Kim H. Veltman

Interfaces for Cultural Heritage

Tutorial: AVI (Advanced Visual Interfaces) ‘98, Aquila, May 1998. This was then developed as: Frontiers in Conceptual Navigation 2: Interfaces for Cultural Heritage and was published as a chapter in the book: Frontiers in Conceptual Navigation for Cultural Heritage, Toronto: Ontario Library association, 1999.


The newspapers and popular media constantly draw attention to an incredible rise in the amount of information especially through the Internet. Knight-Ridder News, for instance, recently cited an IBM study claiming that only seven percent of all corporate data is ever used. The amount of knowledge in great libraries and museums that is regularly used is less. Some major collections have as much as 94% of their holdings in storage. Thinkers such as Pierre Levy have written about these trends in terms of a second flood, as if there were no hope ever again of comprehending the masses of new information. Part one of this study, written as an independent paper, addressed how this great influx of information could be mastered, suggesting that a key lay in using the long tradition of ordering knowledge found in the library world. That paper outlined a System for Universal Media Searching (SUMS), focussed on the use of traditional two-dimensional lists and outlined briefly the potentials of three-dimensional presentation methods. It also outlined how such a system linked with a global digital reference room could lead to a new System for Universal Multi-Media Access (SUMMA).

This paper surveys different systems for visualising knowledge and emerging interface technologies such as three-dimensional spaces, voice-activated displays, haptic controls and direct connections to the brain. Since such technologies are often presented as solutions in search of an application, the main body of the paper focusses on functions and needs from a user’s viewpoint. Five basic functions are identified, namely, 1) virtual guides, 2) virtual museums, libraries and spatial navigation, 3) historical virtual museums, 4) imaginary museums and 5) various kinds of cultural research. The role of metadata is addressed briefly. Particular attention is given to the realms of research, where it is suggested that the new technologies will transform our concepts of knowledge. The implications for cultural interfaces of each function is explored. The paper ends with a series of challenges.

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