Memory Institutions


Kim H. Veltman

Scientific Director, Virtual Maastricht McLuhan Institute

“Keynote: Memory Institutions in a Networked World”

Memory in Digits. Communication of Memory in Archives, Museums and Libraries: The Interaction of Science, Policy and Practice, International Conference, 4-5 October, 2007, Vilnius.


The idea of networks for culture goes back to visions of a world brain (1907) and Paul Otlet’s ideas concerning world knowledge (1935). Practical steps go back to the founding of the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN, 1972). The 1990s saw efforts through the European Commission to treat libraries, museums and archives as part of a single challenge (cf. conference title). Since then, three waves of convergence have transformed the Internet into a) Multimedia networks; b) Networked Information Communication Technologies (ICT), and more recently towards c) Universal Convergence Technologies (UCT), variously called NBIC, CTEK and Bio-Systemics Synthesis.

These changes are transforming expectations, and challenges for memory institutions and the public alike. Since 1990, the Internet has expanded from 1 million to over 1,173 million fixed users (as of 30 June 2007) with an estimated 700 million mobile Internet users by the end of 2007. English, which was over 95% of the Internet in 1990, is 31.7% in July 2007. Chinese and Spanish are now in positions two and three. The scale of projects has expanded enormously. Scanning of text has risen from 1 MB to 767 MB per page. Scanning of images has risen from 1MB to 30GB. Demos of reconstructions have grown from 10 MB to 8 Terabytes. The largest library networks now have over 76 million unique titles. There are plans to scan the full texts of over 60 million books by the year 2020. The frontiers of the film industry now transmit an average of 1 terabyte every 24 hours.

The trends towards convergence also introduce new possibilities, whereby mobile cameras can become networked with memory institutions and part of a learning and knowledge lifecycle. Ultimately we need new systems, which open research into multiple ways of knowing, multiple “knowledges”. In the past, we went to libraries to study the recorded world. In a world where cameras and sensors are omnipresent we have new recording worlds. In future, we may also use these recording worlds to study the riches of libraries and memory institutions.

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