Guidelines for Developing Digital Cultural Collections

Guidelines for Developing Digital Cultural Collections

Irene Lourdi (National & Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece) and Mara Nikolaidou (Harokopio University of Athens, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-879-6.ch019
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his chapter presents basic guidelines for maintaining digital cultural collections in order for them to be interoperable and easily retrievable from users. The requirements of cultural material are discussed and it is shown how in combination with the adequate metadata schema policy a digital cultural collection can cover the various needs for learning and retrieving information. The authors emphasize the fact that various metadata schemas are used for describing cultural collections and that this leads to problems for interoperability. It is analyzed that while designing a digital collection, the internal structure of material must be followed and the metadata model must cover specific needs; furthermore, a data preservation policy is a considerable issue in the digital era.
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Material Organization And Management Policy

Cultural heritage institutions should adjust their digital collection planning according to user needs and the nature of material. In most cases, cultural collections contain heterogeneous material with unique characteristics, like written texts, photographs, physical objects, sound recordings, maps, or even born-digital material. Consequently, it is justifiable to have collections and subcollections with complex structure and rich semantics.

Since cultural objects are heterogeneous, they should be grouped according to criteria either, facilitating users with easy access or expressing internal standards following the holding institution (owner of the collection). As such, criteria can be, for instance, the topic coverage, the specific usage or purpose that each resource has in the context of the collection, the provenance, the type of material, or the geographic region and historical period the object covers. It is useful to create subcollections (if they do not preexist), since it is easier to represent composite structures and accredit rich semantics to any level. By defining specific groups of objects, the whole collection and subcollections can easily be manipulated as separate objects with their characteristics and metadata elements; like all the other digital items, the attributes inherited from the collection to subcollections are identified and the overall collection can be effectively navigated by users (Lourdi, 2005).

In case a cultural heritage collection consists of composite objects like texts with photographs or traditional dressings, it is a good practice to separate them into their parts and represent their structure. Composite objects must be decomposed into their disparate parts since it is possible to characterize them individually with the appropriate metadata elements, as it is proposed above.

Besides material organization, another crucial issue for a cultural collection is the management policy, and more specifically the administration policy. In a digitization project, it is important to preserve the holding institution policy concerning the access restrictions and material protection rules. For instance, whether it is about unique and rare material with copyright issues or the purposes of the institution is not to provide the material freely to audience, digital collection plan shall respect these matters and shall not give full access to a collection and its contents.

The most prevailing factor for a digitization project is material preservation. Most cultural heritage institutions consider digitization as the best solution for preserving rare and vulnerable material in the future. So for administration purposes, a digital collection shall follow the most accepted digitization practices and shall preserve all the information related with digitization process and devices.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Cultural Collection: It is a digital collection which contains digitized or born-digital cultural material.

Interoperability: The ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the exchanged information without special effort on either system.

Crosswalks: It is used to translate elements in one metadata schema into those in another metadata schema. It is one of the most commonly used methods to implement interoperability between metadata schemas. The mechanism is usually a table that represents the semantic mapping of data elements in one metadata schema (source) to those in another metadata schema (target) based on the similarity of meaning of the elements.

Application Profiles: They usually consist of multiple metadata elements drawn from one or more metadata schemas, combined into a compound schema, and optimized for a particular requirement.

Metadata Container: It is the unit for aggregating the typed metadata sets, which are known as packages. A container may be either transient or persistent. In its transient form, it exists as a transport object between and among repositories, clients, and agents. In its persistent form, it exists as a first-class object in the information infrastructure. That is, it is stored on one or more servers and is accessible from these servers using a globally accessible identifier (URI). We note that a container may also be wrapped within another object (i.e., one that is a wrapper for both data and metadata). In this case the “wrapper” object will have a URI rather than the metadata container itself.

Metadata: Metadata are data about data, that is, where that data are located and what they is used for. A good analogy is that of a library catalogue card which contains data about the nature and location of a book.

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