Back Contents ADS Home Forward

7. The Information Needs of Archaeologists

7.1 Introduction

Providing access to digital datasets is not a simple issue to evaluate. Archaeologists want access to information, irrespective of the media on which it is available. For those that have the equipment and experience to work with digital datasets, there is an obvious advantage in having ready access, but for others the fact that they are available digitally may be the major barrier to their re-use. Making information available can be expensive: staff time responding to user requests, mailing responses, and in some cases purchase of copyright licences. Digital datasets may impose additional costs: hardware and programmes, helping users, copying information onto disc, or even providing printouts.

Section 4 in both questionnaires (appendices 1 and 2) sought information on what cost-recovery mechanisms should apply to a wide range of information (irrespective of the media on which it was held). The responses indicate overwhelming support (87.5%) for making information available either freely to all, or at least without charge for those using such information for research, teaching or charitable purposes. The majority (71.6%) of organisations provide information under these conditions.

The questions were posed to elicit responses about cost-recovery policies, rather than ethical or security reasons behind varying access policies. However, respondents did comment on the latter, and this issue will be touched on below. Individuals were asked for their opinions on what level of access should be applied to a long list of datasets (see section 4 in appendix 1 for details). Organisations were asked what levels of access applied to information they held (see section 5 of appendix 2 for details). Thus it is possible to explore variation between ideal and current practice.

7.2 Identifying the datasets archaeologists think should be made available, and cost-recovery mechanisms (individual responses)

It is best to start with a summary of the variations in levels of access felt applicable to each of the types of information listed in question 4.1 (see appendix 1). Where 'charging' is used, it refers to the need to recover costs of providing information to users. Table 7.1 below lists the overall breakdown of support for the four different levels of access used in question 4.1. The values in this table represent the typical range of support for making information accessible.

Table 7.1 The relationship between the different levels of access at which information can be made available

Level of access Individuals Cumulative
Free to all 39.3% 39.3%
Free for education/research, chargeable for non-charitable use 48.2% 87.5%
Chargeable to all 9.7% 97.2%
No access 2.8% 100%

The remainder of this section explores general attitudes towards cost recovery for access to particular types of information. Although the attitudes of each area of archaeology (e.g. HE, museums sector) were also investigated, a more detailed breakdown of results is not necessary. There are sometimes differences between these different areas of archaeology, but overall responses were consistent across most groups. Thus consultants and society members/independent archaeologists (and, to a lesser extent, librarians and archivists) favour more extensive charging for access to information, with only around 10% supporting free access to information. National body and local government archaeologists, museum archaeologists and HE staff conform to the average response pattern. However, national body and local government archaeologists tend to support slightly more extensive cost recovery, and favour making some material inaccessible. Field archaeologists and students in particular show the greatest desire to get hold of information for free. The few teachers that responded to our survey also want most information made freely available.

The following five figures provide a detailed breakdown of the levels of charging felt suitable for different datasets. Starting with grid references, the discussion then moves on to look at the typical products of project work, many of which do not get published in detail: plans, photographs, context information, contour and geophysical survey data, and GIS. This is followed by material that is more likely to reach publication: reports, illustrations, and period/regional/finds syntheses. Teaching material is then considered. Finally, access to the typical holdings of museums and archaeology archives are investigated: collections management information, museum collections archives, archaeology project archives, exhibition catalogues, basic monument indices and detailed monument records. For each of these categories of information, comment is made if there is considerable variation between the different areas of archaeology for particular charging mechanisms. The same structure is used in section 7.3 (exploring the holdings of organisations), to aid comparison.

Site location
Access to site location information is recorded as problematic. There is strong support for free access to basic grid references, but greater restrictions are felt to be suitable for more detailed information. Figure 7.1, however, suggests that even access to detailed site location information is not seen as something to be limited by charging. Adding together the responses in favour of free access and those in favour of only charging for non-charitable use still sees 81% support for even the most detailed geospatial references. Those against making detailed information available are based in all areas of archaeology; there is no one sector overtly against providing access to detailed site location information to users.

Figure 7.1 Attitudes to charging for access to site location information

Figure 7.2 Attitudes to charging for access to 'raw datasets'

Products of project work
With regard to the typical results of project work (Figure 7.2), there is less than average support for making information available for free; indeed there is greater than average support for releasing information at a charge for non-charitable use. A significant minority support charging to provide photographs, context information and specialists' catalogues, but very few would want to make this information inaccessible.

Figure 7.3 Attitudes to charging for access to survey data

There is greater than average support for making surveying information available at a charge (Figure 7.3). It is not clear why these datasets are thought to be more suitable for cost recovery than others. A more detailed analysis of the results for surveying data reveals that field archaeologists and consultants in particular want to impose charges on such material. A wider range of archaeologists (including national body employees and HE staff) support making raw data inaccessible.

Figure 7.4 Attitudes to charging for access to 'value-added' work

Reports, syntheses
The breakdown of charging for access to reports and illustrations is roughly the same as the average (Figure 7.4, Table 7.1). There is slightly greater support for making syntheses available for free. In all instances very few would like such information made inaccessible. Overall, free access to teaching material is very strongly desired (92%). Only 7% support charging for this material, and only 1%, some university staff and consultants, want to restrict access completely.

Museum and archive holdings
It may help to compare the results of this analysis (Figure 7.5) with those for project information (Figure 7.2), as such material should eventually be deposited in formal archives. There is support for making individual project reports and results available at a charge, although it was also felt that such information sources should be freely available for research/education purposes. Few sectors of archaeology supported making collections management information inaccessible, although some archaeologists working in local government, for national bodies, HEIs, museums and library/archives did support this option. Access to museum collections and project archives is supported, and the few respondents who want to restrict access to such information are in the local government sector. Finally, it is possible to explain the higher support for charging access to exhibition catalogues as these can be expensive to produce, though more than half would still like to see these freely distributed to all. There is overwhelming support for making basic SMR information available freely for education and research purposes. Detailed information is felt to be more suitable for charging. The respondents that supported making such information inaccessible are based in local government, national bodies and HEIs, but not in museums or libraries/archives.

Figure 7.5 Attitudes to charging for access to museum and archive holdings

The main issues arising from the above analysis are:

7.3 Identifying the datasets archaeologists think should be made available, and cost-recovery mechanisms (organisational responses)

The question posed to organisations referred to their own holdings, rather than information in general (see question 5.1, appendix 2). As not every organisation holds all of the listed categories of data, reply rates were not high for individual questions. However, this section of our survey population represents the main providers of information, and we can compare the ideal situation expressed in Figures 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4 and 7.5 with the current practices shown in Figures 7.6, 7.7, 7.8, 7.9 and 7.10. Table 7.2 lists the overall breakdown of support for the four different cost recovery policies as used in question 5.1.

Table 7.2 Relationship between the different levels of access at which information is currently made available

Level of access Organisations Cumulative
Free to all 37.9% 37.9%
Free for education/research, chargeable for non-charitable use 33.7% 71.6%
Chargeable to all 9.5% 81.1%
No access 18.9% 100%

There are slight differences in the average responses from organisations and individuals regarding access to digital datasets. Both groups overwhelmingly support the idea and practice of providing information freely where it is to be used for education and/or research (71.6% of organisations provide information on these terms). Perhaps more significant is the greater proportion of datasets held by organisations that are not available for outside use (18.9%). It is not possible to provide an overall picture of the attitudes of different areas of archaeology towards information exchange, though comments will be made for particular categories of information, where relevant. This issue is more difficult to assess for organisations as they were queried about information they themselves released, rather than material they would like to obtain.

The following figures explore in detail the range of charging mechanisms used for the holdings of organisations, and are presented in the same order as the previous section. Starting with grid references, the discussion then moves on to look at the typical products of project work, many of which do not get published in detail: plans, photographs, context information, contour and geophysical survey data, and GIS. This is followed by material that is more likely to reach publication: reports, illustrations, and period/regional/finds syntheses. Teaching material is considered. Finally, holdings typical of museums and archives are analysed:
collections management information, museum collections archives, archaeology project archives, exhibition catalogues, basic monument indices and detailed monument records.

Figure 7.6 Variation in charging policies for access to site location information

Site location Figure 7.6 illustrates that there is less support for making detailed grid locations available compared with information in general.Organisations place tighter control over site location information than individuals would like.

Figure 7.7 Variation in charging policies for access to 'raw datasets'

Products of project work Organisations feel that plans, photographs, context information (the typical products of projects) are more suited to the public domain than other categories of data (Figure 7.7). Greater use of charging is made for releasing photographs than other information. Additionally, there is a significant minority of organisations that does not make this information available for outside use. More detailed exploration of the responses to these questions identified the HE sector, consultants and field archaeology units as holding the greatest proportion of inaccessible information. These organisations are not obliged to provide public access to their archives, and it is welcoming to note that the majority nevertheless allow others to re-use information held by them. Some museums also hold parts of this type of information in closed archives. Although local government departments generally allow access to their datasets, some context information and specialists' catalogues are held in closed archives. National bodies stated that all project information held by them was available, although not necessarily freely.

Figure 7.8 indicates that the respondents thought that survey information should not be accessible at all. A review of the responses from the different areas of archaeology shows that those in the HE sector place most restrictions on their GIS and surveying datasets (with 50% holding inaccessible GIS data), followed by consultants. Local government and national archaeology bodies offer the greatest access to such information. There are many possible reasons for the reluctance of archaeologists to make survey information available: licences for map bases may be restrictive (if OS maps have been used), work may be unfinished, or those holding this information may not know how to make it readily available. With widespread use of non-destructive surveying techniques, and greater presentation of information in a GIS, strategies need to be in place to ensure that the products of project work are available for others to consult in the future.

Figure 7.8 Variation in charging policies for access to survey information

Reports, syntheses Figure 7.9 illustrates that although the majority of organisations make reports and syntheses available, a few (18%) produce such documents for internal use only. Most responses to these questions came from consultants, museums, field archaeology units and local government archaeology departments. There is little variation in the charging mechanisms applied to this information between the different sectors. Teaching material is generally offered at a charge. The high support for keeping such information for internal use only is largely attributable to the HE sector.

Figure 7.9 Variation in charging policies for access to 'value-added' work

Figure 7.10 Variation in charging policies for access to museum and archive holdings

Museum and archive holdings
The response rate for the questions relating to museum and archive holdings was low, even amongst the museums sector (Figure 7.10). Collections management information, with details of the provenance of individual holdings, circumstances of acquisition, current state etc., is felt to be the least suited to free access to all, or for education/ research purposes. Of more common use to archaeologists are museum collection archives and archaeology project archives. Many organisations offer free access to these, as they are official repositories of information held on behalf of the general public. Hence the relatively low number that offer access at a charge for non-charitable use may be explained by the greater than average proportion that do so for free. Exhibition catalogues, typically bought as a booklet, are felt to be more suited to access at a charge. Monument indices and detailed monument records are typically held by SMRs (Sites and Monuments Records) and NMRs (National Monuments Records). Although there is very strong support for making basic and detailed information available freely for education/research purposes, there is a large proportion of organisations that do not make such information accessible. These are mostly in the HE sector and consultants. Detailed information is felt to be more suited to charges for non-charitable use than general information. National and local organisations provide access to their basic records, although some only keep detailed information for internal use.

Overall, organisations maintain closer control over their information than individuals would like. The main points can be summarised as follows:

The focus of the above discussion has combined access to information with charging. However, some felt unable to respond to this particular part of the questionnaire:

I found section 4 extremely difficult to complete. Both in my work and my own research I want access to as much information as possible via the Internet and preferably at low cost. However, from the perspective of a provider of information rather than a user, I recognise that there is a need to generate new revenue by providing information on the Internet and to protect revenue being generated by traditional means. I think it would have been helpful if you had included an additional box so that I could indicate which datasets would be useful without having to make decisions regarding whether to charge or not.

7.4 Digital datasets held by organisations and levels of access that apply

Section 6 of the questionnaire for organisations asked for details regarding digital archives (covered in chapter 6). Some questions were also asked about levels of access archive holders granted to their datasets. This usefully augments the discussion about information held in a variety of media. Figure 7.11 shows access rights to digital datasets. On average, a good proportion of these are accessible to some degree (61%), though many are not (39%). The largest group that does not allow outside access to its digital archives is in consultancy, though some contracting field units, local government archaeologists and museums also keep tight control over information they hold. This topic is explored further in chapter 9.

Figure 7.11 Levels of access that apply to digital datasets from projects that are archived

Figure 7.12 Open access digital archives, compared with organisations' re-use of others' digital data

Open access archives
(55 responses)
Closed archives
(51 responses)

To investigate whether access to digital datasets was influenced by the extent to which they were solely the result of the labours of the organisation concerned or not, two further analyses were undertaken. Organisations were asked in question 5.1 if they held digital data created by their employees and also by others based outside. The assumption is that information from others becomes part of an organisation's digital archive. Responses were correlated with those from question 7.11, which asked for information on the levels of access applying to digital archives. The two graphs in Figure 7.12 separate those organisations that allow open access to their digital datasets, and those that have them for internal use only. In each case, responses are broken down into the different areas of archaeology. Additionly, each bar indicates whether archives contain information created by others or not. The legend and axis labels are the same for both graphs.

The majority of respondents use information obtained from others in their archives. Amongst open-access archives, 46/55 (84%) use information from elsewhere. Of the closed archives, 36/51 (70.5%) incorporate information from elsewhere alongside their own work. Some of these digital datasets may be for management purposes (e.g. personnel files), and consequently are not appropriate for external access. However, the focus of the questionnaire was on project work and archaeology indices (e.g. SMRs, museum archaeology catalogues), and the results have been interpreted to reflect this sort of information. Many of the digital datasets covered in chapter 6, and here, are the result of rescue field archaeology, funded by developers, and as such ownership of the project archive may be split between those who carried out the work and those who funded it.

7.5 Identifying the media that archaeologists would like to, and can, use to obtain information created by others

Chapter 5 explored the potential for archaeologists to obtain information digitally, outlining variation in computer and Internet access amongst those responding (see 5.5 and 5.6). The availability of information in digital form can be both a hindrance and benefit to its re-use, depending on the skills, facilities and support available to archaeologists. The reasons behind variation in the use of digital datasets are numerous (and explored in chapter 9 in more detail). Here, we focus on the ability and potential of archaeologists to obtain information in a range of digital formats, and compare these with paper and microfiche records.

Figure 7.13 Media individuals can currently use to access digital information

Questions were asked of the ways in which archaeologists could obtain digital information, and their future plans. For clarity, the following discussion has been split between individuals and organisations. A series of four graphs for each shows the current and future ways in which archaeologists access digital datasets. Facilities and training needs to bring about improved practices are addressed in chapter 9; this section explores the potential of archaeologists to utilise new technology.

Individuals and their access to digital datasets
Figure 7.13 outlines the ways in which archaeologists can access digital information. This has been divided into text reports, databases, and images in order to get a sense of the complex ways in which archaeologists acquire information. The bar chart on the left is based on a simple count of the number of 'ticks' given to each option (respondents could select more than one option). The bar chart on the right shows the combinations of media archaeologists can use (with each response listed only once). Not all combinations have been listed, though the ones shown cover over 90% of responses for these questions.

Looking at current access options, it is clear that archaeologists are making use of a wide range of tools, and that the majority have some access to the Internet, be that via email only, or with the Web. A sizeable portion, however, do not have access to on-line computers, and rely on magnetic or optical media to obtain information. The most obvious advantage to using the Internet to obtain information, via ftp, is that it is possible to get files larger than 1.44Mb (the maximum that floppy disks can hold). Advances in software in particular have tended to be accompanied by an increase in file size. This is particularly the case where images and highly formatted text are concerned. Archaeologists use slightly different strategies for obtaining images and databases as opposed to text reports, which are most frequently obtained via email and disc. CD-ROM is most commonly used to acquire images. These results are partly determined by past experience in using digital publications and material, and knowledge of where such resources are held.

Figure 7.14 Media individuals would like to use to access digital information

The great majority of archaeologists see their future access options lying with the Internet, either alone or in combination with optical and magnetic discs (Figure 7.14). Very few would like to rely on magnetic tapes or discs alone (these are not shown on the figure). There is greater support for the use of CD-ROMs to obtain images. The relatively low returns for ftp is probably because respondents were unfamiliar with this method, or were unaware of its incorporation into the latest web browsers. Likewise, the issue of access to basic web pages (through an old web browser such as Lynx) may not have been familiar to many respondents. Archaeologists would generally like to use the same methods to obtain text, datasets and images digitally.

Organisations and accessing digital datasets
Turning to the responses from organisations, a slightly different picture emerges. Figure 7.15 shows the current access options available to those working in organisations. As with the replies from individuals, many organisations obtain information through a variety of media. There is extensive use of the Internet, either email alone, or also with the Web. This is combined with the use of floppy discs, CD-ROMs etc. for information gathering by 45% of organisations (50% for text reports, 40% for databases, and 46% for images). Many organisations, however, only rely on magnetic and optical media alone. Differences based on the nature of the dataset concerned are not great; there is a slightly greater tendency for tabulated datasets to be obtained on disc or CD than is seen for text or images.

There is relatively little difference between graphs showing current and future access options for organisations (Figures 7.13 and 7.14). A slightly lower percentage of organisations plan to use CD-ROMs and floppy discs in the future to obtain tabulated datasets and images. Although organisations plan to improve Internet access, there is still a sizeable proportion that will rely on magnetic and/or optical media alone. Individuals see the future lying with the Internet and CD-ROMs to a far greater degree than organisations. The greater proportion of organisations that see their future access strategies not lying with the Internet is problematic, as they may not be able to participate in the ongoing and planned on-line resources for archaeology and beyond. This may not be due to a lack of enthusiasm for the Internet amongst archaeologists, as the returns from individuals show this is certainly not the case, but through limited funds or support amongst heads of organisations.

Figure 7.15 Media organisations can currently use to access digital information

Figure 7.16 Media organisations plan to use to access digital information

Paper, microfiche or digital? Information in archives is held in a variety of media and our analysis was extended to compare the popularity of digital datasets with paper and microfiche. Section 5 of the questionnaire for individuals explored the format and usability of archaeological information created by others, and largely focussed on the relative merits of paper, microfiche and digital information. Responses from questions 5.1 and 5.2 were analysed using cross-tabulation, the results of which are shown in Figure 7.17. Categories and axis labels are the same for both graphs.

Figure 7.17 Media individuals can currently use, and plan to use to obtain information

Current practice Future practice

Figure 7.18 Assessment of the usability of information presented in different media (independent of content or quality)

Current practice indicates that paper and digital media are by far the most popular means of obtaining information, although microfiche is used. This contrasts greatly with ideas for future practice, where 'ideal' practice almost completely excludes the use of microfiche records. Archaeologists overwhelmingly want to use datasets in digital and/or paper format. In particular, there is a desire for digitised databases and less support for using these in paper (presumably to avoid re-keying relevant information). Images and reports are wanted both in digital and paper form. Although microfiche may be a reliable medium for long-term preservation of information, it is not popular as a means of dissemination. This is underlined in the response from question 5.3 (shown in Figure 7.18). Microfiche is seen as useful by only 12% of respondents. Paper is by far the most popular medium, with digital formats only slightly less popular, though the digital format probably refers to floppy disc rather than on-line datasets. Strategies for digital data indicates that most of the digital holdings of archives are kept solely on magnetic media (see 6.3). In addition, analysis in this chapter indicates that many organisations do not use the Internet to obtain information and presumably neither do they release much detailed information this way.

7.6 Datasets to which archaeologists would like access

Questions 3.3 and 3.4 of both questionnaires asked what digital data archaeologists were currently using and planned to use. In some instances people listed the ways in which they used computers to create digital data, and this information has not been listed here. Responses were given in free text and Tables 7.3-7.4 list the more popular datasets that archaeologists use currently and would like to have access to. It may be helpful to look at these tables in conjunction with the responses on attitudes to cost recovery for information.

Table 7.3 Digital datasets individuals use, and would like to access

Current (number of respondents listing this) Future (number of respondents listing this)
Text/information from others to compile reports/papers/publications (25) Same as current, though would also like to obtain images on paper and other media (34)
Mapping data:
GIS and mapping (4)
Ordnance Survey data (3)
Same as current (36)
Same, plus satellite images (5)
Access to SMRs/NMRs (16)
On-line bibliographies (20)
Same, plus access to UADs, including AP collections and Historic Buildings indices (34)
Same, plus on-line databases etc. (24)
Compiling teaching datasets (7) Accessing teaching material (8)
General information:
Contact details, mailing lists (37)
General information retrieval from the Internet (26)
Same, including project reports, archives, images (31)
Information exchange (24)
Releasing standards and thesauri on-line (3)

There is a strong desire to get hold of information digitally, and this covers most areas of archaeology. This is presumably because computers are increasingly being used in all areas of archaeology, and incorporating new information can be easier if it is made available digitally. Many respondents stated that they planned to continue along the same lines as current practices, though with greater efficiency. In addition, some responses came from people who currently have no on-line access, but nevertheless still feel that the Internet has much to offer them and archaeology as a whole.

Table 7.4 Digital datasets to which organisations would like access

Current Future
Receiving specialists' papers for incorporation into project reports (19) Same, though also including images
Mapping data:
GIS and mapping (19)
Ordnance Survey data (11)
Obtaining NMR information (via Canmore Web) (2)
SMR/NMR development (9)
Same, and accessing SMR/NMR data (19)
Same, in particular obtaining project information in digital form for incorporation into the SMR/NMR (10)
Offering Internet access to catalogues (6)
General information:
General information retrieval via the Internet (5) Same, including images, and information exchange (10)
Accessing online bibliographies and library catalogues (5)
Having access to a complete, integrated digital archive of projects (4)
Linking dispersed collections/those held by different organisations via the Internet (2)

Figure 7.19 Should data in SMRs be made available over the Internet?

Individual response (269) Organisational response (170)

In addition to the free text response, ranges of questions were also asked relating to whether data from SMRs and NMRs should be made available on-line. Responses are shown in Figures 7.19-7.20. The legend and axis labels are the same for both graphs.

Figure 7.19 illustrates that there is widespread support for making SMR information available across all areas of archaeology. Some organisations are more supportive of making this information available on-line than are individuals, i.e. museums, consultancies and library/archives. Importantly, strong support is obtained from local government archaeologists, curating these datasets. However, a sizeable minority does not want to make information available over the Internet - in particular those based in museums, and archaeology consultants.

The picture for NMRs is slightly different. Overall, there is greater support for releasing NMRs on-line. Those most in favour of this form of access are universities/colleges; there is less support among national bodies and local government. Again, this contrasts with the response from individuals, where those working for local government and national bodies were among the most enthusiastic for making NMRs available on-line. Nevertheless, there is overwhelming support for offering sites and monuments datasets over the Internet.

Figure 7.20. Should data in NMRs be made available over the Internet?

Individual Responses (269) Organisational responses (170)

Comments from respondents regarding on-line access to SMRs/NMRs focussed on two prominent arguments for controlling access to sites and monuments records. Many stressed the need to prevent access to site location information from people that may want to damage sites and monuments (illicit treasure hunting was the most common concern). Secondly, many felt that only part of the information held on SMRs/NMRs was suitable for public access - such datasets would need to be made more accessible by explaining terminology, codes and so on, and not all fields may be needed. These arguments need to be refined in the light of recent developments, as important parts of the NMRs for Scotland and England are now available over the Internet. The RCAHMS CANMORE-web was the first NMR to be made available on-line. Site location references were stripped to 6 figures (excluding the 100km letters), and the RCAHMS were aware of the challenges posed to users in being faced with what may for many be unfamiliar coding. Parts of England's NMR are now available through the ADS in the form of the Excavation Index and Index of Microfilm Reports.

7.7 Summary

Archaeologists need to obtain information irrespective of the media on which it is available. The main points from this section are:

Back Contents ADS Home Forward