DCMS calls for strategic approach to digitisation

Jonathan Knott, 14.03.2018
National Archives will convene a taskforce to address barriers
A UK government report has called for a more strategic approach to digitising collections, led by the National Archives.

The Culture is Digital report, published last week by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said: “The National Archives will work with culture sector representatives to develop a new strategic approach to the digitisation and presentation of cultural objects.”

The archives will convene a taskforce to “address the barriers to the strategic digitisation of collections”, said the report. This group will have “a specific remit to devise the common standards to make our assets more interoperable and discoverable”.

The recommendation develops the ambition to make the UK “one of the world’s leading countries for digitised public collections content” stated in 2015’s Culture White Paper.

The Culture is Digital report covers the whole of the UK, although some of its recommended actions will only apply in England, because they will be delivered only by Arts Council England (ACE). It follows a consultation and policy-making process launched in April last year, which received submissions from more than 150 organisations.

The report noted that “public funding to digitise collections has historically been largely responsive to calls from individual organisations with little cross-sector strategy and no alignment to ensure that digitised cultural content across projects and collections can be easily connected”.

It said that digitisation projects can be expensive, requiring specialist equipment and expertise, and that once online, digitised collections can be difficult to discover in searches.

The DCMS said: "Throughout this project there have been calls for a more strategic and coordinated approach to enable more connections and curated content to be available across multiple digitised collections, across sectors and to improve discoverability for audiences.

“This change would meet the expectations of audiences, scholars and the museums and archives workforce who expect digital content to be easy to navigate and open for them to enjoy, contribute to, participate in and share.”

Among the report's other recommendations are for the National Gallery to set up an innovation lab, working with partners including the charity Nesta. The lab will aim to enable museums to enhance their visitor experience and content creation using advanced digital technologies, and develop collaborations with the technology and academic sectors.

It also calls for ACE to work with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and other partners to pilot a Digital Maturity Index for the cultural sector, “to enable organisations to understand and benchmark their own digital capability and set plans in place to make improvements”. A spokeswoman for the DCMS said that no decisions had yet been made on whether this would apply to England or the whole UK, but that "the intention is to be as inclusive as possible".

In addition, ACE will set up a Digital Culture Network, “investing £1.1m over two years to create a network of expertise and sharing of best practice across each region in England in order to increase its sectors’ digital skills and capability”.

And the HLF will create a £1m two-year campaign, starting in 2019-20, “focused on attracting high quality digital skills projects”.

The culture secretary Matt Hancock said: “We want the UK to be the best place in the world to trial pioneering technology, while also maintaining our world leading status as a centre of artistic and cultural excellence.

“Our Culture Is Digital report sets out how culture and technology can collaborate, learn from one another and keep innovating. By embracing new technologies and attracting more diverse audiences, we will continue to cement our status as a creative powerhouse in the digital age.”