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Come on Lets Go: Access, Acessibility, and Digital Image Archives

Robinson, A; Terras, M; (2005) Come on Lets Go: Access, Acessibility, and Digital Image Archives. In: (Proceedings) Digital Resources in the Humanities, University of Lancaster, UK, September 2005.

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Amy Robinson and Melissa Terras School of Library, Archive and Information Studies, University College London amy.robinson@gmail.com, m.terras@ucl.ac.uk Digitisation – the “conversion of an analog signal or code into a digital signal or code” (Lee 2001, p.3) - is an increasingly common activity for cultural and heritage institutions. There are many frequently given reasons to digitise a collection, such as providing rapid retrieval, increasing the usability of objects and artefacts, and in some cases providing a means of conservation, but it has often been stated that the main aim of digitisation is to increase access to collections (RLG 1996, LIC 1998, Ross et al 1998, Lee 2001, TASI 2004, to name but a few sources). Indeed, improving “access” is a main requirement of funding bodies in the present digitisation climate: for example, it is the first named target in the JISC proposal to create an Online Information Environment (JISC 2003), and is the primary objective in the JISC Digitisation programme (JISC 2005). However, “access” is often poorly defined, as it can regard making the resource more usable, or generally available, or available to new audiences. It can also regard improving accessibility to disabled users. These two activities are not mutually exclusive: the practical and legal requirements now required to make publicly available resources “accessible” to disabled users to a certain extent directs the design and implementation of (predominantly online), publicly available digital collections, and this can affect the implementation and usability of such sources. Additionally, the limited funding available on most digitisation projects mean that institutions may have to curb what they can do to improve access to the items in their collection after the process of digitising the objects or artefacts has been completed, whether that means developing resources to increase general use or access, or specifically tailoring resources to a particular user group. Although there is a growing literature on making websites accessible to disabled people (Paciello 2000, Clark 2002, Mueller 2003), and a number of UK based studies to evaluate the accessibility of websites, particularly in the library sector (Ormes and Peacock 1999, Brophy and Craven 1999, Petrie et al 2004), very little research has been done to evaluate the accessibility of digitised online collections produced by libraries, museums and archives, for either the general or disabled user (Robinson 2004). This paper sets out to investigate the ways in which institutions such as libraries, archives, and museums are attempting to make their online collections more reachable, open, understandable, and appreciable, whilst also attempting to comply with accessibility legislation, to provide “access” to as wide a community as possible. This paper explores the different ways in which institutions are going beyond the basic process of digitisation and attempting to make their online collections more accessible, which includes alternative methods of image searching and retrieval, the provision of accompanying resources such as digital exhibitions and interviews with related experts, and traditional and web-based means of publicising the existence of their collections. Additionally, this paper investigates how institutions are complying with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (2004) and making their online collections accessible to disabled users. This paper also discusses the pressures and difficulties of increasing the accessibility of digitised resources caused by lack of resources and funding in many digitisation projects. After analysing the current trends, legalities, and definitions of what it means to provide “access” to digital image collections, the paper will focus specifically on three online digital image collections and how they are dealing with the accessibility issue: • COLLAGE (the Corporation of London Libraries and Arts Galleries Electronic ), containing 26,000 images from the Guildhall Library’s Print Room and the Guildhall Art Gallery. This resource was chosen as it is a well established collection, launched in 1999 . • AHDS (Arts and Humanities Data Service) Visual Arts , comprising of 20 collections from various institutions, including 24,000 images in total. Launched online in 2000, this was chosen because its staff provide an advisory service and are considered experts in digitisation, thus giving good insight into the issues described . • Art and Architecture , including 40,000 images from the Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery and Conway Library, launched in 2003. This resource was chosen because it is a relatively new online collection . Staff responsible for these collections were interviewed regarding accessibility issues, and disabled users were also asked to comment on the accessibility of these websites. Various tensions were discovered between the wants and needs of both users and creators, and the theory and practice of making online digital image collections “accessible”, in both the wider and more focussed sense. The research provides an overview of access, whilst highlighting issues raised in trying to make collections more accessible through digitisation. In doing so it questions the main aim that is stated for digitisation: is access to databases and digital artefacts enough? What does it mean to be truly accessible? Do online digital image collections really increase access to collections? Recommendations are made to digital image collections, and the relationship between access and digitisation is fully explored. Acknowledgements Thanks are given to the staff of COLLAGE, AHDS, and Art and Architecture, for helping in this research, and also to the users involved in usability testing of these websites. References Brophy, P. and Craven, J. (2003). “Non-visual Access to the Digital Library (Nova): the Use of the Digital Library Interfaces by Blind and Visually Impaired People”. http://www.cerlim.ac.uk/projects/nova/index.php Accessed 30/03/05. Clark, J. (2002). Building Accessible Websites. Indianapolis, New Riders. Disability Discrimination Act (1995). http://www.disability.gov.uk/dda/ Accessed 30/3/05. European Parliament (2002). “European Parliament Resolution on the Commission communication eEurope 2002: accessibility of public websites and their content”. http://europa.eu.int/information_society/topics/citizens/accessibility/web/wai_2002/ep_res_web_wai_2002/index_en.htm Accessed 30/3/05. JISC (2003). “Investing in the Future, Developing an Online Information Environment” http://www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/Investing%20in%20the%20Future%20v4.pdf Accessed 30/3/05 JISC (2005), JISC Digitisation Programme, http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=programme_digitisation, Accessed 30/3/05. Library and Information Commission (LIC) (1998), “Virtually New - Creating the Digital Collection: A Review of Digitisation Projects in Local Authorities, Libraries and Archives” http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/lic/digitisation/intro.html Accessed 22/3/05. Mueller, J. (2003). Accessibility for everyone: understanding the section 508 accessibility requirements. Berkeley, Apress. Ormes, S. and I. Peacock. (1999). “Virtually Accessible to All?” Library Technology, 4 (1), 17-18. Petrie, H., N. King, F. Hamilton, and M. Weisen (2004). “Disabled people and the Web: Web accessibility in the cultural sector”. Paper presented at the EVA (Electronic Imaging and the Visual Arts) Conference, London, 29 July 2004. Paciello, M. (2000). Web accessibility for people with disabilities. Lawrence: CMP Books. Robinson, A. (2004). “The Accessibility of Digital Image Collections”. MA Dissertation, School of Library, Archive, and Information Studies, University College London. Ross, S., M. Economou, and J. Anderson (1998). “Funding Information and Communications Technology in the Heritage Sector , Policy Recommendations to the Heritage Lottery Fund”. Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute (HATII), http://www.hatii.arts.gla.ac.uk/research/HLFICT/ Accesed 22/3/05. Research Libraries Group (RLG), 1996. Selecting Library and Archive Collections for Digital Reformatting: Proceedings from an RLG Symposium held November 5-6, 1995 in Washington DC. Technical Advisory Service for Images (TASI) (2004), “Deciding to Digitise”, http://www.tasi.ac.uk/advice/managing/decide.html Accessed 22/3/05 W3C (1999). “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0”. http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/ Accessed 30/3/05.

Type: Proceedings paper
Title: Come on Lets Go: Access, Acessibility, and Digital Image Archives
Event: Digital Resources in the Humanities, University of Lancaster, UK, September 2005
Dates: 05 November 1995 - 06 November 1995
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of Information Studies
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/4814
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