I recently had the pleasure of speaking to the EU Conference on Digitisation of Cultural Heritage, ‘Ready to Reach Out’ (29 and 30 June 2016, Amsterdam). This event brought together policy makers, institutional senior management, frontline curators and researchers to share knowledge and discuss strategies for improved practice in the use and impact of digital collections. There are many fascinating angles from which these issues can be considered, including approaches to multilingualism, audience development, rights management, data quality and fostering connections across domains.
Our session, ‘Object? What Object?’, was moderated by Lily Knibbeler, executive director of the National Library of the Netherlands. Lily brings vast experience to the questions of how institutions can optimise curation of and access to collections for varied user groups and it was great to have a chance to respond to her thoughtful interjections during the session.
The provocation issued to speakers was that, given the increasing importance of digital objects in the cultural heritage sector, what types of work are behind collecting, curating and presenting digital heritage objects? What changes are needed in the ‘back offices’ of the institutions?
This, for me, is a rich area of reflection. There were a number of tempting tacks that were possible to take but I decided to use the talk as an opportunity to do three things:
- firstly, to conceptualise the cultural heritage sector as an interconnected landscape where digital objects flow from their creators to various stakeholders including collecting institutions;
- secondly, to highlight the importance of understanding the conditions under which digital object creators (such as artists) work, and the role played by digital objects within art making practices;
- and thirdly, to offer some recommendations to memory institutions for next steps, both at the strategic and policy levels and also in terms of suggestions of helpful existing research work and relevant tools.
This was clearly quite a lot to pack into 15 minutes! My main argument was that it is important to consider all the implications of the continuing growth in digital collections, but that it is critical to remember the importance of those who make digital cultural heritage objects in the first place. Artists are frequently not present at discussions such as this one – as self-employed professionals often working on a low and/or intermittent budget, it is difficult for them to justify the time and costs of conference attendance – but without their practice, the creation of new cultural heritage objects would soon dry up. This means that the sustainability of artists’ practice is linked to the sustainability of the digital cultural heritage landscape.
Please visit https://issuu.com/cre-aid/docs/minocw-cultural-heritage to read the full conference report.