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4. Surveying the Heritage Sector

4.1 Introduction

Surveys are a useful means of finding out current practice and attitudes, and are invaluable in the development and implementation of standards. It is not surprising to see that many surveys on computer use have been carried out over the years, and they provide an important body of information with which to compare the findings of Strategies for Digital Data. Previous surveys illustrated an increasing use of computers in the heritage sector and highlighted a great deal of variation in the level of access. Most of these have petitioned higher education institutions (HEIs) and museums. Few have attempted to assess the needs of subject areas, focusing instead on particular sectors (museums, social sciences in universities etc.).

4.2 Archaeology

In 1984 the Institute of Field Archaeologists (IFA) and RCHME undertook a survey of computer use in British Archaeology (Richards 1986). Over 100 replies were obtained. The survey highlighted great variation in the range of software and hardware in use, despite there being only c. 200 computers in use within British Archaeology at that time. This was a marked increase from the 10 identified by the Museum Documentation Association's (MDA) assessment of computer use in archaeology (Grant 1986 referring to Stewart 1980). Computers were largely confined to universities, local and national government bodies, and field units. Very few were used in the field. Another important finding was the overwhelming lack of reliable long-term archiving practices. Finally, training provision was felt to be inadequate and uncoordinated. A second survey, published in 1989, had responses from 110 organisations (Booth, Grant and Richards 1989). It indicated an increase in computer usage - 796 computers, up from 200. As in 1984, a wide range of platforms and programs were in use, and diverse working practices indicated the need for standards in terminology and recording strategies.

The Council for British Archaeology is carrying out a survey of Publication and User Needs (PUNS). This project is due for completion in spring 1999 (CBA forthcoming). Questionnaires were sent out to 4,500 people involved in archaeology, both professionals and unpaid. The focus of the survey is on publication in general, which includes 'grey literature', such as project briefs and interim reports, and touches on electronic publication. This survey will serve as an important companion to Strategies for Digital Data, especially in understanding the format in which archaeologists wish to access information.

There have also been surveys of Sites and Monuments Records (SMRs). David Baker completed a survey of Welsh SMRs (Baker 1996), and more recently one for the English and Scottish SMRs (Baker 1999 and forthcoming). In addition, the RCHME are currently running detailed data audits of the English SMRs. These surveys are concerned with the organisation and management of SMRs and to a lesser extent with user needs (though information is available on the range of user services). For Wales, Baker (1996) has suggested making use of the END (Extended National Database) project, an integrated, computerised National Monument Record, to enhance SMRs held by the four Trusts and county archaeologists. The results of the RCHME survey will provide important information about the range of hardware and software in use, standards used to compile datasets, and the extent of digital coverage in English SMRs. These will provide essential information for plans to extend the SMRs and NMRs of Britain.

Table 4.1 Professional archaeologists in Britain (Aitchison forthcoming)

Area of ArchaeologyPercentage of professional archaeologists employed in this area
Archaeological Contractor 30.4%
Local Government 18.1%
Heritage Agencies, Royal Commissions 15.5%
University Archaeology Departments and Research Groups 14.7%
National Museums 3.6%
Independent Consultants and Specialists 3.5%
Archaeological Societies 1.0%
Other Central Government Funded Organisations 0.1%
Other Organisations 13.2%

In 1998 English Heritage funded a survey of the working conditions, pay and job descriptions of professional archaeologists, in the Profiling the Profession project (PtP) (Aitchison forthcoming). Detailed information was obtained for 2,132 archaeologists (giving a figure of 4,395 for the number of professional archaeologists in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales). While the findings of this survey will not have much relevance to the scope of Strategies for Digital Data, they do provide a means of comparing return rates for the two surveys. The breakdown of archaeologists employed in each sector of archaeology, according to PtP, is shown in Table 4.1. Although the results are provisional they give an indication of the variety of organisations that employ archaeologists, and the number of freelance consultants in the discipline. Categories are not strictly defined. These figures do not include estimates for independent/amateur archaeologists.

As part of ongoing development, the RCHME evaluate the background of those using the NMR(E). Donnie Mackay offers a breakdown of the user profile - over 45% are the 'general public' (RCHME 1998a). Enquiries are through visits to the NMR search room, on paper form, and also over the Internet. Information needs are diverse, and include individuals researching family history and local studies. These represent an important community that needs to be encouraged in its use of archaeology, even if they view it in different ways to professionals, and must be included in future plans to increase access to information.

Tony Austin (at the ADS) carried out a survey of archaeology projects funded by the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust over the past 30 years (Austin 1998). In particular, this identified important information on the number of projects that produced digital datasets as part of their archive. Almost all Leverhulme Trust grant recipients (for grants issued between 1975 and 1996) for archaeological projects were canvassed, for information on any digital datasets resulting from their work. Responses were obtained for 47 of the 64 archaeology projects, which are summarised in Table 4.2. Of the four project holders that did not want to deposit with the ADS, two had alternative digital archives, and one felt that the digital data was not useful by itself. Additional analysis of the 47 project holders who replied showed that the number of archaeologists working digitally increased between the 1970s and 1996. In the 1980s, 35% of the projects included an element of computerisation; this increased to over 80% for those projects undertaken in the 1990s. In addition, some of the information from projects carried out in the 1970s was subsequently digitised. Analysis of British Academy awards for 1989-1994 shows that almost 700 archaeology projects received funding, which is an average of 140 per year. Extrapolating from this annual figure for the same period covered by the analysis of Leverhulme Trust grant holders suggests that over 3,000 archaeology projects have been supported by the British Academy between 1975 and 1996. Using the figure of 60% for those holding digital datasets (based on the analysis of Leverhulme Trust grant recipients), a possible 1,800 archaeology projects hold digital resources (Austin 1998). This represents an important and varied body of information, some of which may not be easily available for outside use.

Table 4.2 Leverhulme Trust funded archaeology projects producing digital datasets

Produced digital data and interested in depositing this with the ADS 24 51%
Produced digital data and not willing to deposit 4 9%
Did not produce any digital data 19 40%

Usage statistics are available for a couple of on-line archaeology catalogues. CANMORE-web contains part of the NMRS, and was the result of collaboration between the RCAHMS and ADS. In the first 58 days after its launch on 30 March 1998, there were a total of 4,400 searches, an average of 75 per day. Over 800 people had registered as users. Searching CANMORE-web is free, and yields up to a maximum of 100 hits for each search. The ADS launched its on-line catalogue on 15 September 1998, and in the first 9 days there were over 7,000 hits. Figures are not yet available for the number of different users. Both these services show the popularity of on-line resources, suggesting that these can have a considerable impact on teaching, research and other work

4.3 Museums

The 1997 Museum Documentation Association's survey, Information Technology in Museums, revealed that 69% of museums did not have digital versions of detailed records. In addition, 92% of the detailed digital records held in the museums sector were held by only 9% of the institutions surveyed (MDA 1997a). This is a regular event, and another survey is imminent. In addition, the MDA carried out a survey in 1997 of the training needs of museum professionals (MDA 1997b) who attended their workshops on multimedia and Internet resources for museums. 91 individuals completed the questionnaire, although it was probably biased in favour of those responsible for developing the IT side of their museums. A minority had access to multimedia software, and very few (less than 10%) had access to interactive user guides in their museums. Amongst those attending the workshop, the area considered to be of greatest potential was the Internet.

In 1997 the Museums and Galleries Commission (MGC) and EH funded a Survey of Archaeological Archives (Swain 1998). This covered museums in England only. Responses were obtained from 92 museums and 48 units with archives. It is important to note that some contracting field units, mostly large county and urban units, are holding onto their project archives. The report contains valuable information about the quality of archiving services and variation in regional provision. Although the focus was largely on paper, environmental and artefact archives, some questions were asked about digital archives, which at present make up less than 1% of the total space devoted to all archives. A major finding of the report was that few museums take in digital datasets; many that do have problems curating these:

There is an urgent need to review the nature of digital data being included in archives and its suitability for long term curation. The Archaeology Data Service, the Museum Documentation Association and the Royal Commission for Historic Monuments of England will be asked to advise on this issue. This debate should also be put into the context of how other elements of the archaeological resource are being managed - most notably SMRs and how archives can be linked to these (Swain 1998, 4.10).

A new committee with representatives from the MGC, MDA and SMA (Society of Museum Archaeologists) is developing strategies to deal with the findings of this survey.

The International Association of Computing in Archaeology (AIACE) and the CINECA Visual Information Laboratory carried out a survey of Museum Communication in 1997. Participation was sought from museums all over the world. This focussed on the ways that museums are disseminating information, and will provide a useful example of user services. The report is not yet available.

4.4 Computer Use in the Humanities

The AHDS, through its Service Providers, has been carrying out surveys of user needs. These surveys aimed to identify the current practice of users and potential users regarding the creation and use of digital datasets, to identify the diversity and amount of digital data being created, and to target the roles of the Service Provider to assist in these activities. Two of these survey reports are now available.

The Visual Arts Data Service (VADS) Survey of User Needs (Grout and Rymer 1998) had responses from 107 individuals based in visual arts departments in UKHEIs (78%), art galleries, museums and professional bodies. Very few of the questionnaires that were mailed out were sent back completed (only 7.4%); telephone interviews and the on-line version of the questionnaire were much more successful at getting a response. The great majority of respondents were using digital resources in their teaching and research (available over the Web, on CD-ROM and other means). Support and information on how to integrate digital resources was requested. The major role identified for VADS was to provide an on-line catalogue of digital resources and the means to undertake searches of the catalogue. A minority of respondents use standards in data creation and preservation, and none had long-term means of ensuring their digital archives were secure and easily re-usable. Using the VADS as an archive for digital resources without an obvious alternative home was not considered a priority.

The Performing Arts Data Service (PADS) Survey of User Needs (Owen 1997) had responses from 57 individuals (out of a total of 160 questionnaires mailed out) based in performing arts departments at UKHEIs. The major findings were that extensive use was being made for teaching and research of reports, catalogues and databases available via the Web, CD-ROM and Telnet. However, there was little use of primary networked resources such as moving images and sound, through lack of facilities, support and knowledge of what was available. Digital datasets are held by some organisations, and the majority were willing to make these more widely available. Overall, almost all of those who responded had access to a computer and the Internet. There was a desire for information on what facilities were available, and support to access these and integrate them into teaching and research.

Both of these surveys focussed on the UK HE sector. Return rates for PADS were much higher than for the VADS survey, though it is unclear why this was so. Both surveys have publicised the use of digital data resources and preservation and access issues in their respective communities, and identified ways to move forward. Although the Digital Data in Archaeology survey covered a much broader community, it is important to note that all surveys identified the need for accessible catalogues of information, ideally available on-line, support for users, and awareness raising.

Remaining with the HE sector, The Data Archive explored the needs as well as current practice in universities and funding bodies in Britain regarding digital data creation, preservation and re-use/access in its Electronic Preservation Project (Lievesley and Jones 1998). In total, 28 funding agencies, 52 HEIs and 33 HEI vice-chancellors and principals sent back questionnaires, out of a total of 460 originally mailed out (25% response rate). The low response rate was attributed to the low priority attached to digital data preservation. It concluded that university researchers are not always willing to disseminate their results in detail, even where work has been grant-aided - there can be a strong notion of 'ownership'. Almost all universities and most funding bodies do not have guidelines for digital datasets; they would appreciate guidance, support, and recommendations for where to place information. While some funding bodies specify where datasets (including digital datasets) should be deposited, this is not always the case. It was clear that the projects believed the preservation of digital materials to be a joint responsibility of the researchers generating the materials and the agencies funding the generation of materials. Over 60% of projects held this view. Fifteen per cent believed that funders should be responsible and 10% believed that researchers should be responsible. Sixty per cent of them felt that fewer funds for primary research in order to fund preservation would be unacceptable but inevitable (Lievesley and Jones 1998, 13-14).

The CTI centre for Art and Design carried out a survey in 1997 of the use of computers and digital resources for art and design (Reast 1997). Two thousand questionnaires were mailed out to HEIs in Britain, and only 218 were returned. Almost all had access to a computer, and the majority used the Internet (85%). The relative importance of a range of sources for information (digital and paper-based) was tested, with the Internet being the most popular. Respondents wanted more information on the CTIAD. A detailed report on the survey is expected.

Finally, there have been many surveys of Internet use in the UK and around the world. The NOP Research Group carried out a survey of Internet usage in Britain in 1997. By June 1997, 960,000 households (1 in 25) were using the Internet. In addition, six million adults in Great Britain used the Internet in the twelve months to June 1997 and, at that time, around nine million adults, or 15.4% of the population, expected to have used it by June 1998. These figures show marked growth from earlier surveys (NOP Research Group 1997). The Irish Internet Association recently completed a survey for Ireland (IAA 1998). Although it did not attempt to extrapolate how many Web users there were in Ireland, it did show that business access was growing at a faster rate than home access. However, information provided by Internet World '98 conference states that '200,000 people are now [autumn 1998] on the Internet in Ireland' (O'Neill 1998). This represents 5.6% of the population. Both at home and at work, people increasingly have the opportunity to browse the Web.

4.5 Summary

A number of useful points emerge from this review of recent surveys:

Although surveys are a common means of obtaining the opinions of user communities, they can be unpopular. The ADS ran a workshop in May 1998 on Using and Re-using Digital Data (Condron and Wise 1998). An important finding was that archaeologists did not want to participate in another survey of the discipline, and alternative means of canvassing opinions need to be sought.

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