11. Summary and Recommendations
This final chapter pulls together all of the summaries of the data analysis chapters, together with the final policy recommendations made by Strategies for Digital Data.
11.2 The survey
Two versions of the questionnaire were needed - one aimed at individuals and another aimed at organisations. The most significant difference between the two questionnaires is the emphasis on digital data created and/or held by organisations, compared with the more general information sought from individuals. Individuals were asked how they were currently able and ideally preferred to access information created by others, on the basis that archive holders must address such needs. Only organisations were asked for details of digital archiving strategies. In total, 1,053 questionnaires for organisations, and 1,760 for individuals were mailed out. In total, 607 questionnaires were returned, 344 of which came from individuals (response rate ranging from 4% to 36.2%) and 263 from organisations (response rates ranging from 9.4% to 67%). For each area of archaeology there is considerable variation in the size of organisations although the majority are small and have less than 6 staff. HEIs and national bodies tend to have larger staff forces than other areas in archaeology. The majority of archaeologists surveyed are creating and/or using archaeological information in a digital format. The majority of archaeologists have Internet access. Those areas with poor provision (over 40%) are the museum sector, schoolteachers and society members. There are many archaeologists actively producing digital datasets, who have the potential to add to digital archives but limited means of using them themselves. Using the figures derived from Strategies for Digital Data, it is possible to arrive at an estimate of between 2,200 and 3,000 professional archaeologists with computer access in Britain.
11.3 Archives and digital datasets
There is a considerable amount of digital data being created and archived, though traditional archives do not hold these in any quantity. The analysis yielded the following results: Large datasets are held by a variety of organisations. In many cases such organisations are the units/contractors who undertook the work. Large digital datasets (over 100Mb) are not held exclusively by large organisations - some very small groups, of less than 5 people, hold considerable digital archives. Many archives rely only on copies held on floppy disc for short- and long-term preservation. Tapes are used by most archives for storing digital data, presumably both in the short- and long-term. Little use is made of CD-ROMs. There may not be a clear difference between practices used for everyday security and long-term storage of digital data. Although those respondents holding larger digital archives tend to use a wider range of methods, even some of these datasets could be lost through unreliable backing-up (i.e. using floppy discs). Physical media (discs, tapes) are protected in a minority of cases. Most of the techniques used by archives fail to preserve information in an accessible and usable digital form. Providing printouts/fiche copies may preserve information, but these may not retain the complexity of a digital dataset. Current practice indicates that the majority of digital datasets are not being archived in a way that can ensure their functionality for future use. Support documentation to enable re-users to evaluate content may be available for only 50% of datasets. Most datasets are accessible to others, even those held by field units and consultants. By following 'good practice' for the preservation of other media, curators may be disregarding the needs of digital information. Information on digital datasets was obtained from 166 archiving bodies based in Britain and Ireland. This group alone hold at least 4,600 extensively digitised projects, and c. 60,600 Mb of digital data. An estimate of the total amount of digital data held by archiving bodies in Britain and Ireland is 140-175 Gb. An estimate of the number of extensively digitised projects held by archiving bodies in Britain and Ireland is 9,600-12,200.
11.4 The information needs of archaeologists
Archaeologists want access to a lot of information. 87.5% of individuals would like to obtain this information without charge for research/educational use. 71.6% of organisations allow others to use their holdings without charge, for research/educational purposes. Responses from organisations holding digital archives indicate that 61% are accessible to others, though 39% are for internal use only. A sizeable minority of organisations does not think that they will have the capacity to work with the Internet, and other means of dissemination will remain important for the present and immediate future (floppy discs, CD-ROMs and paper). Archaeologists do not like to use microfiche, they would like to obtain information almost exclusively in paper and/or digital form. Archaeologists want to obtain much and varied information digitally and to incorporate this into all areas of their work. There is very strong support for making SMRs and NMRs available on-line.
11.5 Datasets in digital and other media
The use of computers varies, but digital datasets form an element of all categories of data (as listed in the questionnaire) There is a growing body of important information being created solely in digital format. Those categories of information with the smallest confirmed digital component (around 50%) are photographs, plans, context descriptions, illustrations, teaching datasets and exhibition catalogues. Those with more than 75% available in digital format are geospatially referenced site lists, specialists' catalogues, geophysical survey data, GIS, reports, basic monument indices (on average) and detailed monument records (on average). While the majority of project work is being created by professional archaeologists, some independent archaeologists also create digital datasets Digital datasets are created in a wide range of programs. Although Microsoft products dominate, our survey identified 162 other programs in use. It is unclear whether common, agreed, standards are being implemented, despite obvious support for this.
11.6 Re-using digital data - developing a community vision for the best ways to facilitate access to, and re-use of, digital information
Strategies are needed to identify which datasets should receive the highest priority for preservation. Such strategies should be determined by the information needs of archaeologists and must be able to react to those projects that are most in danger of being lost. Although traditional archaeology archiving bodies hold a relatively small proportion of digital archives, these are obvious first points of call for detailed research. Poor cataloguing and limited information on digital holdings for all areas of archaeology are major barriers against raising awareness of digital resources. Archaeologists are prevented from making greater use of digital data for a variety of reasons, most notably through lack of facilities, but also through a perception that there is little detailed, relevant, material available. Generally, copyright does not limit access to information, though it does result in charging for access. There is strong support for some of the costs of creating digital archives to be recovered from project funding bodies, but not maintenance expenses. National bodies should support digital archives. Organisations are more willing to support charging for re-use of digital data than individuals. A wide range of training is needed to help bring about effective creation, preservation and re-use of digital data.
11.7 Strategies for digital data: Recommendations
An on-line catalogue of digital data archive holdings, at least as national (and inter-linked) indices, and accessible from any computer connected to the Internet, would greatly assist research. The creation and archiving of digital data should be done in accordance with appropriate national and international data standards. The Integrated Information Systems underway for the dissemination of properly archived and curated archaeological data should be fully supported (e.g. Extended National Index for Wales, plans for English SMRs/the NMR and Scotland's CANMORE-Web). This necessitates collaboration between SMRs, NMRs, national bodies and the museum community and co-operation within and across national boundaries should be promoted where possible. HEIRNET may provide such a co-ordinative rôle. Digital data created as a result of archaeological research is of relevance to the wider community. Archaeologists in Britain must take advantage of the various new Integrated Information Systems being developed, such as New Library and the UK Archival Network, to ensure that archaeology has a voice in the inter-disciplinary partnerships envisaged between national and local government, libraries, HEIs, schools and public organisations. Data creation standards are essential to facilitate the exchange of information. National bodies in Britain and Ireland should continue to collaborate with European and International standards and guideline development programmes (e.g. CIDOC, CIMI). National bodies should continue to encourage the use of standards for projects they fund. Similar guidelines need to be built into project briefs for developer-funded work. A peer-reviewed list of archaeological data standards is held on-line by the ADS at: (http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/ project/userinfo/standards.html). As a part of archaeological good practice, all archaeologists should make use of appropriate standards in any work they undertake. Digital datasets are an important element of project archives that require active curation if they are to be preserved for future use. Project briefs should make clear provision for the archiving of any digital data created during the course of the project in an appropriate digital archive. Where archives are dispersed across more than one organisation, pointers to the location of other archive elements are important to maintain archive integrity. There is a need for a document that details the appropriate standards and facilities for digital archives. Included in this document should also be a list of digital archives that conform to these standards. An accreditation scheme for digital data should be devised. 'Raw datasets' such as primary finds analysis, site context information, surveying data, catalogues and indices are vital sources of information for research, and ideally accessed both on paper and digitally. Where created digitally, they should be targeted for inclusion in digital archives. The digital archiving of large databases, CAD and GIS files is necessary if these resources are to maintain their functionality. Regional and national proactive strategies need to be developed for the selection of digital datasets that meet the current and future needs of archaeologists. There is a need for the retrospective collection of already created digital data. The current lack of strategy means that archives are reacting in an ad hoc fashion. Access to indices of project archives should be free in the ADS catalogue, to assist individuals in locating project archives, to encourage greater use of archives (digital or other), and to involve the general public in as many ways as possible. It is recognised, however, that additional services such as copying datasets, postage, special tutoring and additional documentation may incur costs and these can be passed onto the user. Digital archiving bodies need some core funding for services such as archive maintenance, user support and training to ensure that charges to users are not prohibitive. Depositors may be charged for archiving datasets. Nevertheless, charges need to take into account how projects were initially funded and the level of public access the depositor allows to such data. Projects allowing high levels of access to their project information would ideally have lower deposit charges. Detailed datasets should be made available in a variety of ways to ensure access for the maximum number of users. In order to use digital data, training is necessary, both as part of on-going professional development and as a component of University education. There is also a need to provide appropriate training for digital archivists. Archaeological organisations might co-ordinate their efforts to develop strategies for funding IT infrastructure more effectively for archaeology as a whole.