The Big Lottery Funded People’s Network (PN) Discovery Service initiative will provide systems and promote standards and guidance to enable a variety of digital content and services to be joined up under MLA’s strategic vision of the Knowledge Web for the cultural sector and the developing Common Information Environment. A specific strand of the development of the PN Discovery Service aims to achieve item-level interoperation of cultural sector digital content from across Museums, Libraries and Archives. A grant offer call under the title of Sense of Place was issued for this purpose in autumn 2004.
Item level interoperation means enabling digital content at the level of individual records and objects to be cross-searched and surfaced in a variety of interfaces and systems, in addition to the websites of the originating source of the material. The initiative will thus further open up access to digital material from the cultural sector that already exists or is forthcoming; for example content from the completed NOF-digitise programme and current Designation Challenge Fund and Renaissance Hub ICT projects, which have been produced with public access and standards-compliance to the fore.
The Sense of Place grant call invited cultural sector digital projects to identify their capabilities for achieving item level interoperation and express their interest in having their content available in this way either for the launch of the PN Discovery Service in Autumn 2005 or for later inclusion within such an environment. Within the project there is a short-term aim to prove the concept with a sample of projects for the launch of the PN Discovery Service, however as indicated above, MLA’s long term strategic aim is to put in place systems and standards that will support an information environment where cultural sector digital content will be available for sustainable integrated access into the future. The development of such an environment is being supported not only through MLAs development of People’s Network Services, but through all of MLA’s national and international ICT programmes, projects and supported services, which all contribute to a digital future where content and services are increasingly joined up across the Museums, Libraries and Archives sector and beyond.
Thirteen cultural sector digital projects have been selected to receive MLA funding to be available for item level interoperation from Autumn 2005 and discussions are on-going with a further five projects to be available in this way from this date. The projects cover all subject areas and temporal scope, from pre-history to the contemporary and are national, regional and local in scope. Enabling them to be cross-searched and surfaced within a standards-based information environment will increase their visibility, use and public value.
PN Discovery Service Sense of Place projects will be addressing all relevant issues, from the purely technical to managerial, including the application of harvesting and distributed search technologies and emerging licencing frameworks such as Creative Commons. The pan-European technical guidance produced through the MINERVA project, which built on the NOF-digitise guidance, will be taken as a starting point for projects to comply with. However, the processes, outcomes and lessons learnt through the PN Discovery Service project will themselves inform developing standards, policies and guidance for digital projects wishing to contribute digital content this way in the future. Adoption of these will ensure that the value of cultural sector digital content is maximised, both for the organisations who create and provide it and the diverse publics they serve in a digital future that is increasingly joined up.