Digital archives typically act as stand-alone digital libraries to support search and discovery by users to access its rich set of digitized materials. Additionally, content stored in these archives have been utilized and combined to create different thematic online virtual exhibitions (VEs). Such exhibitions are important complimentary counterparts to physical exhibitions, especially in the context of cultural institutions such as museums, archives, and libraries. Well constructed VEs can offer alternative experiences to the “real thing” and open up other opportunities that include education and learning, more content beyond physical exhibits, support for active participation and contribution by visitors through forums and uploads, online shopping, and others. This chapter outlines a number of concepts and design considerations for the development of VEs from digital archives. When supported by the right tools and approaches, creation of VEs can be highly effective and efficient with minimal technological knowledge. By considering the important issues of metadata, system architecture design, and development techniques, it becomes possible to generate a series of VEs to meet the needs of different user groups and at the same time cater to the constraints of the client computers, thereby providing the users the best possible experience in engaging with the VEs.
The Digital Library Federation defines digital libraries (DLs) as “organisations that provide the resources, including the specialised staff, to select, structure, offer intellectual access to, interpret, distribute, preserve the integrity of, and ensure the persistence over time of collections of digital works so that they are readily available for use by a defined community or set of communities” (http://gale.cengage.com/usnewspapers/index.htm; Bruns, 2007). Similarly, in the UK, 19th century British Library newspaper and old books are being digitized and preserved (Ashling, 2008) by British Library. Additionally, the Library will build a secure national digital archive of 300 terabytes to store all publications born digitally like CD-ROMS and electronic journals. Alongside this development, the National Archives have been tasked with securing Whitehall’s digital legacy by preserving government information that is born digital (Griffin, 2007). Other parts of the world like Australia and Singapore are also embarking upon such initiatives.
Key Terms in this Chapter
System Architecture: The design and representation of a system in which there is a mapping of functionality onto hardware and software components, a mapping of software architecture onto the hardware architecture, and the human interaction with these components to form a software or information retrieval system.
Metadata: Metadata is data about data, or information about information. Metadata are documentation about documents and objects; they describe resources, indicate where they are located, and outline what is required in order to use them successfully. Metadata are data associated with objects which relieves their potential users of having to have full advanced knowledge of their existence or characteristics. Metadata are data that describe attributes of a resource, characterize its relationships, support its discovery and effective use, and exists in an electronic environment.
Digital Archives: An information retrieval system that stores digitized primary sources of information and is accessible by computers for browsing, search, and retrieval. The digital content, generally grouped by provenance and original order, may be stored locally, or accessed remotely via computer networks. The content is usually unique and one-of-a-kind and cannot be found or consulted at any other location except at the archive that holds them.
Virtual Exhibitions: A Web-based hypermedia collection of captured or rendered multidimensional information objects, possibly stored in distributed networks, designed around a specific theme, topic concept or idea, and harnessed with state-of-art technology and architecture to deliver a user-centered and engaging experience of discovery, learning, contributing, and being entertained through its nature of its dynamic product and service offerings.