Memory Institutions


Kim H. Veltman

Digital Reference Rooms: Access to Historical and Cultural Dimensions of Knowledge

Lecture at: INET ’99 Conference, San Jose, 1999, 22 pp. (CD-ROM and Internet)

1. Introduction
2. Digital Libraries
3. Digital Museums
4. Digital Education
5. MEDICI Framework
6. Digital Reference Rooms
7. Authority Lists
8. New Search Strategies via Related Terms
9. New Forms of Meta-Data
10. Historical and Cultural Dimensions of Knowledge
11. Interoperability of Contents
12. Conclusions

1. Introduction

In the United States, the rhetoric about the information superhighway was initially focussed primarily on pipelines: the engineering infrastructure needed for connectivity. In Europe, where there is a goal of an information society, global interoperability of networks has been recognised as one of the fundamental preconditions. This challenge is being addressed at a European level through various R&D and deployment initiatives and at the world level through G8 pilot projects. These are providing the pipelines for high-speed transfer of information. As in the film Field of Dreams, there was a general approach of “build it and they (in this case, content) will come,” with an underlying assumption that once there is connectivity the problems are solved and all one needs to do, so to speak, is to pour or ship content down the pipeline.

In addition we need an intellectual framework for interoperability of contents. Important contributions in this direction are being made by the Internet Engineering task Force (IETF) of the Internet Society and the World Wide Web Consortium, particularly through their Resource Description Format (RDF). North American initiatives such as the National Science Foundation in the domains of Digital Libraries and Education; the Coalition of Networked Information; the National Initiative for Networked Cultural Heritage (NINCH) and the Dublin Core in the realm of metadata and ontologies (an American term for thesauri) also mark useful steps in this direction. Part one of the paper reviews major initiatives to provide networked access to cultural heritage with respect to libraries, museums and education. These initiatives are introducing some common standards to permit interoperability among distributed collections. A fundamental shortcoming of all these solutions, however, is that they are focussed almost exclusively on contemporary knowledge and as such ignore the historical and cultural dimensions of knowledge organisation.

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