report [5], and Liss Jeffrey, from the McLuhan Global Research Network who examined the communities of creative practice that accompanied IT advancement citing compelling examples and offering provocations. From different perspectives both speakers stressed the benefits and challenges of nourishing cross-disciplinary collaboration between the IT and creative practices sectors.

The second morning session looked at paradigm shifts in the contemporary use of online library resources and virtual museums. Lynn Benson discussed expectations and practices by users of the National Library of New Zealand's online resources and the Library's responses to changing patterns of use. She stressed the shift in importance from content itself to getting people connected to it and making it useful. She cited several examples of collaborations with Maori first nation communities, connecting them to primary digital resources for mutual benefit. Curator Steve Dietz reported a number of findings from a recent study paper he co-authored for the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) to examine the concepts of digital libraries and virtual museums ten years after their advent [7]. He presented design, technical, architectural, and infrastructural observations and recommendations then concluded—like the other speaker in this session—by stressing the critical need to shift from being content-centric to audience-centric.

The morning ended with a presentation by Pierre Lévy, University of Ottawa, of a high-level conceptual model for formalizing deep semantic structures useful for making cultural information more richly available for Semantic Web applications.

In the afternoon the focus continued to be primarily on learning and audience, with an interjection on collaboration and creativity linking back to the morning's opening theme. Jean Gagnon from the Daniel Langlois Foundation observed in his presentation that museums and other cultural organizations often lack the resources, skills and knowledge to preserve and make accessible works of art that depend on technological components. He cited the Variable Media Initiative [8] and CR+D [9] as two examples of inter-disciplinary collaborations that are taking creative, new approaches to preservation of digital content.

Jose Marie Griffiths, of the Sara Fine Institute, introduced the concept of "knowledge and learning communities" as a primary consumer of digital cultural content. She urged cultural institutions to recognize the social aspects of these communities by thinking less about "managing content for users" and more about "creating a culture of knowing". She too made the point of how important it is for providers to really know what learning communities are, what they want and what they care about.

John Falk, of the Institute for Learning Innovation followed with an analysis of learning behaviors of visitors to virtual and physical cultural institutions. He argued that the primary learning behavior of visitors is "free choice learning" as opposed to other sorts of assigned or imposed learning tasks and these are roughly the same—the availability of extensive data notwithstanding—for virtual as they are for physical visits. Because, he argued, "the world of tomorrow is about free choice learning," it is important for cultural institutions to understand it better. In that regard he posited that the usually collected demographics information about audiences (e.g., gender, age, race, education level, etc.) are better predictors of what people will buy than how they learn. Instead, he asserted, it is more important to care about prior knowledge and experience, interest level, expectation and motivation.

Ana Serrano, Canadian Film Centre, pushed the concept of audience even further, suggesting that visitors be thought of not as consumers of content but rather as collaborators in the creative process. Visitors employ a number of "creative acts" she termed collecting (curating), rating, designing, building and hacking in their interaction with content, and they need to do the ones of these that are important to them for any given visit to have a good "experience".

The Institute of Museum and Libraries Services (IMLS) Director Robert Martin closed with his observations of patterns or themes that emerged or recurred throughout the day. He noted, drawing on Chris Batt's metaphor from his opening keynote address, that what cultural institutions are working on is something new "in the same way an iron horse is not a horse" and that technology is a catalyst, not the focus, in this effort. Further, while intellectual property, preservation of traditional and new media, and media convergence issues all are factors in the state-of-play of digital online services, the overwhelming focus of the day's comment was on understanding audiences and focusing on their human and social purposes.

The Banff Forum

In keeping with the format of previous CCF meetings, 30 invited participants adjourned to the Banff New Media Institute for more deliberations on the topics explored in Calgary, revisiting work identified or in progress from previous meetings, and forging agreement on the purpose and activities of the CCF for the next three years.

Jean Marc Blais, Director General of the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN), opened with a brief explanation of CHIN's shift in focus for the Virtual Museum of Canada (VMC) away from access, characterized broadly as users having a way to get to content, to communications characterized more by understanding the user, their needs, context of use and learning behavior. CHIN did this in response to analysis of usage and engagement patterns on the VMC that is leading them to think much more about audience issues such as measuring engagement, and understanding learning, meaning-making, contexts and personalization.

David Dawson followed with a presentation on the results of a study by Alice Grant Consulting for the Cultural Content Forum (CCF) titled Analysis of User Needs & Evaluation Studies of Digital Cultural Content. [10] This work first gathered published and unpublished material relating to the evaluation of digital cultural resources. The 90+ items documenting the material received is available as both a searchable and downloadable dataset from the CHIN or CCF websites [11].

Research was undertaken on the submitted materials to identify common indicators and trends relating to the development and use of evaluation methods for cultural information resources and gaps in available research, and to propose an evaluation research agenda for the future. The consultant also focused on two tasks mandated by the CCF participants in the Pistoia meeting:

  • an assessment of the extent to which common user profiles were used in different evaluation projects and whether these could form the basis of a standardized approach; and
  • an assessment of any metrics used in evaluation projects which could form the basis for a benchmark for assessing digital resources.

The report [10] comments there is strong evidence for an emerging consensus for the use of common user profiles across the sector, but the development of standard profiles should reflect the need for multiple attributes to be assigned to groups of users. The analysis found little if any evidence of a common approach to evaluation metrics and suggests this is unlikely to become a possibility until there is more sectoral agreement on evaluation methodologies and their integration into projects. The report concludes with recommendations that cultural organizations should promote skills and training for staff involved evaluation in projects, promote greater investment of time and resources in evaluations, work to raise the awareness of the need for evaluations, promote good practice, and be more open about sharing methods and results.

Dawson concluded by noting that the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) [12] has advanced one of these recommendations by engaging the same consultant to look more closely at developing standard evaluation methodologies and, with the MINERVA [13] project, was investigating issues of quality in cultural websites.

Jose Marie Griffiths continued the session with an introduction to her IMLS-funded national survey of information needs and expectations of users and potential users of online resources in the USA [14]. The study is tasked with providing data and recommendations for organizing and presenting cultural content and mechanisms for delivering it that best meets user needs. Early in its mandate the study—similar to the CCF study [10]—is conducting a literature review, looking at base user profiles across 400 studies, and asking deep questions about who users are, and what they're doing. It is also looking across multiple studies to extract and understand glossaries, taxonomies, insights, biases, trends to similar practices and other relevant characteristics such as rapidly changing needs. Jose Marie stressed that her study, as well as the CCF study, should be thought of as being at the beginning of identifying the pieces of the puzzle, realizing that the picture will change as it evolves.

After a short presentation by Robert Martin on the World Summit on Information Societies held December 2003 [15] where mention was made of libraries, archives and museums being at the heart of information societies, the participants had a series of short presentations designed to expose recent developments in national programs and to provide context for group deliberations on the meeting themes.

Ted Bairstow, Director General, Canadian Culture Online (CCO) [16] spoke of its mandate to anticipate a future where the majority of Canadians spend time in interactive space being engaged, entertained and informed. The CCO program will then plan for meeting these needs. He recounted how CCO not only funds content creation but increasingly is looking at engaging stakeholders, building audiences and engaging Canada's new media industry to ensure fulfilling CCO's mandate. Ian Wilson, National Archivist of Canada presented a vision for the newly integrated National Archives and National Library of Canada that uses digital technology and content to reach Canadians to provide an unprecedented level of service and access. Through a connected network of every public library, Canadians will have access to collections of documents and images, authored and compiled resources, thematic and topical websites, digital-on-demand services and, as a national community, the collected materials and experiences that constitute the memory of a nation.

Simulacra Media's CEO Patrick Towell urged cultural institutions to understand what services and products in which they, as primarily public organizations, should invest and to make good business cases for those investments. Towell asked rhetorically, "in a consumerist brand-led world do we need to market culture as strongly as burgers?" He presented ideas on applying the concept of Value Chain [17] to cultural institutions and delivery of digital services based on work in the UK for Digital Learning Content [18]. By applying value chain analysis to decisions about products, services and markets organizations can determine more clearly what roles to undertake themselves, what to accomplish through partnerships and what to leave for others to do. In the development and delivery of sustainable services created around digital cultural content (even if free at point of use), the necessary mix of "value disciplines'\"—product innovation, operational efficiency and customer intimacy—can then be applied by those organizations best placed to deliver them.

Der-Tsai Lee of Taiwan's Institute of Information Science spoke of the perception in Taiwan that digital content is one of the new national economic "twin stars" (the other being bio-technology). The National Digital Archives Programme contributes cultural content and other investments to preserve and popularize culture, speed cultural development, enhance literacy and support teachers in their classrooms with digital learning.

Professor Sung Hyuk Kim then spoke on the Korea Cultural Content Agency established by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to be a foundation for creativity and technology development through national and international partnerships, trade missions and fund developments.

Common Interests

The remainder of the meeting was devoted to discussion that aimed to identify areas of common interest, where participants agreed that solutions might be achievable, and how that might be best accomplished by the CCF as an ad hoc organization.

Participants expressed an overwhelming sense of value from the annual CCF meetings as a forum where participants convene collegially to learn, talk, meet, interact, think, reflect and be stimulated by conversation, presentations and discussion. There was also agreement that while they shared a number of problems or issues—audiences being a good example—that not all of these have common addressability. It was suggested that the strength of CCF is not so much in solving these issues within the group but rather identify common issues, strategize around them then have them find national solutions or be put out to other action organizations to implement. The group felt that there was a strong future for the CCF as "an activity not a governance-heavy organization" albeit an activity that needs memory and the ability to go forward.

Towards Common Solutions

In support of this common interest, CHIN, MLA, and IMLS offered to underwrite the basic CCF costs for a period of three years, ensuring an annual meeting and the effort needed to prepare it and report on it [19]. Their intention is to support the Digital Cultural Content Forum (DCCF) [20] to harness expertise and forge consensus among agencies worldwide to foster relationships, develop shared knowledge, and undertake activities to promote creativity, innovation, and excellence in the digital cultural content sector.

The next two annual meetings are provisionally scheduled for Europe in 2005 then the USA with a noted interest to expand international participation and membership.

Activities 2004-2007

While there was strong endorsement for holding future annual CCF meetings, the group struggled with numerous ideas about what topics, themes, issues, activities in progress might be condensed to an achievable agenda of work. Some participants felt the CCF should provide information, advice, ideas for processes in the broad areas of sustainability, content and programs development and delivery. Others felt an appropriate focus would be on an advocacy role, on high-level policy and architectural models for program sustainability, visioning the future of the cultural web, and encouraging collaborations.

In the end a short list of broad, topical themes was enumerated that will be discussed by email for a limited time and filtered down to a working agenda for subsequent meetings. The list included implementing organizational change, working with broadcasters, formalizing and structuring collaborations, using IT for sharing information and ideas, engaging e-science, exploring regulatory issues, completing audience studies, addressing sustainability, visioning the future, engaging in public sphere activities, and providing digital cultural services. Complementing this process will be a period of reflection and open-ended conversation aimed at firming up tractable problems and open issues. As a result of this reflection and conversation, background research and other preparations will be undertaken in support of future meetings.

More information on this work, and on the scoping process for it, will shortly be made available via the CCF website.


The authors wish to thank all of those from 10 countries who traveled to Canada to participate in this meeting. Without their attendance and ongoing participation, this initiative would be much diminished. Thanks are also due to the Department of Canadian Heritage, its departmental colleagues the Canadian Culture Online Program (CCOP), the eCulture Directorate, and CHIN, to MLA, IMLS, and CIMI and to the Banff New Media Institute whose environment had such a positive impact on our activities.

References & Notes

[1] Miller, P., Dawson, D. and Perkins, J. "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants", Cultivate Interactive, issue 5 URL: <>.

[2] Miller, P., Dawson, D. and Perkins, J. "Towards a Digital Cultural Content Forum", Cultivate Interactive, issue 7 URL: <>.

[3] Paul Miller, David Dawson, John Perkins, "Understanding the International Audiences for Digital Cultural Content", D-Lib Magazine, June 2003 URL: <doi:10.1045/june2003-miller>.

[4] The Cultural Content Forum URL: <>.

[5] William J. Mitchell, Alan S. Inouye, and Marjory S. Blumenthal, Editors. "Beyond Productivity, Information Technology, Innovation, and Creativity", The National Academies Press, Washington, DC. 2003 URL: <>

[6] Workshop webcast archive URL: <>.

[7] Study paper: Virtual Museum (of Canada): The Next Generation Steve Dietz, Howard Besser, Ann Borda, and Kati Geber with Pierre Lévy URL: <> >.

[8] The Variable Media Initiative URL: <>

[9] The Daniel Langlois Foundation's Centre for Research and Documentation (CR+D) URL: <>

[10] Evaluation of Digital Cultural Content: Analysis of Evaluation Material, Alice Grant Consulting for the CCF. November 3, 2003. URL: <>

[11] .The searchable dataset was prepared using the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set as a basis for the record structure with headings adapted for use to reflect the particular nature of the research. URL: <>.

[12] MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council is the UK organization formerly known as ReSource.

[13] MINERVA URL: <>

[14] IMLS Grant Award Description: University of Pittsburgh, Sara Fine Institute for Interpersonal Behavior and Technology - Pittsburgh, PA - $499,900 2003 National Leadership Grants for Libraries - Research & Demonstration. Using a variety of methods including a comprehensive literature search, focus groups and a nationwide survey, this study will provide a national model of the information universe, illustrating the size, scope, and complexity of the population of users and non-users. It will provide insights into users' information needs and expectations, their preferences for access modes and information content, and their experiences with using information online.

[15] World Summit on Information Societies URL: <>

[16] Canadian Culture Online URL: <>

[17] Concept of Value Chain by Michael Porter where a market need generates initial product ideas that go through stages of value-added activities that results in it being produced, published, disseminated, acquired, used, repurposed, etc. <>

[18] The Value Chain for Digital Learning Content in England, prepared by Patrick Towell, Gill Stewart, and Chitro Ghose of Simulacra for The Department for Education & Skills, Version 1.01 2003-07-07. URL: <>

[19] CHIN, MLA, IMLS terms of reference document for the Digital Cultural Content Forum. URL: <>

[20] DCCF will become the updated acronym for the CCF.


Copyright © 2004 John Perkins, David Dawson and Kati Geber

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