Resources For The Cultural Heritage Sector

I’m pleased to report that an area of the UKOLN Web site dedicated to the cultural heritage sector has now been launched.

Historical Context

UKOLN has had close links with the cultural heritage sector for many years – when I joined UKOLN back in 1996 UKOLN was funded by BLRIC (British Library Research and Innovation Centre) together with the JISC. Over time this funding body changed, initially to the LIC (Library and Information Commission) and then, as the library, museums and archives sectors moved more closely linked, by Resource which was subsequently renamed MLA (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council).

Engagement With The Sector

UKOLN is perhaps uniquely placed to exploit its close links with the higher and further education communities, libraries (both academic and public) and museums and archives. Over the past couple of years I have become very actively involved in supporting the museums sector, having been a program committee member, speaker, workshop facilitator and chair at the Museums and the Web conferences in 2007 and 2008 and a speaker at UK Museums on the Web conferences in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.

But perhaps more significant to the broader cultural heritage sector are the workshops we have been running which have attracted participants from across a range of museums, libraries and archives. This has included workshops held on behalf of MLA London and MLA Yorkshire and CyMAL (the Welsh equivalent of MLA). We have also run workshops for the Society of Archives in 2007 and 2008, with a workshop for the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions to be held in November.

Many of these workshops focus on ways in which Web 2.0 can provide benefits to the cultural heritage sector, although a rather wider perspective on the digital landscape is often provided, covering additional areas such as the preservation of digital resources.

Changing Political Context

The importance for UKOLN (which is a JISC Innovation Centre) to engage in this way with the cultural heritage sector was highlighted in Elspeth Hyams’ editorial in the CILIP Update magazine (June 2008, Vol. 7, No. 6) has the byline ”In This Climate, You Have To Innovate“.  As Elspeth described (and I commented upon recently)The age of the quiescent library or information manager or service is dead“.

The editorial went on to describe the MLA’s action plan for public libraries and reports on the MLA’s Chief Executive, Roy Clare, calls for “radical action on structure, far-sighted leadership vision and more public Private Partnerships“. The editorial concludes with the warning that “It’s not just a challenge for the academic schools, but for all of us” but also suggests that “we should use tough times as a golden opportunity to focus on the strategy – and upgrade and refresh our skills“.

I think it is clear from these comments that significant changes will be needed within the cultural heritage sector. And indeed Roy Clare has commented on the failures of previous national initiatives to deliver compelling user-focussed services. As reported in a post on the MCG JISCmail list: “Roy Clare highlighted the NOF Digitise project as an example of where we went wrong in assuming that mass digitisation and online publishing of collections would be engaging“.

The political and funding changes (it seems public sector money is now being used to fund the 2012 Olympics) are taking place at a time in which Web 2.0 approaches are steadily gaining momentum, with smaller organisations (and indeed organisations) now being able provide services which previously would have required significant amounts of funding.

The need to ensure that “engaging” digital services are provided by cultural heritage organisations underpins the workshops we have been providing. It also reflects the strategic thinking of various national bodies, including the National Library of Wales which in its Shaping the future: The Library’s strategy 2008-2009 to 2010-201 document (PDF format) states that:

We propose … Taking advantage of new online technology, including the construction of Web 2.0 services, to develop progressive ways of interacting with users. It is expected that the Library itself will provide only some specific services on its website. Instead, the intention is to promote and facilitate the use of the collections by external users, in accordance with specific guidelines.

A review of the uses of Web 2.0 services by the National Library of Wales was given in a talk by Paul Bevan at the first Sharing Made Simple: An Introduction to the Social Web workshop  – and I’m pleased to say that Paul describes this work as a co-author of an invited paper on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” which I’ll be presenting at the Bridging Worlds 2008 conference in Singapore in a few weeks time.

UKOLN is well-positioned to identify such examples of best practices, make the examples available to wider audiences, encourage debate and use such case studies in the development of more general models for the sector.  In this respect our links with the higher education sector is particularly valuable, as higher eductaional institutions seem to be better positioned to make early use of innoovative new technologies and has a healthy tradition of encouraging open debate on the merits of such innovation.

Resources For The Sector

The new area of the UKOLN Web site provides access to a variety of resources on a range of issues of particular relevance to the cultural heritage sector, and brings together information previously distributed across the UKOLN Web site.

As well as providing access to the events we’ll be running another important area of the Web site is the IntroBytes area, which provides access to a range of briefing document we have produced, sometimes in conjunction with practitioners from the cultural heritage sector. These documents are used at many of the event we run, which helps to ensure that we receive feedbackon the content of the documents. It should also be noted that the documents are available under a Creative Commons licence, which permits their reuse for non-commercial purposes. This licence was chosen in order to ensure that the resources can be embedded for use within organisation in the cultureal heritage sector (and beyond).


We have received positive feedback on our results, as can be seen from comments provided at the recent workshops for CyMAL (which was given a rating of 5.35 out of a maximum score of 6) and MLA Yorkshire.

In order to ensure the ongoing sustainability of our work for the cultural heritage sector we are now running workshops on a cost-recovery basis for the wider sector. This has included workshops for the voluntary sector and CyMAL with additional workshops already scheduled for CyMAL and ASVA.

If anyone would be interested in organising a workshop along the lines described, feel free to get in touch.