New Technologies for Cultural Information
We live in an era of rapid development of information technologies and their widespread application in all fields of human life and work. The field of culture cannot escape this development. More and more cultural and other organisations process and organise their valuable data by means of computers, thus increasing the efficiency of search and analysis.
Modern society, whose key word is communication, provides an abundance of communication channels and information sources scattered through a waste space. With the production of knowledge and information constantly increasing, this puts an emphasis on finding and selecting the relevant information needed to plan one's actions.
Cooperation, exchange and communication are becoming increasingly intensive, and there is a need for a quick, easy, and simple way of reaching out. Another problem has emerged recently - the lack of links between various information sources. The information that is needed can be obtained quickly and efficiently only when one knows where to find it; otherwise the efficiency of searches would not be great and would greatly depend on luck. In order to get high quality information, one must first collect data on who collects similar information, and then search the appropriate sources. Our wish is to assist a wide range of cultural institutions around the world with their search by providing and facilitating access to available information on research activities, documentation/information and education in the field of cultural development. The Culturelink Network service includes also publishing (the bulletin Culturelink, different directories and studies). In addition, we respond to many requests for answers to specific questions which we process daily. To be able to answer all such requests quickly, efficiently and correctly, we need a firm but flexible information/documentation support for our networking activities.
With five years of operation and 800 members, there is a lot of information to be stored and retrieved when needed. The constant flow of information into Culturelink's focal point and information produced within the focal point (different researches conducted by the Culturelink Network) requires well-organised information support, so that we can find it easily and that you can get it quickly. The solution, of course, is database support, which is the way of keeping data in one place, with no double versions, easy to manage and to retrieve. Documents and publications that are received from you are processed into the bibliographical database and the bulletin Culturelink, making it possible to retrieve source material at any time, for further use by us or by you.
The purpose of an information centre or information network is to provide specific knowledge needed to drive one's actions. The nature of such knowledge is quite diverse. It ranges from concise information, such as a contact address chosen by a specific key, through publications that cover certain topics, projects under way in certain countries, to overall outlines of activities in specific areas or detailed descriptions of relevant institutions.
The information system's life cycle is a dynamic process, consisting of the development phase preceding its operation and its active phase during which it keeps constantly developing and changing. During the four years of operation of the Culturelink Database, the second information facility of the Culturelink Network, change and development are its most striking feature. Although constant in its essence, the system has evolved in terms of coverage and technology in accordance with the members' needs.
At present the Culturelink Database stores information on 1,000 institutions and networks world-wide, mainly from Europe and North America - their research projects, publications, databases, personnel, etc. (The structure and content of the Culturelink Database was described in Culturelink no. 11/November 1993, pp. 3-6.) In recent years it has become essential for a cultural institution to have an educational policy and programme, and consequently we have broadened our scope of research to include educational and training opportunities, by which we hope to improve the accessibility of information regarding educational opportunities in cultural institutions. We have extended the database also to another subject area, namely training opportunities, thus trying to accommodate our users' needs.
Directories, handbooks and guides are a feature of our time, and they cover every conceivable form of human activity. We live at a time of increasingly intensive communication and linkage, and the proliferation of directories and similar manuals is just one way to satisfy the ever-growing need for information. (See Biserka Cvjetičanin, Cultural Communication and the Role of the Directory, in: The Directory of Institutions and Databases in the Field of Cultural Development, Culturelink/IRMO, Zagreb, 1995, p. 1.) Our intention is to provide different thematic and regional directories of the subjects active in the field of cultural development, based on our database support. The first directory published in the planned Culturelink directories series is the Directory of Institutions and Databases in the Field of Cultural Development, which is a selected printout of the Culturelink Database containing data on 170 institutions and networks from around the world, more than 350 publications, 330 cultural projects, 130 cultural databases, and more than 500 professionals. With the publication of this directory we hope to improve and facilitate cooperation within the cultural community and answer most frequently asked questions.
Following the completion of the first phase, in which we built a broad knowledge base, we are now focusing on cultural institutions in Central and Eastern Europe, with the intention to bring data about them to the attention of corresponding institutions in the West. We have mailed a questionnaire to some 250 institutions in Central and Eastern Europe and are getting their replies. The data they provide will be entered into the Culturelink Database and will be published in the form of a regional directory in the summer of 1995.
Research on information resources in Africa and the Mediterranean region, currently in active preparation, should also result in a database and a directory, as well as some databases/directories where information will be organised by the type of institution, such as the directory of cultural centres, foundations, and so forth.
The arrival of Internet, the most famous computer network, has opened up unimaginable opportunities for searching and offering information that is more than ever becoming the precondition for successful actions. Not only is Internet a network in a technical sense - it is a whole new parallel universe that enables one to travel, explore, interact or search without having to leave the room or to wait for replies. One can be anywhere in no time, or even better in several places at the same time. Internet provides opportunities for any type of interaction. Its combination with contemporary technology has transformed digital information, which used to be mostly textual in nature, into multimedia information, thus letting us have knowledge about things instead just information about them. In other words, instead of reading a sketchy description of a recently issued CD, we can browse through melodies printed on it, or hunting for a house, instead of reading three pages of adds that all say the same things, one can walk inside the house, look through its windows, and listen to the sounds in it. Imagine what this technology can do for artists, letting them present their work to interested exhibition organisers or potential buyers, not only in their town, but anywhere in the world.
Electronic publications have become complements to theirs hard-print copies. They are inexpensive, easily accessible and ecologically oriented, as they do not require paper to communicate information. As this new world of Internet emerged, we felt obligated to use it and thus speed up and facilitate communication with you. Our first step in this direction, two years ago, was to organise the Gopher service, through which we offer textually based information. Logically, the first thing that we translated into the Internet technology was the Cultural Policy Database (See Culturelink no. 13/August 1994, pp. 8-9, and Mira Mileusnic Skrtic, Access Culturelink through Internet, in this issue.), the product of a research project conducted by IRMO. Being a textual database, implemented locally and having a hierarchical structure, it was compatible with a Gopher way of organising information, so we totally substituted its locally run version with the Internet based one.
The bulletin Culturelink no. 12/April 1994 was the first one to get its electronic twin. From the mail received from our members, we know that it is widely used by them, and from a number of contacts with unknown persons we are aware of its use by non-members.
The previously described Culturelink Database, being a relational database, cannot be implemented in such a manner. To make it accessible to our members on-line, it is prepared to be implemented in some UNIX-based SQL database management system, which should provide for the possibility of access for our remote users. It will be structured in such a way that it is searchable by multiple keys. The engineering of such a system is not an easy task, especially as we want to translate a relational model of data into an object-oriented model. To make it possible for you to access this database directly, the Directory of Institutions and Databases in the Field of Cultural Development will be partly implemented on our Gopher and soon on WWW pages. (See Aleksandra Ivir and Pavle Schramadei, Some Thoughts on Computer-Mediated Communication, in this issue.)
The Internet growth is tremendous. It is getting bigger as a community and more and more sophisticated in the services that it provides. As more and more Culturelink members join in, we are increasingly oriented to its use. Still, traditional ways of communication will not be abandoned. Personal encounters and books will still play a mayor role in our daily life and work, but their electronic twins are gaining in importance.