UKOLN Good Practice Guide for Developers of Cultural Heritage Web Services

This page is intended for printing out purposes only and so some of the internal links may not work.

Introduction to this Guidebook

This guidebook provides advice on standards and best practices to organisations involved in the development of cultural heritage Web services. The content of the guidebook originates from a number of different sources:


NOF-digitise was a nationwide digitisation and publication programme funded by British National Lottery proceeds. Its scope and ambition was unlike anything that has been attempted before and it has broken new ground in the understanding and expectations of digitisation projects. This significant undertaking was funded through the New Opportunities Fund (NOF), now rebranded as The Big Lottery Fund, and resulted in 152 projects receiving support for a huge variety of initiatives across a very diverse range of cultural, academic and educational spheres.

During the course of the programme, the Technical Advisory Service (TAS) was provided by UKOLN and AHDS for the benefit of the participant projects and the central administrative team at the New Opportunities Fund. In its lifetime, the TAS provided a wealth of technical advice and support to the participants and stakeholders of NOF-digitise. This guidebook captures, reformats and builds on the strong output that the TAS and partners generated for this programme.

QA Focus

The QA Focus project was funded by the JISC to support JISC's digital library programmes. QA Focus was provided by a partnership of UKOLN (University of Bath) and the AHDS. Funding for the QA Focus project officially finished on 31st July 2004 but resources continue to be added to the QA Focus Web.

Use of this Guidebook

We hope that the advice provided in this handbook will be helpful to those involved in the development of digital cultural heritage resources. Previously the guidebook was essentially a snapshot of the advice provided during the lifetime of the NOF-digitise programme. However as of April 2006 the guidebook will be more regulary updated. However before attempting to implement any of the advice provided, you should read the terms and conditions which govern the development work you are involved in.

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Management Processes

Project Management


This section was first published as part of the NOF-digi Technical Advisory Service Programme Manual in 2003.


This section covers the key issues, tools and activities associated with managing a project. Where possible, examples have been shown for illustration or links to relevant Web sites given. Selected key texts giving fuller coverage are listed in the Bibliography and if you have not managed a project before, we would recommend items from this for further reading and/or attending a training course. Some Web sites offering courses are listed in the Human Resources section of the guidebook. Whilst the principles described here can be applied to any project from moving house to setting up a new business, we have tried to draw out particular aspects that apply to managing a technical project such as digitising collections of resources.

Project definition and attributes

Firstly it is helpful to try to define exactly what a project is - what makes it different from other activities such as running an inter-library loan service or maintaining an online catalogue, and we will look at the distinguishing attributes of a project.

A project is an activity which achieves specific objectives through a set of defining tasks and effective use of resources.

Projects have a number of distinctive attributes:

The specific project objectives can be grouped under three general headings: quality (which we can define as fitness for purpose or specification level), costs i.e. the budget, and time (to completion). Each project will have some key objectives which tend to be more important than the others e.g. the quality of the digital images is paramount and the purchase of (relatively) expensive scanning hardware may be acceptable in order to achieve this aim.

In any project, people are a fundamental key to success and provide the links which facilitate the achievement of the project objectives. This is shown below in Figure 1 as the Triangle of Objectives [1].

Diagram of the Triangle of Objectives
Figure 1: Triangle of Objectives

All objectives must be SMART:

Specific: expressed singularly
Measurable: ideally in quantitative terms
Acceptable: to stakeholders
Realistic: in terms of achievement
Time-bound: a timeframe is stated

Projects have a defined time frame or finite life span with a beginning and an end. Unlike the example of maintaining a service, such as an online catalogue which is an on-going and continuous activity, a digitisation project will have agreed start and end dates, which are frequently determined by the availability of project funding and/or the availability of project staff (or others) to carry out the work.

Projects are often unique either because they have never before been attempted or because the mix of parameters is customised for the particular activity.

Project life cycle

Projects can be described by using a life cycle approach and the four phases of the life cycle are shown below in Figure 2 [2].

Diagram of the four phases of the life cycle
Figure 2: Project Life Cycle

In the first phase, a need is identified by the client, customer or funder and this results in a Request for Proposals (RfP) which describes and defines the needs and requirements. We can call this phase Initiation. In the case of the NOF-digitise programme the initial call for proposals was issued in 1999, to which a large number of organisations and consortia responded.

The second phase is characterised by the development of proposed solutions and the Bidding process. This was characterised in the case of nof-digitise programme by a structured bid form which requested specific items of information related to project costs, staffing and other resources, timescales, description of the activities, compliance to technical standards and key deliverables.

The third phase in which the project is executed covers detailed planning and Implementation and we will return to this in some detail shortly.

The final phase is terminating the project or Closure. In some cases this is marked with formal acceptance by the customer or client with signed documentation.

There are two important additional activities associated with projects that are worthy of special mention here: evaluation and dissemination. It should be noted that both evaluation and dissemination are not confined to the later phases of the project. The process of liaising with users and stakeholders, gaining feedback and facilitating interaction should begin as early as possible. Similarly, the mechanisms for disseminating information about project activities must begin at project start-up and continue throughout the duration of the work.

The remainder of this section concentrates on the key activities of the third phase Implementation, and covers planning, monitoring, and controlling.

Why planning is important

In order to achieve the objectives of any project it is essential to look at the details of the work required, which includes identifying specific tasks and estimating time to complete them, estimating associated costs, identifying who will perform the tasks and highlighting areas of risk together with devising appropriate contingency plans. In some cases, an outline of this information is required in the bid for funding.

It is usually part of the responsibility of the project manager to create the project plan and to update it on a regular and frequent basis. This is an important point - project plans are not made in tablets of stone! They are dynamic and must reflect the current situation. In most projects there are a number of "unexpected" challenges or events which may affect the timescales, costs and outcomes of the project. With good planning these unexpected events can be dealt with effectively and will not cause insoluble difficulties to the project team.

At this initial planning stage of the project it would be useful to refer to the Good Practice Guide sections on the Digitisation Processes and Content Management Systems.

There are a number of tools available to assist with the planning process and these are described in more detail below. Which tools are used will depend on the size and nature of the project.

Formal methods of project planning and software tools

There are a number of formal methods for managing projects. One such example is Prince 2.

PRINCE is an acronym for PRojects IN Controlled Environments and is a complete methodology frequently used for managing large-scale projects in UK government departments and agencies. More information is available at <>

There are also a number of software packages which facilitate the planning process by providing simple ways of employing the techniques described below. Which package you use (if any) will depend on a number of factors such as size of the project, organisation preferences, licences available and previous project experiences. Some sites where more information can be found are given here:

Directory of Project Management Software
A Buyer's Guide to Selecting Project Management Software
Software Project Management Links Page

Planning tools and techniques

We have already noted that the project objective(s) must be clearly identified in order to inform the planning process.

A detailed project plan should be prepared and will usually be a requirement of the funders. For example in the NOF-digitise programme projects were required to submit a project business plan at stage two of the application process. A number of tools or methodologies can assist the creation process.

It is useful to begin the process by identifying all the tasks and elements of the project. The creation of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a systematic approach to scoping the project work in which a logical, hierarchical pattern is devised which may resemble a family tree. An example for moving a set of offices and staff to a new building, is given in Figure 3 [3]. Each branch contains work items which are further broken down into work packages. Note that tasks may have already been grouped into Work Packages as part of preparation for the bidding process.

Diagram of example Work Breakdown Structure
Figure 3: Office Move Work Breakdown Structure

The level to which tasks are identified will depend on the size and nature of the project, the level at which a single individual or team can be assigned responsibility and the level at which costs are allocated. Not all branches of the WBS have to be broken down to the same level.

Once tasks have been identified, they need to be scheduled within the project time-frame. A visual representation of this process is helpful and a Gantt Chart or bar chart is a valuable aid to planning and achieves this aim. Named after the American industrial engineer Henry Gantt (1861-1919), they can easily be created with the project management software tools described above. It is also possible to indicate the inter-dependencies of tasks using cascading arrows (i.e. instances where one activity cannot begin until another is completed). Project milestones (time points that indicate completion of key phases) and deliverables (defined and tangible outcomes of the project) can also be marked.

An example Gantt Chart is shown below in Figure 4 (click on the image to enlarge).

example of a Gantt diagram
Figure 4: Gantt Chart

A more recent development is network analysis which covers a number of different methods which had their origins in the late 1950s, and were used successfully in the management of various US defense projects. Their particular strength is in their ability to show the various inter-dependencies of related tasks, however they require some initial learning and practice to become adept at their interpretation. There are two main systems:

  1. Activity-on-arrow systems such as PERT (Programme Evaluation and Review Technique)
  2. Activity-on-node or activity-in-the-box networks such as precedence notation or precedence diagrams. These are more popular and more detail is therefore given on this method.

The notation convention for an activity in precedence notation is given in Figure 5 [4]. The flow of work is from left to right.

Diagram of An Activity in Precedence Notation
Figure 5: An Activity in Precedence Notation

Each activity is given a unique identification number and they are linked by arrows. Duration estimates can be made in days, weeks or months as appropriate and the total project duration calculated by passing from left to right (the forward pass). The latest permissible times to finish activities can be calculated by a backward pass which identifies the float or amount of slack available for starting and finishing an activity.

The chain of activities where the earliest and the latest times coincide showing a zero float also show the completion of the project in the earliest possible time - the critical path. A worked example of which can be seen at: <>

Risk management

All projects have elements of risk associated with them, largely because they involve new activities and innovative work. A general analysis of the risks associated with the project should be performed at an early stage to identify them and scope their potential impact.

For a digitisation project, an analysis of risks would include consideration of factors such as:

Staff: do you have the right mix of people and skills employed on the project?
Equipment: is appropriate equipment in place? Is it reliable?
Dependencies on external factors: extent to which successful delivery of the project relies on external parties, such as other consortia members or suppliers.
Extent of innovation or novelty of project: to what extent does the project involve new and innovative work?

Risks can then be graded with a hazard rating low, medium and high and the likelihood of their occurrence estimated. Contingency and containment plans for activities with a degree of risk associated with them, should be created which include any relevant adjustments to timescales and costs.

For a more detailed analysis of the likelihood of identified risks occurring, software is available for calculating statistical probabilities, such as OPERA which is part of the Open Plan Professional system.

A more detailed exposition on risks and risk management can be found in Chapman and Ward 1997 [5].

Costing and budgets

Project activity is costed at the bidding stage. This is a critical stage and you should ensure that all activities and resources included in the proposal are costed as accurately as possible. Requirements of funders will differ, but it is usual that the bid includes quotes for large items of expenditure such as equipment or specialist services that you intend to contract out. NOF-digi projects, for example, were required to obtain at least two quotations for all capital and revenue costs contracted to external suppliers.

Personnel departments should be able to provide information on staff costs. Don't forget to include the total cost of employing staff in your overall project budget (i.e. recruitment, salary, employers National Insurance and pension contributions as well). Other costs such as travel or the production of promotional materials for example may have to be estimated as accurately as possible. Your budget should also include office accommodation costs for staff and overheads such as heating and lighting.

Closely defining the budget at the bidding stage will be helpful when you later go on to plan the project in detail and finally implement it.

It will be the job of the project manager to ensure that the aims of the project are met whilst keeping expenditure within the limits of the budget. Thus monitoring spending throughout the duration of the project is critical. Expenditure monitoring and reporting should be built into the project plan. You may expect, for example, that monthly reports on expenditure are presented at project meetings. In addition to monitoring and reporting for internal purposes, funders will usually require regular updates on expenditure. For example the NOF-digitise programme required projects to make quarterly progress reports throughout the payment period of grant. As staff effort is likely to be a significant resource, you should consider using timesheets to monitor effort. These are particularly important if staff are only spending part of their time on the project. Depending on how the project plan has been compiled, you may want staff to breakdown their effort into the identified tasks and workpackages of the project.

When costing activity you may also want to take into account the potential your project has for income generation. Consideration of this could also occur at the stage of the project where exit strategies and sustainability of the project once the initial funding has ceased are under consideration. For a discussion of these issues, see the section on Income Generation and Sustainability.

Monitoring and controlling

Once implementation of the project has begun, progress must be monitored. Various routine staff management and supervisory approaches can be adopted or more formal methods introduced where updates on tasks are gathered regularly. Reports may be produced as part of this process. One type of monitoring is to use exception reports which only cover areas or activities which are at variance or diverging from the plan. The advantage is that "paperwork" is kept to a minimum and only appropriate level of detail and content is passed up the management chain. However the drawback of this approach is that it relies on good team communication and awareness to ensure that the project manager is kept informed.

Regular management and financial reports with expenditure monitoring are essential and are frequently a requirement of the funders. The NOF-digitise programme required that quarterly progress reports be completed and submitted to coincide with the revenue payments cycle. These reports followed the format of the NOF-digitise business plan and required reporting on the progress of individual work packages, income received and expenditure by the project during the reporting period and any variations to cashflow forecast in the business plan, as well as a checklist of compliance with the Programme's technical standards. In addition to this, organisations are required to complete an annual monitoring return once services are publicly launched, in order to monitor the benefits the digitised materials are delivering.

Documentation and reports

A project generates a large amount of documentation. There will be a project plan which is constantly updated. There may be an evaluation plan and a dissemination strategy. There may be a technical or requirements specification, software documentation and user guides.

There will be interim reports and more lengthy annual reports and regular summary updates for the funders.

There may be notes from project team meetings. More formal meetings with stakeholders or with consortia partners will have agendas and minutes.

In all cases, version control is vital to maintain an audit trail and for archiving purposes, it may be necessary in larger projects to consider some form of document management system.

People and roles

Depending their size, projects may have only one or two staff or comprise of multiple teams with many team leaders reporting to the project manager. In larger organisations, a project director may manage multiple projects.

We have identified five key roles within a digitisation project whist acknowledging that there will be additional roles depending on the nature of the project, which could include designers, digitisers, interpreters etc. Whilst the Project Manager and Technical Officer would normally role assigned to individuals, the other roles would not necessarily be ascribed to specific individuals as each project will need to determine its spread of roles and posts according to its individual circumstances.

Project Manager: responsible for managing resources including the project team and the overseeing the budget

Technical Officer: responsible for systems maintenance, software development, and providing technical support to the project team

Information and Communications Officer: responsible for creating and implementing a dissemination/marketing strategy

Evaluation: responsible for creating and implementing an evaluation plan

Learning resource creation: responsible for developing learning resources from digitised content

More detailed job description templates for the first three of these posts are given in the section on Human Resources.

A project is more likely to be successful if the team is working well together and the team dynamics are good. More detailed information on building successful teams and the various roles identified within a team is provided in the Human Resources section.

Steering groups, stakeholders and politics

Projects should normally have a Steering or Advisory Group. This is a group of experts, stakeholders or other interested parties who meet on a regular but infrequent formal basis (e.g. two to four times a year) to advise, guide and help the project team. They should also receive more regular reports so that they can maintain an overview of progress between meetings. There is usually a representative of the funding agency and a senior member of the host organisation. Sometimes if appropriate, there may be "user" representation.

Updates on progress, finance, evaluation, dissemination and future plans are common agenda items. The meetings are often chaired by a senior representative of the organisation.

It is advisable to establish agreed Terms of Reference at an early stage to guide the activities of the Steering Group. The name and membership of the group will need to be agreed and a draft set of terms is listed below which covers conduct of meetings and functions of the group.

Conduct of meetings:

Functions of the group:

Steering Groups can be very useful fora for airing ideas, testing political views, seeking external expert advice and gaining support for particular approaches.

Consortia and partnerships

There are many benefits both for programme administrators and applicants of consortia working. At a practical level, good value for money will be achieved through, for example, eliminating duplication of effort, using economies of scale to good effect and sharing experience and expertise. At programme level, the themed-bid consortium approach will deliver the basis for a coherent, managed body of content consistent with other major national initiatives. It will also offer added value and greater potential for sustainability.

The NOF-digi programme, for example, defined three models of consortia working:

Fully integrated:
lead partner takes responsibility for delivery of the project and management of the single NOF grant.
Partially integrated:
lead partner takes responsibility for overall project co-ordination, but different partners in the consortium may take on selected roles and aspects of project delivery, e.g. one partner may have responsibility for managing the digitisation processes of all partners' materials, another for the functionality of the Web site(s), or for publicity. Partners would receive grants for their specific activity, either directly or possibly through the lead partner.
Informal collaboration:
consortium agrees to work as a series of largely independent projects, each receiving a grant under an over-arching lead partner who would take on a co-ordinating role including responsibility for identifying any potential areas of duplication (e.g. in the materials to be processed).

Managing a consortial project is more complex than running a project from one organisation. There are inevitable additional politics to negotiate, more complex finances to manage, an increased need for good communications, particularly between teams and individuals at different locations, and more complicated planning. Whilst more frequent progress meetings may be desirable, there is an increased cost associated with bringing people together face-to-face and video-conferencing or conference calls are ways of achieving discussion without unnecessary expenditure.

Partnership agreements or a letter of understanding should be drawn up between consortia members. The agreement should outline how the services/activities are to be shared between partners, their estimated costs, the proposed structure of the partnership and how it will be managed. It is essential to consider how disagreements between partners would be dealt with and what to do if you find that your consortium cannot move forward, particularly where you are adopting the fully or partially integrated consortia models. There are various mechanisms you could use, such as agreeing to majority voting procedures, or alternatively the steering or advisory group could arbitrate in disputes.

The robustness of the partnership agreement depends on the level of integration of the partnership. Partners in fully integrated consortia who have delegated responsibility for their projects wholly to the lead partner will need to ensure they have a detailed agreement with the lead. Consortia where one partner is taking responsibility for services on behalf of other partners and thereby creating a dependency which could affect the outcome of their project may need a less rigorous agreement.

It is recommended that agreements are checked by legal representatives and that periodic reviews are built into the text.

Financial Checks

As part of the standard process for assessing and selecting suppliers, projects will obviously be checking for the financial longevity/strength/suitability of suppliers. Whilst consultancies will have specialised tools for such purposes, it is sometimes difficult for culture-sector organisations to establish their own accurate information.

Some potential sources of this information follow, most of which offer some information for free and some at a cost:
The home page for Companies House, provides basic name/address listings and status for free; reports and accounts can be downloaded at a cost.
Your local Business Link will usually have an information team who can provide tailored reports (usually at a quite reasonable price). The following link will take you to a searchable directory of local Business Links: The Business Links may also be able to review sole traders, as most credit referencing/business scoring agencies will not store information on such businesses/individuals.
Finally, a less "official", but potentially effective service is, which provides a range of personal and business services. The range of information here is broad.

As an aside, if you are concerned about your own data privacy, have a look at
- you have the ability to remove yourself from their lists.


  1. The people side of project management,Kliem, R. and Ludin, I. Gower, 1992
  2. Successful Project Management, Gido, J., Clements, J., South-western College, 1999
  3. Managing Projects Chalmers J., 1997
  4. Project Management Lock D., Gower, 2000
  5. Project risk management processes, techniques and insights, Chapman C. and Ward S., John Wiley, 1997

Comments On This Document

This section will be used to provide notes on the section, including details of any changes.

Document available

Human Resources


This section was first published as part of the NOF-digi Technical Advisory Service Programme Manual in 2003.


Human Resource Management is concerned with the processes of acquisition, development, motivation and maintenance of people. We will be focusing on the recruitment and selection of staff, team building and the roles that individuals play within teams, and the training and development of staff.

Projects by their very definition are finite activities with staff employed or seconded to the project team for the fixed duration of the project - which can vary from a few days or weeks to a number of years. The short-term nature of project work can be challenging to the management of people. Because of the short time scale you need to ensure that the right people are recruited to the project as there will often be little time for extensive periods of training to get people 'up to speed'. Indeed training and development of project staff can often be overlooked entirely whilst the goals of the project take priority. This is a rather short-term view however as effective training and development can lead to greater motivation and satisfaction of staff; both of which can be beneficial to the achievement of the ultimate aims of the project. A successful project will often lead to follow-on activities being developed and staff from the original project will go on to manage and develop these subsequent programmes. You also need to be aware of how project staff will fit with your existing staff and organisation structures. It can be a cause of resentment amongst existing staff if you have to pay more to recruit good, IT aware staff, for example.

Recruitment and selection

Recruitment and selection are fundamental in the HR management process particularly, as we have explained, when managing project work. It is recommended that some time is spent establishing the 'profile' of a vacant post through the three documents of job analysis, job description and person specification.

The first step in recruiting to a vacant post is to carry out a job analysis to identify the:

The information identified for the job analysis provides the data used in the job description and person specification.

A job description states the purpose, responsibilities and reporting structure of a job. It clarifies exactly what a job involves and provides the individual, their line manager and others in the organisation with a clear picture of the purpose of a post. Documenting tasks and responsibilities provides an opportunity of ensuring that these are always contributing to the overall aims of the project. As well as a recruitment tool the job description is a valuable documents for individuals. Having a set of defined job tasks and responsibilities is an aid to self-evaluation and can be used for initiating an appraisal discussion or other staff development activities.

The exact layout of the job description will depend on your organisational circumstances and in-house practices but it should include the following:

Title: which should be descriptive of the post

Purpose: probably one sentence describing the overall purpose and objectives of the job

Reporting structure: job titles of the line manager and any posts reporting to the post

Tasks and responsibilities: a list of responsibilities and duties which should be clear and precise, using adjectives such as 'designing', 'planning'; avoid vague terms such as 'in charge of'.

Scope of the post: an indication of the importance of the job, how it fits into the organisation, external contacts

Other information: statements on (for example) equal opportunities and other terms and conditions of employment.

Job description templates

Templates of job descriptions for the key roles of Project Manager and Technical Officer have been provided. The bullet pointed suggestions of areas to include in the descriptions can be included/excluded as required. It is acknowledged that organisations may have their own 'house style' and that local recruitment practices will have to be followed. However the templates included here are an attempt to demonstrate best practice in HR management.

In addition to the job descriptions, a list of tasks and responsibilities for information and communications activities have also been provided.

Project Manager


To define, plan, schedule and control the tasks that must be completed to achieve the [project] goals.

Reporting structure

The post-holder will be a member of the [team/department etc.], supervise the work of the [project team] and will report to the [Job Title].

Tasks and responsibilities

General activities:

Contacts outside of the organisation

Maintain contact with the funding body and join all relevant mailing lists.

To collaborate with other projects and other relevant organisations tasked with similar work.

Equal opportunities

The post holder will carry out their job responsibilities with due regard to the organisation's Equal Opportunities policy.

Terms and conditions

These will be stated in the Contract of Employment.

Date of completion: xx xxx, 2004


Technical Officer


To contribute to the development and management of a Web-based project delivering digitised learning materials to the public.

Reporting structure

The post-holder will be a member of the [team/department etc.], supervise the work of the [xxx] and will report to the [xxx].

Tasks and responsibilities

General activities

Contacts outside of the organisation

Liaise with any Technical Support Services from funders

Join appropriate mailing lists

To collaborate with other projects and relevant organisations.

Equal opportunities

The post holder will carry out their job responsibilities with due regard to the organisation's Equal Opportunities policy.

Terms and conditions

These will be stated in the Contract of Employment.

Date of completion: xx xxx, 2004

Information and communications tasks

In addition to the specific posts of project Manager and Technical Officer, it is likely that staff employed on the project will be carrying out tasks associated with information and communications activities. Whilst most projects may not have a specific person dedicated to these tasks (unless the project is very large) they are crucial tasks and should be incorporated into the work of others employed on the project.

The purpose of such tasks will be to:

To develop and implement a dissemination/evaluation/marketing strategy for the [XXX] service.

Tasks and responsibilities would include:

The person specification relates to the human characteristics and attributes that are considered to be necessary to perform the job effectively. They outline the attributes a candidate should possess to be suitable for the post. These attributes are usually divided into those that are 'essential' and those that are 'desirable' and would include:

Skills: that the candidate should have or be capable of acquiring to be able to perform the job effectively

Knowledge: technical, professional, administrative or organisational relative to the effective performance of the job

Experience: amount of relevant experience necessary in relation to the requirements of the job

Attitudes: behavioural qualities such as ability to work in a team, take initiative or work without supervision

Two well known and widely used methods used for compiling person specifications are Rodger's seven-point plan and Fraser's five-point plan which use criteria such as attainments; general intelligence; special aptitudes; disposition; and circumstances, impact on others; innate abilities; and motivation [1].

Internal or external recruitment?

Once the recruitment documentation has been drawn up and you are ready to advertise, you will need to decide whether you are going to recruit new staff from outside of the organisation or redeploy existing staff.

Recruiting externally is likely to be more costly and will usually take more time, however it will introduce 'new blood' and fresh ideas into the organisation.

Recruiting internally is likely to be cheaper and quicker (but you can be left with another vacancy to fill). It does however give existing staff the opportunity for development and their existing knowledge of the organisation can be a benefit. They will also probably need less time to 'settle into' their new post.

Staff within the organisation who are keen to be considered for secondments to project work could be encouraged to keep up to date copies of their CVs on record. Then, when vacancies do arise the requirements of the post, as identified in the job analysis and person specification can be matched with the skills and attributes of existing staff.


An alternative to recruiting to fill a vacancy might be to contract out the work. Although this may initially be more expensive you can save time by contracting for specific items of work to be completed to a fixed timescale. If you employ a contractor you will immediately have someone on site to carry out specified work without a 'lead in' time for training or induction into the organisation. You can also save on having to purchase specialist equipment. Outsourcing particular activities allows you to get in the expertise that you don't have and can't easily recruit for in-house - especially if it is for a very particular or specialised skills set. Indeed for less experienced organisations outsourcing (digitisation) work may be particularly appropriate. However, do bear in mind that if you do outsource work the opportunity is missed to develop new skills in-house for the future and by using subcontractors existing staff are not given the chance to develop new skills. There may also be issues relating to pay and conditions if contractors, who you would expect to pay substantial more for a fixed, short term period, are working alongside employees of the organisation.

You could also consider outsourcing specialist tasks, such as bulk scanning for digitisation, for example, to agencies. The work would normally be carried out off site, at the agencies premises. This would be particularly appropriate if the activity is a one-off, where training your staff would not be cost effective and would require the purchase of expensive equipment that might only be needed for a short time.

Well-qualified staff with appropriate technical skills are in short supply, particularly in the public sector so you should think carefully about targeting your recruitment advertising to make the best use of limited recruiting budgets. Vacancies may be suitable for recent graduates from local universities and colleges for example, so you might consider getting in touch with appropriate college departments who may advertise posts at little or no charge. You may have to be prepared to offer on the job training for someone with the technical skills but who lacks knowledge of your organisation or community. When recruiting for specialist jobs, such as highly skilled technical staff, recruitment agencies may be useful.

Staff retention

Once they have been recruited, retaining staff on a fixed term contract (if it is for a longer period) or to work on future projects and activities can be difficult. Ideally you should be able to offer the same levels and quality of training and development including appraisals and career guidance to project staff as that which is available for all permanent staff in the organisation. As well as formal training and development activities however, there are a variety of other initiatives that can provide the motivation and job satisfaction that staff need to encourage them to remain with the project/organisation.

Building successful teams

Digitisation projects will range from small teams of one or two people to projects consisting of multiple teams reporting to the project manager. Whatever the size, there are some basic elements of team building and the roles that individual perform within the team that it is useful to be familiar with whether you are managing or contributing to a team.

A definition

A team is a small number of people with complimentary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable [2].

Roles within teams

The effectiveness of a team depends to a large extent on its members. Appreciating the particular skills and attributes of team members and understanding the roles that individuals are best able to play will ensure that a team has the full range of skills and attributes it needs to be effective. Belbin, through extensive research has identified nine team roles that are important to a team and which individuals may have as strengths or weaknesses. Individuals can play one or more of these roles and each role has positive and negative aspects, which it is important for other team members to recognise.

The absence of some or any of these roles can reduce team effectiveness whilst too many individuals playing the same type of role in the team can cause friction and damage the team effectiveness. The team roles are as follows:

Co-ordinator: able to see clearly team objectives and is skilled at inviting contributions from other members. Recognises others strengths and weaknesses, less good at crisis management, likes participative, consultative management style.

Shaper: drives the team to get things going, promotes own views, can be pushy and aggressive.

It is usually co-ordinator or shaper types of individuals that assume leadership of a team.

Plant: source of original ideas and challenges the traditional way of thinking, not such a good communicator, can be over sensitive to criticism or praise.

Resource Investigator: good at bringing in information and support from outside, outgoing and communicative, good negotiator, strong networks of contacts. Can be quick to lose enthusiasm for tasks.

Implementer: good at turning big ideas into manageable tasks. Disciplined, conscientious, practical, trusting tolerate, but degree of rigidity, not always open to new ideas.

Team Worker: most aware of the needs and concerns of others in the team, sensitive and supportive, will build on others suggestions, but lacks leadership.

Completer/finisher: drives the deadlines and makes sure they are achieved, good attention to detail, high standards but intolerant of those that do not share same standards.

Monitor/evaluator: can see all the options and has a strategic perspective, but can be over critical.

Specialist: provides specialist skills and knowledge, has dedicated single-minded approach.

The roles described above are extremes of behaviour and an individual will usually be strong in one or two areas and weak in others. The important point is that teams that are well balanced in terms of the roles that their members play will be more effective than teams where one or more of the essential roles are missing [3].

In real life of course it is not always possible to select the exact balance of attributes to form a balanced team. But by being aware of the team roles it is possible to know why some teams are more effective than others and be able to recognise shortcomings within the team [4].

To maximise team performance the team leader needs to:

Effective teams are characterised by:

They depend on:

Motivating factors of teams:

Demotivating factors of teamwork:

Staff development and training

Importance of staff development and training

Training and development of staff should be a major area of activity for all organisations. Staff are the most valuable asset an organisation employs, and therefore developing their potential to assist in achieving the aims and objectives of the organisation and project is critical. And, as we have explained in previous sections of this manual, effective development and training can be a positive force in recruiting and retaining staff onto project work. In this section we will identify some of the more widely used development activities and suggest strategies for maximising job satisfaction.

The staff development and training process benefits the organisation and the individual at all stages of their career:

Stage 1: Recruitment and induction

Benefits to the organisation

Benefits to the individual

Stage 2: In-service training

Benefits to the organisation

Benefits to the individual

Stage 3: Moving on/career development

Benefits to the organisation

Benefits to the individual

Appraisals and performance reviews

Appraisals provide a framework to facilitate communication between the individual and their manager. The individual and organisation will only benefit from the process if all understand the purpose of the appraisal system and the benefits that can be delivered. Appraisals can have a number of objectives:

Performance review: identifies training needs, provides motivation, praise and constructive criticism. The aim is to improve the performance of the individual by reviewing existing performance and deciding on future goals and training needs. Staff need their managers view of their existing performance in order to be stimulated to improve.

Potential review: predicts the level/type of future work an individual could do. Identifies potential for possible internal promotion.

Reward review: allocate rewards fairly.

An important objective of all appraisals is establishing effective two-way communication between the appraiser and appraisee. Many staff welcome systematic feedback on their performance and advice on how to improve. Appraisals need to be viewed in association with training and development; organisations must be able to deliver training once it has been identified.

Implementing appraisals

It should be appreciated that the appraisal is a very personal experience. It must be confidential and staff must feel confident to speak frankly about their strengths and weakness and any problems they may be having. It must be made clear to all staff that all records of the appraisal are confidential.

To implement an appraisal system successfully the benefits must be made clear to staff. The aims of the system should be clearly started and the process explained. Management must show commitment to the process and staff must be able to see the outcomes of the process. The developmental role of appraisals should be emphasised rather than a management/control role.

A clear structure must be established for the meeting. Appraiser and appraisee should complete forms before the meeting and an agenda should be agreed.

Prior training should be given for both roles.

An appraisal is an important occasion and should be treated as such. A degree of formality is necessary, there should be no interruptions during the meeting for example. If a system is imposed without the aims being adopted by staff there is a danger that they will simply 'go through the motions' and not benefit to the fullest extent.

Performance should be reviewed in the light of goals set in the previous year. Actions set as outcomes of the appraisal need to be regularly and effectively followed up throughout the year.

It is necessary to monitor and evaluate the process in order that it can be developed for continued success. Views on the success of the system should be sought from all participants.

The training and development process

The training needs of individuals can be identified by conducting a training needs analysis and/or as part of the regular staff appraisal system.

Training can involve staff attending specific in-house or external training courses, conferences and workshops. Other training activities include:

The training and development process should be monitored and evaluate and feedback should be sought from all participants through forms/questionnaires/interviews.

Strategies for maximising job satisfaction

The activities listed below can all contribute to the development of an individual, but are worth considering in addition to more formal training activities.

Job enlargement: extra tasks at same level of responsibility, increased variety.

Job enrichment: more responsibility and autonomy (balance with the danger of exploitation).

Job rotation: change tasks every six months, long enough to understand all processes.

Work shadowing: within own organisation or outside, watching how other jobs are performed, gaining an insight/different way of doing things, makes you think about the way that you are doing your job.

Job exchanges: actually doing someone else's work, longer than shadowing, not substantially different work from your own.

Secondments: to project or specific job for a set period of time, need to fill seconded employees job during the period of secondment.

Conferences: presenting project outcomes and experience as part of the dissemination activity.

Other relevant training courses

Training courses on all aspects of managing (digitisation) projects are widely available. Some organisations that provide courses, which may be of particular interest, are listed below.

TASI Training Programme

HEDS presentations are available from the conference held in June 2001 on planning and implementing a digitisation project.

LA Training and development

ASLIB Training

Health and safety

Compiled from material within the University of Bath Safety Manual.

Under the provisions of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act both employers and employees have responsibilities with regard to safety in the workplace.

Duties of the employer

Duties of the employee

VDU assessments

Use of computer equipment can lead to lead to problems such as muscular skeletal disorders and eyestrain. The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 governs the use of computer equipment at work. Computer workstations should be periodically assessed for their compliance with the provisions of the Act. An assessment should cover the following factors:

Display screen: is this adjustable for tilt and swivel, brightness and contrast? Are screen images clear, stable and free from flicker? Is the screen free from glare and reflections?

Keyboard and mouse: does the keyboard have a shallow slope to it, does it have a separate numeric pad? Is the mouse positioned as close as possible to the keyboard? Is the mouse suitable for use with the user's dominant hand?

Software: is computer and software sufficient for tasks undertaken? Has suitable training been provided for the software used?

Workstation ergonomics

A good workstation requires good ergonomic design to allow a comfortable working position. Good posture is vital for preventing physical stress and fatigue, especially to the wrist, arms, shoulders, neck, back and legs.

Seating: a comfortable chair made to BS 5490 is essential for achieving a comfortable working position. However, there is some variation and one model may not suit everyone. Many users prefer a chair with arms. However, arms can prevent a user from sitting close enough to their desk so care is needed during selection. Adjustable (especially adjustable "T" shaped arms) or removable arms permit the greatest flexibility. Many users have found a back roll to be highly beneficial. These are relatively cheap, but they improve support for the lumbar region and encourage good posture. Various sizes and shapes are available.

Setting seat height: chair height should be set so that your elbows are at the same height as the middle row of keys on your keyboard with your forearms parallel to your desktop. In this position your wrist should be in a relatively neutral position while you are keying. Help from a colleague can often be helpful when finding this position. Periodic readjustment may be necessary to maintain a comfortable working position.

Foot rests: some users may find that when their seat is set up at the correct height their feet cannot be comfortably placed flat on the floor. This can cause discomfort due to pressure on the thighs. An adjustable footrest should be provided in these circumstances.

Setting monitor height and position: with your seat set at the correct height you should be looking slightly downwards at your monitor. This places your neck in a comfortable working position. If you have to look upward or too far downward this will place a strain on your neck muscles. The minimum viewing distance should be 400 mm. The user should sit square on to their keyboard and monitor otherwise the user has to adopt a twisted posture. This can contribute to neck and back problems. Monitor screen displays should be clear and free from flicker, glare and reflections.

Keyboard and mouse position: the keyboard and mouse should be placed within easy reach during use. Stretching to reach a keyboard or mouse can cause arm, shoulder and back discomfort and should be avoided. Keyboard and mouse mat wrist rests are popular as they can increase comfort.

Working practices: to prevent eyestrain you should work away from the monitor for brief periods during the day. A 10-minute change of activity after 50 minutes of monitor work is usually enough to prevent the onset of eyestrain.

Office environment: is the lighting suitable and sufficient during both daylight and night time hours? Is noise generated in work area acceptable? Is space in the work area sufficient for the number of persons & the equipment & furniture provided?


  1. Core personnel and development, Marchington, M. and Wilkinson, A., Chartered Institute of Personnel and development, 2000
  2. A handbook of personnel management practice, Armstrong, M., Kogan Page, 1995
  3. Human Resource Management, ATorrington, D. and Hall, L., Prentice Hall, 1998)
  4. Managing people, AThomson, R., The Institute of Management, 1993

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Procurement and Tendering


This section was first published as part of the NOF-digi Technical Advisory Service Programme Manual in 2003.


Digitisation projects will inevitably be dealing with other companies, whether as a result of outsourcing particular tasks, such as web design, digitisation or programming, or in order to procure services supplies and equipment, such as systems, scanners or computer software. Working with limited budgets, and within the public-sector domain, it is essential that projects get value for money when involved in obtaining such services or equipment. This section of the guidebook offers advice on the process of procuring such equipment or services. While each project will have different purchasing plans, a generic set of guidelines offers some basic pointers in what can be a complex field.

Is purchase necessary?

Before starting any procurement process, it is worth establishing whether it is essential to purchase. There may be the possibility that your organisation or a related institution already has the piece of equipment required, and organising the temporary loan of that equipment would be enough to suit your purposes. Alternatively, it may be possible to hire the equipment in question. Hiring for a three year period, especially in the case of IT equipment, can often be cheaper than outright purchase, saving as it does on initial outlay and long-term maintenance costs. Equally, hiring temporary space via Web hosting services can be cheaper than purchasing dedicated system to run Web sites.

Solutions such as these are more suitable for short fixed terms, where project managers can be sure of the time for which the equipment or service will be required. The advantages of non-purchase can quickly evaporate should it be discovered that the goods in question are required for a considerably longer period than originally envisaged.

Sharing costs - joint purchase

When participating in a large digitisation programme with many partner projects it makes sense to explore the possibility of joint purchase. Spreading expenses among several institutions or projects can greatly reduce the cost of equipment, or services. It is especially apposite for expensive technology that is essential for a small number of tasks, as opposed to cheaper equipment that will be used on a more routine basis.

While initial costs might be lowered by joint purchase, it can result in greater pressure on project managers to organise the use of the technology. If careful attention is not paid to the allocation of the equipment, there is greater possibility for workflow bottlenecks. There is also more likely to be a greater number of bureaucratic obstacles during purchase, and, in the long-term, possible disputes over final ownership of the equipment.

Competition and the tendering process

Competition is the essential factor in the procurement process. There are very few products available where no choice is available. Purchase of any goods or services will involve the comparison of possible suppliers followed by the considered selection of the option that offers the best value for money. Value for money, however, should not be taken to indicate the cheapest purchase price. Customers need to consider a range of criteria and choose a product that will work for the specific aims of their project. If these aims demand an expensive outlay then projects must be prepared to accept this. Ignoring these aims for the sake of finance will only cause problems later on, and may eventually lead to greater expense.

The time spent on a procurement process should be related to the expected outlay. Extended deliberation is required for the purchase of goods or services that are expensive and of essential strategic importance to the project. Project managers need spend less time on the process as expense and importance decrease. Indeed, in the case of cheaper goods, many institutions forgo procurement, as the resultant savings would not be worth the staff time spent on the process.

For some of the more standard IT goods (PCs, printers etc.), projects working within local authorities will already have specific suppliers nominated. The GCAT framework [1] supports those working within local authorities by providing a pre-tendered range of goods. Universities normally have their own purchasing offices or consortia that also provide a list of pre-arranged suppliers. When this is the case, the procurement process can become much simplified, individual purchasers dealing with one or two particular suppliers. However, when there is no such arrangement, it is essential that projects consider various possible suppliers to achieve value for money. The NOF-digi programme stipulated that for purchases estimated to be between £500 and £4999, two quotes were sought, while three quotes were sought for any amount of £5000 and above.

Formal or informal tendering?

Most institutions specify that for a projected outlay over a certain cost, the procurement must involve formal tendering procedures. The essential element of any call for tenders is the composition of a detailed specification. The purpose of the specification is to describe clearly and accurately a project's essential requirements in terms of equipment or services. A specification will form the basis of all offers made by potential suppliers, and act as the foundation for any later contract. If a specification is not well prepared there is greater likelihood of vendors failing to deliver the aims expected by a project, or not even offering their services. Creating a clear specification also permits suppliers to formulate quicker, more accurate and less costly responses.


Specifications should be based around the following key sections: procurement aims/background, statement of requirements and the selection process. Depending on the nature and cost of the goods or services under consideration, project managers may wish to include other particular sections in their specifications. This might include a table of contents, security issues, training requirements, delivery terms, a glossary etc. However, such sections are often subsumed within the statement of requirements section.

Procurement aims/background

The first section of a formal tender should include a declaration of the project outcomes that the customer requires the vendor, via its equipment or services, to supply. Each outcome should be succinct and not more than a short paragraph, or even a single sentence. The specification may also articulate how the tasks required of the vendor will slot into the high-level goals of the project. So a project specification might begin by declaring that the project is looking to have a Web site developed as part of its remit to deliver learning packages associated with its collection of digitised images. Another project might indicate that, as part of a regional consortium, they are looking for a digitisation bureau to digitise its collection of local nineteenth-century newspapers.

The project aims should be placed in the context of a summary of the project's background, introducing readers to the purchasing organisation. As well as explaining more about the eventual goals of the project, this background information may provide a summary of what decisions led to the purchasers putting out this particular call for tenders.

Statement of requirement

This is the key section of the specification document. It identifies the performance requirements (for equipment and services) or outputs (for services) or functionality (for software) that the project requires, and gives details of how these requirements, outputs or functions will be measured once a contract has been signed. While it is likely that these elements will be refined during the course of the tendering process, specification writers should ensure the details are as precise as possible so vendors are clear about the parameters of the project's needs. Projects need to make a close examination of their workflow, pinpointing each section where work done by the suppliers will have an effect. Each of these sections should then be converted into a requirement or series of requirements. It is important not to include requirements that could be broken down into others. If a project fails to clarify its precise needs, then suppliers will be slower in offering effective responses. Any programme-level or funder-stipulated technical standards will have to be included into the document, such as, in the case of the NOF-digitise programme the nof-digitise Technical Standards and Guideline [2].

For outsourcing the digitisation of a set of images, some of the requirements will again be shaped to fit the technical standards (for example, the required format/s) whilst others will be dependent on the particular demands of the project (for example, delivery of a certain number of images per month). So that the performance of the digitisation unit can be examined, quality-control tests would also be included in the statement of requirements.

It is highly likely that some requirements will be of the utmost priority, whilst other will not be quite so important. Therefore, it is often worthwhile ranking each requirement as being mandatory, highly desirable or desirable. Being able to rank requirements will also allow for greater flexibility when it comes to negotiating and refining the specification with suppliers.

Selection process

The selection process should offer the potential supplier details on how to respond to the call for tenders. It should outline what structure any replies will take, and the level of detail required. It is prudent for purchasers to ask for additional information such as general company information and reference to similar work that potential suppliers have done in other projects. This could include the contact details of previous customers, who might be able to provide their own assessment of the company in question.

Administrative details such as the project contact point, the relevant address, and the number of copies required should all be included. A timetable indicating deadlines for initial responses, negotiations and acceptance of the final tender should also be present.

Specifications often give a brief indication of how the tenders will be assessed, indicating any particular criteria that have been established. These criteria should be weighted by relative importance. Including such information allows the vendors to produce tenders more focused on the project's requirements.

Once a specification is complete it can be placed within a formal document, ready to be disseminated as a call for tenders.

EU directives

If the contract is likely to be over a certain amount, it is necessary to follow European Union Directives on Tendering. At the moment the threshold is £153,376 for services or supplies, this level having been set in January 2004. All projects that are intending to make purchases over this amount must advertise their call for tenders for services or supplies in the Official Journal of the European Communities. Additionally, the EU directives stipulate that tenders cannot be received until a set number of days after the appearance of the advertisement in the Official Journal. This delay is in the region of five to seven weeks. More information on the directives is available from the EU Web site [3].

Informal tendering

Should the projected outlay for procurement be below the levels prescribed by a project's host institution, then there is no formal need to construct a specification. Nevertheless, projects should still develop their own internal list of requirements for a particular service or piece of equipment. Creating such a document can serve many of the useful functions that a specification document serves in projects following formal tendering procedures.

Locating suppliers

Having completed a specification or list or requirements, purchasers must seek out potential suppliers in order to obtain a quote or notify them of the existence of a call for tenders. This can be tricky, especially as there are numerous competitors for IT goods and services. In some cases, previously-used suppliers might be able to offer their services or equipment. In other cases, however, it will be necessary to locate new suppliers. Initial research via the Internet, the relevant trade magazines etc. is a time-consuming process, but will give one a broad idea of the purchasing environment. Trade shows at professional conferences and commercial exhibitions, such as the Online Information show [4], are also helpful, allowing purchasers to compare quickly a large number of potential vendors. This should be accompanied by recommendations from colleagues, consortium partners, specialised review sources etc.

Once suppliers have been notified about the existence of a call for tenders, placing the contents of the call on the Internet can facilitate responses.

Getting value for money

When tenders and quotes do arrive from potential suppliers, it is important to scrutinise the documents with the same care that went into developing the list of requirements. In assessing suppliers' replies, the actual financial cost quoted should only be one variable under consideration. The quality of the service or equipment supplied, possible maintenance or backup costs and, most importantly, the supplier's ability to perform the task according to the project's exact specifications, are all vital factors that need to be considered. Purchasers might also contemplate having pre-trials to test the particular equipment or service under question. This might be particularly useful when assessing candidate digitisation bureaux, where projects could offer a small section of their collection for test digitisation.

Purchasers should also make sure that the price is stable, or, if there are to be price increases over a period of time, the mechanism for determining such increases is transparent. Purchasers should also be aware of possible additional costs such as delivery and installation. There might also be hidden sundry costs - the cost and availability of spare parts and consumables required for the equipment to function, accompanying handbooks and instruction manuals, and any possible need for staff training.

One should also consider the broader history of the suppliers in question. Are they economically healthy (it is difficult to get maintenance support from a bankrupt company)? Do they have sufficient quality controls? Do they have a history of sustained after-sales involvement? As always, it is worth asking colleagues and other professionals in the field, as well as the suppliers themselves, about all these issues.


Once purchasers and suppliers have exchanged specifications and tenders, it is important to engage in more detailed negotiation/discussion. This may follow a shortlisting process, where the most unsuitable quotes and tenders have been discarded. Suppliers will expect negotiation; their first quotes may reflect initial reactions, and they will be interested in exploring the details of each specification. An active dialogue may suggest alternative approaches and new ideas of how to fulfil a project's aims. It is worthwhile negotiating with each potential supplier rather than restricting oneself to just one option, although good practice in certain organisations, particularly within local authorities, calls for purchasers to concentrate on negotiating with a single, preferred supplier. Sometimes, negotiation will lead to suppliers making a better offer. This can be a straightforward reduction in cost, but could also mean slightly different equipment or (for the purchaser) more convenient payment terms. But vendors may also offer additional facilities for the original quoted price, such as extra equipment or training, or additional 'free' after-sales support. Beware, however, of any supplier that cannot meet your essential outputs or requirements.

As with writing specifications, negotiation can be a tricky art; it is well worth using someone with experience in the field. Within local authorities, universities or other organisations, there may be someone within the purchasing office designated for such tasks. Alternatively, attendance at purchasing workshops [5], consultation of various briefing papers and case studies will help improve the novice's negotiation skills.

If permitted by the project's host institution, it is important that suppliers are aware they are involved in a competitive process (although it is not considered good practice to reveal the identity of their competitors nor their quoted prices). Suppliers will be more inclined to offer attractive deals if they think they are under-cutting their rivals. This process should be continued even when only one supplier remains, making sure that the chosen supplier is unaware they are the final choice.

Contracts/supply agreements

During an informal tendering process, it is important to draw up a supply agreement once a supplier and purchaser have agreed on a deal. For more routine equipment, however, this may simply be a standard contract already developed by the suppliers. For formal tendering, the updated specification should be used as the basis for a contract stipulating the expected outcomes or services that the vendor will provide. Again, this should be done with care. Signing a contract makes the relationship between purchaser and vendor legally binding. Should there be any disputes at a later date, it is to this contract that both parties, and any legal intermediaries, will return. Ambiguities within or omissions from the contract could catch up with projects that did not pay sufficient attention to the details.

Signing a contract can often take longer than expected. Where purchasers are unsure about the possible ramifications of certain sections of the contract, experts from organisation's legal departments will need to be drafted in to clarify the situation. Even where the wording seems clear, it may be better to consult legal experts to ensure contracts are watertight. Suggestions from legal advisors may necessitate further negotiation between supplier and purchaser. Both parties must also make sure that any updates from the original specification are agreed upon and incorporated into the final document.

The core of the contract will be the updated specification. Other issues previously discussed between the parties will also be incorporated into the document, including ubiquitous issues such as price, method of payment, timetable for delivery, and specific issues relating to aspects of the particular purchase in question.

Once the relevant parties have signed the contract, the suppliers can commence delivery of their product or services.

Procurement checklist

Before procurement

Type of procurement

The specification

1. Procurement aims

2. Statement of requirements - a list of detailed requirements, indicating each section of project where suppliers' work will have an effect. This will include:

3. Selection process

Communicating with suppliers

Finalising the process

Other useful information

Examples of calls for tenders

Links to two calls for tenders are listed here, providing some examples of how others have set out their specifications. Each call is for a different service or product and therefore has a different level of specification. Nevertheless the key elements outlined above are present - a list of procurement aims, a statement of requirements and details of the selection process.

The AHDS portal specification is available at <>. This is a very detailed specification, indicating the precise technical requirements of the Arts and Humanities Data Service in the construction of its new portal.

A call for tenders put out by the Macauly Institute for the development of a national archive of aerial photography is available at <>.

Further guidance and help on procurement and tendering can be found via the Web site of the Office of Government Commerce: <>.

Report on the selection of designers

This section gives an anonymous account of the process followed by one organisation in attempting to locate a Web site designer. It shows what steps were taken in creating a specification, developing a shortlist and then making a final selection.

1 Brief

1.1 The Project Team in consultation with the webmaster and Library and Information Services staff prepared a brief.

2 Invitation to tender

2.1 The project team prepared a long list of potential designers. Team members compiled a list of web sites with design and content features relevant to our project. Each institution was then contacted and asked for details of their designer, together with their comments on the design process. A further list of designers was compiled through responses to enquiries to a number of email discussion lists. In the end a long list of nine companies was prepared (which are referred to as ONE to NINE in this document). Of these one (FOUR) was selected on the basis of past association with the Institution. The remaining eight were selected against the following criteria:

2.2 Each was sent a copy of the design brief, together with more detailed information on the content, a sample pack of primary resource materials and a critical review of sites examined by the project team. Each designer was asked to submit a costed proposal to meet the requirements set out in the brief. Companies were also invited to contact the project team by email or telephone if further information were required.

3 Shortlist

3.1 Of the nine designers contacted, eight submitted costed proposals. One company (FIVE) was not able to submit a full proposal, but made a preliminary submission.

3.2 The project team assessed the proposals. Each proposal was rated against the following criteria:

3.3 The Table below summarises the main points considered for each designer.:

Company Comments Shortlist
ONE Addressed brief; concerned over navigation; costs £25,000 but not including project management Y
TWO Could not guarantee to meet timetable. Cost £12,400 N
THREE Misunderstood brief : overemphasis on database integration. Cost £28,200 N
FOUR Did not respond adequately to particular requirements of brief : more concerned with a 'generic' solution. Cost £22,300 N
FIVE No submission N
SIX Cost low; doubts over management and ability to deliver project of this scale based. Costs £6000 N
SEVEN Extensive relevant experience; sound technical approach; costs £24,200 Y
EIGHT Cost £42,000 N
NINE Relevant experience; addressed brief; Cost £28,900 Y

3.4 The designers had not been supplied with an outline project budget. Although the project team had allocated £20,000 for design many of the proposals were in excess of this. One proposal was ruled out on grounds of cost alone. The others were assessed against the remaining criteria and three companies were shortlisted. Before being invited in the companies were contacted and asked whether their costs could be reduced, and to revise their proposals to meet the outline budget. All three companies did this.

4 Selection

4.1 The shortlisted companies were invited to give a short presentation to the project team, followed by a discussion with the team and with the Webmaster.

4.2 The outcome of the selection process was as follows:

Company Comments Selected
SEVEN Liked the team; demonstrated obvious understanding of our material; own experience directly relevant; able to meet schedule and to meet outline budget. Y
NINE Good track record, but doubts over personality of team; lacked technical expertise and couldn't answer some questions; more used to working with larger institutions N
ONE Disappointing presentation; had not understood technical issues; did demonstrate any appreciation of the kinds of subject matter worked with. N

The company selected for the project is SEVEN. The team has directly relevant experience of producing web products based on similar materials. After negotiation, they were able to meet the outline budget cost with minimal changes to their original proposal.


  1. The GCAT framework,
  2. nof-digitise Technical Standards and Guidelines,
  3. European Union directives on tendering,
  4. Online Information Show,
  5. LA workshops,

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QA Processes


This section was originally published as QA Focus Briefing papers.


In order to provide value for money and a return on investment from the funders there is a need for project deliverables not only to be functional in their own right but also to be widely accessible, easily repurposed and deployed in a service environment.

To achieve these aims projects should ensure that their deliverables comply with appropriate standards and best practices. Although it may be easy to require compliance, it may not always be easy to implement appropriate standards and best practices. In order to ensure that best endeavours are made it is recommended that projects should implement quality assurance (QA) procedures.

QA Focus's Methodology

A QA methodology was developed as part of the QA Focus work. Projects may be concerned that implementation of QA procedures can be time-consuming. The approach recommended by QA Focus is designed to be lightweight and to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy, while still providing a mechanism for implementation of best practices.

The QA Focus methodology is based on the following:

It is felt that use of this methodology should not only be beneficial to the projects themselves, but also help to minimise problems when project deliverables are re-used.

Example Policies

As an example of implementation of this approach the QA policy for standards for the QA Focus Web site is given below.

Area: Web site standards

Standards: The Web site will be based on the XHTML 1.0 and CSS 2.0 standards.

Architecture: The Web site will make use of PHP. XHTML 1.0 templates will be provided for use by authors, who will use simple HTML tools such as HTML-kit. Web site will provide access to an MS Access database. This will also comply with XHTML 1.0 and CSS 2.0 standards. The Web site will also host MS Word and MS PowerPoint files. These documents will also be available in HTML.

Exceptions: Resources converted from proprietary formats (such as MS Word and PowerPoint) need not necessarily comply with XHTML and CSS standards if doing so would be too time-consuming.

Responsibilities: The QA Focus project manager is responsible for changing this policy and addressing serious deviations from the policy.

Checking: Resources should be validated when they are created or updated usually using the ,validate tool. When several resources are updated the ,rvalidate tool should be used.

Audit trail: A full audit should be carried out at least quarterly. The findings should be published on the QA Focus Web site, and deviations from the policy documented.

A second example describes the QA policy for link checking of the QA Focus Web site.

Area: Web site: link checking

Best Practice: There should be no internal broken links and links to external resources should work when a page is created. We should seek to fix broken links to external resources. Exceptions: There may be broken links in historical documents or surveys. In addition, if remote Web sites are updated it may be too time-consuming to update the links.

Change Control: The QA Focus project manager is responsible for changing this policy and addressing serious deviations from the policy.

Checking: When resources are created or updated the resource should be link-checked, usually using the ,checklink tool. When several resources are updated the ,rchecklink tool should be used.

Audit trail: A full audit should be carried out at least quarterly. Initially two tools should be used to spot deficiencies in the link-checking software. The findings should be published on the QA Focus Web site, and deviations from the policy documented.

These two examples illustrate that developing QA policies need not be time-consuming. In addition implementation of these policies need not be time-consuming and can improve the quality of the Web site.

Implementing Your Own QA

The following template can be used for developing your own QA framework.

The area covered by the QA (e.g. Web, software development, usability, ...)
The standards which are relevant to the area and which you intend to make use of.
Best Practises:
The best practices which are relevant to the area and which you intend to make use of.
The architecture you intend to use.
A summary of the exceptions to best practices and recommended standards and a justification for the exceptions.
Change Control:
A description of the responsibility for changing this QA document and the process for changing the policy.
A description of the systematic checking procedures which will ensure that you are complying with the policies you have established.
Audit trail:
A description of audit trails (if any) which provide a record your compliance checking, in order to identify any trends.

As can be seen this QA template is simple and straightforward to use. The QA Focus methodology recognises the lack of resources which can hinder the deployment of more comprehensive QA frameworks and so has developed a more light-weight approach.

QA Processes for Images

Producing an archive of high-quality images with a server full of associated delivery images is not an easy task. The workflow consists of many interwoven stages, each building on the foundations laid before. If, at any stage, image quality is compromised within the workflow, it has been totally lost and can never be redeemed.

It is therefore important that image quality is given paramount consideration at all stages of a project from initial project planning through to exit strategy.

Once the workflow is underway, quality can only be lost and the workflow must be designed to capture the required quality right from the start and then safeguard it.

Image QA within a digitisation project's workflow can be considered a 4-stage process.

1) Strategic QA

Strategic QA is undertaken in the initial planning stages of the project when the best methodology to create and support your images, now and into the future will be established. This will include:

2) Process QA

Process QA is establishing quality control methods within the image production workflow that support the highest quality of capture and image processing, including:

3) Sign-off QA

Sign-off QA is implementing an audited system to assure that all images and their associated metadata are created to the established quality standard. A QA audit history is made to record all actions undertaken on the image files.

4) On-going QA

On-going QA is implementing a system to safeguard the value and reliability of the images into the future. However good the initial QA, it will be necessary to have a system that can report, check and fix any faults found within the images and associated metadata after the project has finished. This system should include:

QA in the Digitisation Workflow

Much of the final quality of a delivered image will be decided, long before, in the initial 'Strategic' and 'Process' QA stages where the digitisation methodology is planned and equipment sourced. However, once the process and infrastructure are in place it will be the operator who needs to manually evaluate each image within the 'Sign-off' QA stage. This evaluation will have a largely subjective nature and can only be as good as the operator doing it. The project team is the first and last line of defence against any drop in quality. All operators must be encouraged to take pride in their work and be aware of their responsibility for its quality.

It is however impossible for any operator to work at 100% accuracy for 100% of the time and faults are always present within a productive workflow. What is more important is that the system is able to accurately find the faults before it moves away from the operator. This will enable the operator to work at full speed without having to worry that they have made a mistake that might not be noticed.

The Top 10 Tips

1) Document Your Policies

You should ensure that you document policies for your project - remember that it can be difficult to implement quality if there isn't a shared understanding across your project of what you are seeking to achieve. For example, see the QA Focus policies on Web standards and link checking [1] [2].

2) Ensure Your Technical Infrastructure Is Capable Of Implementing Your Policies

You should ensure that your technical infrastucture which is capable of implementing your policies. For example, if you wish to make use of XHTML on your Web site you are unlikely to be able to achieve this if you are using Microsoft Word as your authoring tool.

3) Ensure That You Have The Resources Necessary To Implement Your Policies

You should ensure that you have the resources needed to implement your policies. This can include technical expertise, investment in software and hardware, investment in training and staff development, etc.

4) Implement Systematic Checking Procedures To Ensure Your Policies Are Being Implemented

Without systematic checking procedures there is a danger that your policies are not implemented in practice. For example, see the QA Focus checking procedures for Web standards and link [3] [4].

5) Keep Audit Trails

You should seek to provide audit trails which provide a record of results of your checking procedures. This can help to spot trends which may indicate failures in your procedures (for example, a sudden growth in the numbers of non-compliant HTML resources may be due to deployment of a new authoring tool, or a lack of adequate training for new members of the project team).

6) Learn From Others

Rather than seeking to develop quality assurance policies and procedures from scratch you should seek to learn from others. You may find that the QA Focus case studies [5] provide useful advice which you can learn from.

7) Share Your Experiences

If you are in the position of having deployed effective quality assurance procedures it can be helpful for the wider community if you share your approaches. For example, consider writing a QA Focus case study [6].

8) Seek 'Fitness For Purpose' - Not Perfection

You should seek to implement 'fitness for purpose' which is based on the levels of funding available and the expertise and resources you have available. Note that perfection is not necessarily a useful goal to aim for - indeed, there is a danger that 'seeking the best may drive out the good'.

9) Remember That QA Is For You To Implement

Although the QA Focus Web site provides a wide range of resources which can help you to ensure that your project deliverables are interoperable and widely accessible you should remember that you will need to implement quality assurance within your project.

10) Seek To Deploy QA Procedures More Extensively

Rather than seeking to implement quality assurance across your project, it can be beneficial if quality assurance is implemented at a higher level, such as within you department or organisation. If you have an interest in more widespread deployment of quality assurance, you should read about the ISO 9000 QA standards [7].


  1. Policy on Web Standards, QA Focus, UKOLN,
  2. Policy on Linking, QA Focus, UKOLN,
  3. Procedures for Web Standards, QA Focus, UKOLN,
  4. Procedures for Linking, QA Focus, UKOLN,
  5. Case Studies, QA Focus, UKOLN,
  6. Contributing To Case Studies, QA Focus, UKOLN,
  7. Selection and Use of the ISO 9000:2000 family of standards, ISO,

Note that an annual audit is carried out on the Good Practice Guide for Developers of Cultural Heritage Web Services Web site as part of the Web site's QA Processes.

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Intellectual Property Rights


This section was originally published as QA Focus Briefing papers.


Internet IPR is inherently complex, breaking across geographical boundaries, creating situations that are illegal in one country, yet not in another, or contradict existing laws on Intellectual Property. Copyright is a subset of IPR, which applies to all artistic works. It is automatically assigned to the creator of original material, allowing them to control all public usage (copying, adaptation, performance and broadcasting).

Ensuring that your organisation complies with Intellectual Property rights requires a detailed understanding of two processes:

  1. Managing copyright on own work.
  2. Establishing ownership of 3rd party copyright.

Managing Copyright on Own Work

Unless indicated, copyright is assigned to the author of an original work. When producing work it is essential that it be established who will own the resulting product the individual or the institution. Objects produced at work or university may belong to the institution, depending upon the contract signed by the author. For example, the copyright for this document belongs to the AHDS, not the author. When approaching the subject, the author should consider several issues:

When producing work as an individual that is intended for later publication, the author should establish ownership rights to indicate how work can be used after initial publication:

Copyright Clearance

Copyright is an automatically assigned right. It is therefore likely that the majority of works in a digital collection will be covered by copyright, unless explicitly stated. The copyright clearance process requires the digitiser to check the copyright status of:

Copyright clearance should be established at the beginning of a project. If clearance is denied after the work has been included in the collection, it will require additional effort to remove it and may result in legal action from the author.

In the event that an author, or authors, is unobtainable, the project is required to demonstrate they have taken steps to contact them. Digital preservation projects are particularly difficult in this aspect, separating the researcher and the copyright owner by many years. In many cases, more recently the 1986 Domesday project, it has proven difficult to trace authorship of 1000+ pieces of work to individuals. In this project, the designers created a method of establishing permission and registering objections by providing contact details that an author could use to identify their work.

Indicating IPR through Metadata

If permission has been granted to reproduce copyright work, the institution is required by law to indicate intellectual property status. Metadata is commonly used for this purpose, storing and distributing IP data for online content. Several metadata bodies provide standardized schemas for copyright information. For example, IP information for a book could be stored in the following format.

<book id="bk112">
<author>Galos, Mike</author>
<title>Visual Studio 7: A Comprehensive Guide</title>
          <publisher>Addison Press</publisher>
          <copyright>Galos, M. 2001</copyright>

Access inhibitors can also be set to identify copyright limitations and the methods necessary to overcome them. For example, limiting e-book use to IP addresses within a university environment.

Licencing Work

The ease of publication and availability of text, graphics and video on the Internet allow anyone to become their own publisher. As an effect, modern web sites contain a jigsaw of copyrighted works produced by multiple authors.

This free attitude to copyright presents a challenge to authors - what measures can be taken for authors to protect their own work? More accurately, can copyrighted work be protected in some way?

To protect your work it is important that the distribution license is considered before you release your work. This can be achieved by answering several questions:

If the answer to these questions is no, you are automatically assigned rights to copyright your work. However, if the answer is yes, you should seek alternative license agreements that preserve your right to place your work into the public domain or allow the user to perform certain actions. Popular variants include CopyLeft, notably the GPL, and Collective Commons - two different license agreements that avoid traditional copyright restrictions, by establishing permission to distribute content without restriction.


Licences are a core part of intellectual property rights management. Licences allow the copyright holder to devolve specific rights to use, store, copy and disseminate work to another party.

Licences are typically restrictive, and acceptable uses of the licensed work are carefully delineated. However, copyright holders may wish to encourage widespread sharing and use of their work. In these situations an alternative licensing model may be appropriate.

Deposit Agreement

The Internet is often promoted as a means of getting information to the widest possible audience at the lowest possible cost. Barriers to the flow of information are not encouraged, and few repositories establish formal agreements with depositing authors.

Although mutual benefit is the primary goal of many collaborative projects, some method of formalizing the relationship between author and distributor is useful. A deposit agreement can be used to define a consensual contract between the depositing author and the repository, clarifying the rights and obligations of both.

The deposit agreement dictates several requirements of both parties:

Licencing Terms

The first aspect of a licence agreement that should be determined is the licencing terms. This indicates the distribution type permitted. Two types exist:

  1. Exclusive distribution Exclusive licenses impose specific and wide-ranging restrictions upon distribution. They are primarily used for commercial repositories that are restricted by copyright or charges that non-exclusive distribution will devalue the content.
  2. Non-exclusive licenses Non-exclusive licenses, typically found in academic-orientated repositories offer a useful alternative to commercial distribution that encourages the author to voluntarily submit work as a method of gaining wider public exposure. These non-exclusive licenses establish the rights of the depositor to submit work to differing repositories at a subsequent date without legal restrictions.

To protect the organisation from legal threats at a later date the licence agreement requires several issues to be considered during the submission lifetime. In the initial stages the repository should establish content ownership, audience and potential use, migration and distribution rights. In the long-term the repository should consider withdrawal criteria.

Initial Stages of Development

Establish ownership
A licence agreement must first establish whom the owners are, and if it differs from the author. This may help to minimize the repository's legal liability by formally establishing that the depositor holds the necessary copyright to deposit the material and is able to do so without infringement.
Confirm ownership
The licence agreement should clearly indicate that the depositor retains ownership. This is a particularly important inclusion in a deposit agreement, designed to protect the repository from potential legal action taken as a result of the actions of the author. Equally, the deposit agreement can help establish that the author is not legally responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the information they have provided if, for example, it later becomes out-of-date.
Audience and potential use
In some circumstances, particularly exclusive distribution, a licence agreement will need to establish terms permitted by the author relating to potential usage. This may be prompted by concerns that wide dissemination will damage the long-term value of the content. Institutional repositories may wish to clarify with depositors that deposited e-prints will only be used for non-commercial or academic uses.

Mid-term Considerations

Migration Strategy
For repositories such as the AHDS a migration strategy will be particularly important. This enables the repository to migrate the content to a different file format if the original submitted format becomes obsolete.

Long-term Considerations

Withdrawal criteria
The licence agreement should establish the situations under which the author may withdraw their work from the repository and whether the repository can continue to hold relevant metadata records after it is withdrawn.

Licence agreements should be considered an essential part of an e-print repository's operation. They can resolve many of the potential problems that might arise. For the repository, it provides a formal framework that defines what the repository can and cannot do, making it easier to manage the e-print in the long-term while helping to reduce its legal liabilities.

Alternative Licences

To identify if an alternative licence is appropriate, the following questions should be addressed:

If the answer to these questions is yes, then an alternative licence agreement may be appropriate.

The developer has a number of options when planning to release their work: including creating their own licence or using an existing one. Both options have recognisable benefits. The bespoke licence allows the developer to define their own terms and conditions, while rejecting conditions with which they disagree. However, the creation of a licence can be a long process that may result in the licence containing legal loopholes.

An alternative is to use an existing 'copyleft' licence. Copyleft is an umbrella term that may refer to several similar licences. When choosing a licence, the developer must consider their own needs:

Creative Commons

Many authors argue the traditional copyright restrictions opposes the free distribution of digital works, whether they are text, graphics, or sound, on the Internet. This could be for a variety of reasons; the author wishes to spread their ideas; they wish to attract feedback on their work, etc. For these purposes, traditional copyright and public domain licences are unsuitable.

Creative Commons is a particularly popular licencing model available to all creative works. It is therefore usual to find it applied to Web sites, scholarship, music, film, photography and literature that are not traditionally covered by similar distribution schemes.

Creative Commons (CC) refers to a movement started in 2001 by US lawyer Lawrence Lessig that aims to expand the collection of creative work available for others to build upon and share. The Creative Commons model makes a distinction between the big C (Copyright) meaning All Rights Reserved and CC meaning Some Rights Reserved. It does so by offering copyright holders licences to assign to their work, which will clarify the conditions of use and avoid many of the problems current copyright laws pose when attempting to share information.

There are a series of eleven Creative Commons licences available to download from the Web site. They enable copyright holders to allow display, public performance, reproduction and distribution of their work while assigning specific restrictions. The six main licences combine the four following conditions:

Icon for Attribution Attribution - Users of your work must credit you.
Icon for Non-commercial Non-commercial - Users of your work can make no financial gain from it.
Icon for Non-derivative Non-derivative - Only verbatim copies of your work can be used.
Icon for Share-alike Share-alike - Subsequent works have to be made available under the same licence as the original.

The other licences available are the Sampling licence, the Public Domain Dedication, Founders Copyright, the Music Sharing licence and the Developing Nations licence. Creative Commons also recommends two open source software licences for those licensing software: the GNU General Public licence and the GNU Lesser Public licence.

Each license is expressed in three ways: (1) legal code, (2) a commons deed explaining what it means in lay person's terms and (3) a machine-readable description in the form of RDF/XML (Resource Description Framework/Extensible Mark up Language) metadata. Copyright holders can embed the metadata in HTML pages.

The Creative Commons licences were originally written using an American legal model but through the International Creative Commons Project (iCommons) have since been adapted for use in a number of different jurisdictions. The regional complexities of UK law has meant that two different set of licences have had to be drafted for use of the licenses the UK. Work on the licences for England and Wales, released at the beginning of April 2005, was carried out by Oxford University. Consensus on the licences for Scotland, being drafted by Edinburgh University, is still being met and work on Northern Ireland versions started recently (spring 2005).

There are many benefits to be had in clarifying the rights status of a work. When dealing with Creative Commons licenced work, it is known if the work can be used without having to contact the author, thus allowing the work to be exploited more effectively, more quickly and more widely, whilst also increasing the impact of the work. Also in the past clarification of IPR has taken a huge amount of time and effort, Creative Commons could save some projects a considerable amount of money and aid their preservation strategies. More recently, because Creative Commons offers its licence in a machine-readable format, search engines can now search only CC licenced resources allowing users easier access to 'free materials'.

Although Creative Commons has now been in existence for a while there are still issues to be resolved. For example in the UK academic world the question of who currently holds copyright is a complex one with little commonality across institutions. A study looking at the applicability of Creative Commons licences to public sector organisations in the UK is currently being carried out.

Another key area for consideration is the tension between allowing resources to be freely available and the need for income generation. Although use of a Creative Commons license is principally about allowing resources to be used by all, this does not mean that there has to be no commercial use. One option is dual licensing, which is fairly common in the open source software environment.


Copyleft licences such as Creative Commons Licences may promote free dissemination, however there is little encouragement for businesses that wish to make a profit to use them. The solution is to categorise your software under a dual-licence; one for free open-source distribution, the other for proprietary commercial distribution. This model allows a business to take contributions made in the open source version, apply it to their for-cost version and sell it at retail price.

Further Information

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Handling and Delivering Digital Resources



This section was originally published as QA Focus Briefing papers.

Open Standards

The term "open standards" is somewhat ambiguous and open to different interpretations. Open standards can mean:

Open Standards are required for several reasons:

Some examples of recognised open standards bodies are given in Table 1.

Table 1: Examples Of Independent Standards Organisations
Standards Body Comments
W3C World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Responsible for the development of Web standards (known as Recommendations). See list of W3C Recommendations at <>. Relevant standards include HTML, XML, CSS, SMIL, SVG, etc.
IETF Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Responsible for the development of Internet standards (known as IETF RFCs). See list of IETF RFCs at <>. Relevant standards include HTTP, MIME, etc.
ISO International Organisation For Standardization (ISO). See <>. Relevant standards areas include character sets, networking, etc.
NISO National Information Standards Organization (NISO). See <>. Relevant standards include Z39.50.
IEEE Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). See <>.
ECMA ECMA International. Association responsible for standardisation of Information and Communication Technology Systems (such as JavaScript). See <>.


Other Types Of Standards

The term proprietary refers to formats which are owned by an organisation, group, etc. Unfortunately since this term has negative connotations, the term industry standard is often used to refer to a widely used proprietary standard. For example, the proprietary Microsoft Excel format is sometimes referred to as an industry standard for spreadsheets. To make matters even more confusing, the prefix is sometime omitted and MS Excel can be referred to as a standard.

To further confuse matters, companies which own proprietary formats may choose to make the specification freely available. Alternatively third parties may reverse engineer the specification and publish the specification. In addition tools which can view or create proprietary formats may be available on multiple platforms or as open source.

In all these cases, although there may appear to be no obvious barriers to use of the proprietary format, such formats should not be classed as open standards as they have not been approved by a neutral standards body. The organisation owning the format may chose to change the format or the usage conditions at any time. File formats in this category include Microsoft Office formats, Adobe's PDF, Macromedia Flash and Java.


Although use of recommended standards and best practices is encouraged, there may be occasions when this is not possible:

Building on existing systems: Projects may be based on development of existing systems, which do not use appropriate standards.
Standards immature: Some standards may be new, and there is a lack of experience in their use. Although some organisations may relish the opportunity to be early adopters of new standards, others may prefer to wait until the benefits of the new standards have been established and many teething problems resolved.
Functionality of the standard: Does the new standard provide functionality which is required for the service to be provided?
Limited support for standards: There may be limited support for the new standards. For example, there may be a limited range of tools for creating resources based on the new standards or for viewing the resources.
Limited expertise: There may be limited expertise for developing services based on new standards or there may be limited assistance to call on in case of problems.
Limited timescales: There may be insufficient time to gain an understanding of new standards and gain experience in use of tools.

In many cases standards will be mature and expertise readily available. The selection of the standards to be deployed can be easily made. What should be done when this isn't the case?

A Matrix Approach

In light of the challenges which may be faced when wishing to make use of recommended standards and best practices it is suggested that projects use a matrix approach to resolving these issues.

Area Your Comments
How mature is the standard?  
Does the standard provide required functionality?  
Are authoring tools which support the standard readily available?  
Are viewing tools which support the standard readily available?  
Is the organisation culture suitable for deployment of new standards?  
Are there strategies in place to continue development in case of staffing changes?  

Individual projects will need to formulate their own matrix which covers issues relevant to their particular project, funding, organisation, etc.


This matrix approach is not intended to provide a definitive solution to the selection of standards. Rather it is intended as a tool which can assist projects when they go through the process of choosing the standards they intend to use. It is envisaged that projects will document their comments on issues such as those listed above. These comments should inform a discussion within the project team, and possibly with the project's advisory or steering group. Once a decision has been made the rationale for the decision should be documented. This will help to ensure that the reasonings are still available if project teams members leave.

For examples of how projects have addressed the selection of standards can see:


MINERVA is a network of Member States' Ministries to discuss, correlate and harmonise activities carried out in digitisation of cultural and scientific content for creating an agreed European common platform providing recommendations and guidelines about digitisation, metadata, long-term accessibility and preservation. One of the key activites they are involved in is the creation of Technical Guidelines for Digital Cultural Content Creation Programmes. The MLA recommends use of the MINERVA as part of funding agreements.

See <>.

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7 September 2006
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The Digitisation Process


Commissioned from HEDS by UKOLN on behalf of NOF in association with the People's Network.


This document looks at the essential issues of the digitisation process that should be addressed during the project planning stages and discusses techniques for creating digital files that will conform to the guidelines.

This document is intended to be used as a means of focusing attention upon the key issues associated with the digitisation process. The advice that it contains is intended as guidance rather than as the only solution to these issues. There may be valid institutional or curatorial reasons for following or discarding different aspects of this guidance, especially in relation to the handling of original materials that may make certain processes unsuitable for that class of material.

The fundamental issues associated with the digitisation process are as follows:

Know your originals

Having a good knowledge of the contents of the collections that are intended to be digitised will make it much easier to decide on processes and techniques for converting the originals to digital form.

The physical processes required to create a digitised version of an original item depend on many factors, including:

For paper and photographic originals, issues to consider include the following:

Photographic media (transparencies, prints, negatives)

What size are the originals, are they all the same size?

What proportion of the items have colour content? Is it important to capture the colour?

What condition are they in, for example, are they dirty from heavy use?

What format are they in?

Are the photographs flat or have they bowed?

What is the quality of the original?

Paper media

What size are the pages, are all items the same size?

What general condition is the material in?

Can books that are bound be stripped to loose pages for scanning?

Is there any artwork? Is it black and white or colour photographs or line art?

Is the text size particularly small or large?

Objects require a different approach. Artifacts, art works and sculptures cannot generally be successfully scanned using the techniques available for 'flat' media such as photographs. It will therefore be necessary to use photography, either traditional or digital, to get an image of the original.

How much will it cost?

Guidance on the relative cost of various procedures is available from HEDS [1] and [2]. There is also a detailed review in DigiNews [3] by Steven Puglia, of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Remember that real costs and prices are bound to vary from those given in any guidance documents and it is essential that such guidance is used purely as a starting point in accurate costing.

A brief technical overview: creating a digital master

It is important that digital preservation issues be observed when producing digital content. A good baseline to creating a digital file that will be long-lasting would be Scan Once for All Purposes : this means that all the complex and expensive preparation work will only need to be done once.

The guidelines recommend that projects consider the value in creating a fully documented high-quality 'digital master' from which all other versions (e.g. compressed versions for accessing via the Web) can be derived. This 'digital master' file should be created at the highest suitable resolution and bit depth that is both affordable and practical. This master file then becomes the source for every other version of that item that the project will require, such as Web surrogates, versions for high quality printing and so on.

The 'digital master' file will become an archive version of the data : it remains as pure a representation of the original as possible. Ideally more than one copy should be stored on more than one media type and in more than one geographical location, thus providing a degree of protection against data corruption, media failure and physical damage to equipment.

'Surrogate' or 'access' versions of the digitised item can be created from the 'digital master' using image manipulation software such as Adobe Photoshop or Paintshop Pro.

The CEDARS project [4] gives in-depth information about digital preservation and links to further reading and the National Preservation Office have published Digital Culture: maximising the nation's investment [5], for which a synopsis and details of how to obtain a copy are available.

Resolution and bit-depth

Resolution is usually expressed in dots per inch (DPI) and relates to the density of information that is captured by the scanning equipment. Broadly speaking, the higher the DPI the more detail is being captured. The amount of resolution required to get a useful image of an item is determined by the size of the original, the amount of detail in the original and the eventual use for the data. For example, a 35mm transparency will require a higher DPI than a 5x4 print because it is smaller and more detailed. An A4 sized modern printed document that is intended to be processed into a searchable text will need less resolution than a similar sized photographic original. There are also upward limits on resolution : file size is one (increasing resolution will increase the file size) and another is preventing the capture of extraneous information. For example, postcards are often printed on poor quality paper and if they are scanned at too high a resolution the texture of the paper will be captured and can obscure the content. There is also a point where putting more resolution into the capture process will no longer add value to the information content of the digital output.

Suitable resolutions for digital master files for various media types are discussed in the HEDS Matrix [2] and the JIDI Feasibility Study [6] contains a useful table of baseline standards of minimum values of resolutions according to original material type.

Bit-depth relates to the level of colour that will be captured. A 'bit' is the binary digit that represents the tonal value of the pixel. As an overview, a 1-bit image is black and white (the pixel has 1 bit and is therefore black or white with no shades in between), an 8-bit image has 256 shades of either grey or colour (28 = 256 shades), and a 24-bit image has millions of shades of colour (224 = 16,777,216 shades).

A detailed discussion of resolution, binary and bit depth can be found on TASI's Web pages [7] and a good basic guide to colour capture can also be found on the EPIcentre Web pages [8].

Choosing scanning equipment

Digitisation equipment can be separated into 'contact' and 'no-contact'. 'Contact' equipment, i.e. flatbed scanners, requires that the original be flat against the scanbed to get a scanned image. This approach will only work if your original is flat or can be pressed flat without damage to it.

No-contact equipment includes overhead scanners or book scanners and digital cameras that are able to obtain a digital image with the bare minimum of contact with the original.

Choosing the equipment for scanning your originals will depend largely on the characteristics of the collection: in general terms, photographic materials are usually scanned on a flatbed or a transparency scanner while bound volumes and oversized flat materials such as maps and plans require a digital camera or an overhead scanner.

The Feasibility Study for the JIDI project [6] gives information about the type of equipment that is most suitable for broad groups of media types.

If you have a mixed media collection then it may not be possible to use one scanner for everything. A flatbed that is ideal for high speed, high volume paper scanning may not be capable of the resolution required for high quality scans of transparencies. A digital camera studio set-up will be overkill for loose leaf paper scanning and for most general photographic materials.

Generally, make sure that your requirements match the capability of the scanner(s) that you buy. Look carefully at the resolution that the scanner is capable of, the scanner will often be listed with a maximum optical resolution and an interpolated or software resolution. The optical resolution is the figure to look for : interpolated resolution uses software to 'guess' the values of pixels that are between those that the scanner can optically register. Interpolation should be avoided in an archive-quality scanning exercise. Where resolution is listed as, for example, 600x1200 DPI the maximum optical resolution will be 600.

The dynamic range of the scanner is important: it describes the tonal density of the information that the scanner will be able to capture and generally speaking the higher this is the better, particularly for dense originals such as photographic prints and transparencies.

A good flatbed scanner is often the keystone to a scanning unit. They range in price from tens to thousands of pounds : if this equipment is the key to the success of your project then investing in a good flatbed is essential.

Production-level flatbed scanners usually have either an A4 or an A3 sized scanning area. Larger ones are available but are specialist equipment and therefore rather expensive. In order to choose a flatbed you need to know what size your originals are, whether they are reflective (i.e. light is bounced off them to capture the image, as in photographic prints) or transmissive (light is passed through the original to capture the image, as in transparencies), the resolution and bit depth you will be capturing and the volume of the work.

The software that runs the scanner is also important. It should be straightforward to use and an ability to run batch scans will save time as the scan bed can be loaded with originals and more or less left to get on with it.

The Digital Eyes Web site [9] lists flatbeds by suitability and price.

Colour management software is essential to ensure that the digital representation is as accurate as possible. This can often be purchased with the scanner. RLG DigiNews December 1997 (Vol 3 number 3) has a technical review of colour management software [10] which is a good starting point.

Transparencies can be scanned on a flatbed if it is capable of sufficient resolution and has a transparency adapter fitted that will shine light through the transparency into the scanning head. However, faster and potentially better results will be gained from a dedicated transparency scanner. These scan strips or mounted 35mm negative or positive transparencies to high resolutions. Scanning un-mounted strips or single frame transparencies on a flatbed is difficult and time consuming because they have to be either placed in holders or taped to the scan bed to stop them moving in the heat of the light - using a transparency scanner can alleviate some of this effort and would be a good investment if 35mm is a considerable part of the collection.

Digital cameras. Digital cameras are developing for both the home and professional market and are priced from several hundred to thousands of pounds. 'Home use' cameras are aimed at non-professional users for taking general casual photography. Listings of home use cameras and their comparative features can be found on the Imaging Resource Web site [11].

There are two kinds of professional digital camera; the first has developed from medical and industrial uses and is a complete unit. The second is where the film from a traditional camera is replaced with computer sensors which transmit the image to a computer rather than to film; this is known as a digital scanning back. The first type has been around for longer and has been used in imaging projects for several years. Digital scanning backs are developing for professional photographers as a replacement for traditional film cameras, although they are also being used in project work. One of the advantages of the scanning backs is that they use the lenses and camera body of a traditional professional camera.

Professional digital camera set-ups will generally require the operator to understand the basics of photography and this is a cost that projects need to consider.

The EPIcentre Web site has reviews and feature comparisons of professional level digital cameras [12]. TASI also has a section on digital cameras [13].

Set up an in-house scanning unit or use a bureau?

The conversion of the materials can be done either in-house on specially purchased or existing equipment or sent to an external agency or commercial bureau.

Setting up a digitisation unit gives the institution the value of equipment and trained staff for future projects and the movement and treatment of the materials can be closely controlled. Using an external supplier to do the scanning means that the equipment and expertise of a third party can be exploited while the project team concentrates on their specialist area of the project. Using a bureau also means that the cost of buying and maintaining specialist and expensive equipment is not borne by the project.

Both approaches have their merits but there are certain situations where the choices are more clear cut.

Using a bureau: Major reasons for sending materials to a bureau for digitisation rather than attempting to scan them in-house include that the originals are not capable of being scanned successfully in-house (for example the equipment is excessively expensive) or that the intended product is beyond the experience and abilities of the project: for example requiring advanced colour management skills. As an example, the type of equipment used for the scanning of items such as bound books or microfilms tends to be so expensive that it may be difficult for a project to justify the expenditure on such equipment, particularly given the short life-span and high maintenance costs of scanning equipment.

Other reasons for outsourcing may include where there is a large volume of work to be done in a short period of time or where the project has space, infrastructure or staffing constraints which preclude the setting up of in-house facilities.

In-house unit: Alternatively, the project manager may decide to use in-house resources for several reasons including that:

It may also be that the project can call on existing staff knowledge and equipment which would mean the project could be done in-house with limited further capital expenditure.

There are some baseline infrastructure requirements for in-house digitisation:

This is assuming that the in-house operation wants to approach anywhere near the unit prices of production available from outside agencies.

A further reason why many projects are undertaken in-house is that the staff time, overheads and some consumables such as file storage can often be swallowed up by the institution and do not become apparent as a costed factor of the project, thus making this appear to be a cheaper option than out-outsourcing.

There is no easy answer to the question of whether to scan in-house or to outsource because it depends so closely on the project team, the institution and the materials.

Choosing a scanning bureau

If the project decides to use an external body to digitise the materials then it is important to carefully look at the available service providers. A good place to find scanning bureaux is in the Cimtech Electronic Document, Records and Content Management Guide and Directory [14] which has up-to-date listings for UK suppliers of digitisation bureau services.

Among the most important things that you should ask potential suppliers are:

Can they conform to all relevant specified technical standards and guidelines?

Do they have safe storage facilities for the originals away from the production area?

Will your originals be worked on by them or do they intend to contract to another supplier?

Develop a tight specification of requirements and a contract that sets out what you expect from the vendor, including technical procedures, output formats, handling requirements and timescales. Insist that they will rework any data that fails your quality assurance procedures (i.e. that falls outside the requirements of the contract) without further cost.

Some suppliers will claim to be able to do any type of media that you ask them to tackle but HEDS' experience is that bureau tend to specialise in certain types of conversion, for example high volume paper materials or high end colour image based work. Where this is the case they may not be as good at some media or they may outsource those media to a partner bureau. Insist on samples, undertake a vendor assessment or seek third party advice before contracting.

If the work is of such a volume that the job has to go out to tender, bear in mind that the cheapest quote may not be from the best bureau for the job. Ask each of the short-listed bureaux to undertake samples to your required specification and ask them to provide a detailed description of the processes used to achieve the output along with a price. You should then choose the supplier that provides the best value for money in terms of quality, price and the suitability of the conversion procedures.

Concluding remarks

A digitisation project can cover a wide range of complex activities and it is often easy to lose track of the underlying project aims and objectives. Digitisation is a tool and not a purpose and should always be used to facilitate the end result of the project rather than becoming the sole focus of it. It is hoped that this document will help to make the process of digitisation less fearsome and more tangible and therefore something to be harnessed to help to create useful and exciting digitisation projects.


  1. Costing a digitisation project
  2. The HEDS matrix of potential cost factors
  3. DigiNews: The costs of digital imaging projects
  4. The Cedars project
  5. Digital culture: maximising the nation's investment
  6. A feasibility study for the JISC Image Digitisation Initiative (JIDI)
  7. TASI: Creating digital images
  8. The art and science of digital imaging
  9. Digital Eyes: Scanners
  10. RLG DigiNews: Review of colour management software
  11. Imaging Resource: Listings of home use digital cameras
  12. EPIcentre: Listings of professional digital cameras
  13. TASI: Digital cameras
  14. Electronic Document, Records and Content Management Guide and Directory

Comments On This Document

This section will be used to provide notes on the section, including details of any changes.

2 Dec 2004
Document made available to MLA staff for comments
January 2005
Document added.

Image Formats


This section was originally published as QA Focus Briefing papers.



The digitisation of digital audio can be a complex process. This document contains quality assurance techniques for producing effective audio content, taking into consideration the impact of sample rate, bit-rate and file format.

Sample Rates

Sample rate defines the number of samples that are recorded per second. It is measured in Hertz (cycles per second) or Kilohertz (thousand cycles per second). The following table describes four common benchmarks for audio quality. These offer gradually improving quality, at the expense of file size.

Table 1: Description of the various sample frequencies available
Samples per second Description
8kHz Telephone quality
11kHz At 8 bits, mono produces passable voice at a reasonable size.
22kHz 22k, half of the CD sampling rate. At 8 bits, mono, good for a mix of speech and music.
44.1kHz Standard audio CD sampling rate. A standard for 16-bit linear signed mono and stereo file formats.

The audio quality will improve as the number of samples per second increases. A higher sample rate enables a more accurate reconstruction of a complex sound wave to be created from the digital audio file. To record high quality audio a sample rate of 44.1kHz should be used.


Bit-rate indicates the amount of audio data being transferred at a given time. The bit-rate can be recorded in two ways - variable or constant. A variable bit-rate creates smaller files by removing inaudible sound. It is therefore suited to Internet distribution in which bandwidth is a consideration. A constant bit-rate, in comparison, records audio data at a set rate irrespective of the content. This produces a replica of an analogue recording, even reproducing potentially unnecessary sounds. As a result, file size is significantly larger than those encoded with variable bit-rates.

Table 2 indicates how a constant bit-rate affects the quality and file size of an audio file.

Table 2 Indication of audio quality expected with different bit-rates
Bit rate Quality MB/min
1411 CD quality 10.584
192 Good CD quality 1.440
128 Near CD quality 0.960
112 Near CD quality 0.840
64 FM quality 0.480
32 AM quality 0.240
16 Short-wave quality 0.120


Further Information


Digital video can have a dramatic impact upon the user. It can reflect information that is difficult to describe in words alone, and can be used within an interactive learning process. This document contains guidelines to best practice when manipulating video. When considering the recording of digital video, the digitiser should be aware of the influence of file format, bit-depth, bit-rate and frame size upon the quality of the resulting video.

Composition of a Digital Video File

Digital video consists of a series of images played in rapid succession to create the illusion of movement. It is commonly accompanied by an audio track. Unlike graphics and sound that are relatively small in size, video data can be hundreds of megabytes, or even gigabytes, in size.

The visual and audio information are individually stored within a digital 'wrapper' an umbrella structure consisting of the video and audio data, as well as information to playback and resynchronise the data.

What is the Best Solution?

Digital video remains a complex area that combines the problems of audio and graphic data. When choosing to encode video the designer must consider several issues:

  1. Are there any existing procedures to guide the encoding process?
  2. What type of delivery method will be used to distribute the video?
  3. What video quality is acceptable to the user?
  4. What type of problems are likely to be encountered?

Distribution Methods

The distribution method will have a significant influence upon the file format, encoding type and compression used in the project.

Removeable media - Video distributed on CD-ROM or DVD are suited to progressive encoding methods that do not conduct extensive error checking. Although file size is not as critical in comparison to Internet streaming, it continues to have some influence.

The compression type is dependent upon the need of the user and the type of removeable media:

Streaming Progressive Media
Advanced Streaming Format (ASF) Y     Temporal
Audio Video Interleave (AVI)   Y   Temporal
MPEG-1   Y VideoCD Temporal
MPEG-2   Y DVD Temporal
QuickTime (QT) Y Y   Temporal
QuickTime Pro Y Y   Temporal
RealMedia (RM) Y Y   Temporal
Windows Media Video (WMV) Y Y   Temporal
DivX   Y Amateur CD distribution Temporal
MJPEG   Y   Spatial

Table 1: A comparison list of the different file formats, highlighting their intended purpose and compression method.

Video Quality

The provision of video data for an Internet-based audience places specific restrictions upon the content. Quality of the video output is dependent upon three factors:

Screen Size Pixels per frame Bit depth (bits) Frames per second Bandwidth required (megabits)
640 x 480 307,200 24 30 221.184
320 x 240 76,800 16 25 30.72
320 x 240 76,800 8 15 9.216
160 x 120 19,200 8 10 1.536
160 x 120 19,200 8 5 0.768

Table 2: Indication of the influence of screen size, bit-depth and frames per second has upon required bandwidth

When creating video, the designer must balance the video quality with the facilities available to the end user. As an example, an 8-bit screen of 160 x 120 pixels, and 10-15 frames per second is used for the majority of content found on the Internet.


Video presents numerous problems for the designer caused by the complexity of formats and structure. Problems may include:


Temporal Compression - Reduces the amount of data stored over a sequence of frames. Rather than describing every pixel in each frame, temporal compression stores a key frame, followed by descriptive information on changes.

Spatial Compression - Condenses each frame independently by mapping similar pixels within a frame. For example, two shades of red will be merged. This results in a reduction in image quality, but enables the file to be edited in its original form.

Progressive Encoding - Refers to any format where the user is required to download the entire video before they are allowed to watch it.

Internet Streaming - Enables the viewer to watch sections of video without downloading the entire thing, allowing users to evaluate video content after just a few seconds. Quality is significantly lower than progressive formats due to compression being used.

Further Information

Raster Images

The market for vector graphics has grown considerably, in part, as a result of improved processing and rendering capabilities of modern hardware. Vector-based images consist of multiple objects (lines, ellipses, polygons, and other shapes) constructed through a sequence of commands or mathematical statements to plot lines and shapes in a two-dimensional or three-dimensional space. For Internet usage, this enables graphics to be resized to ever increasing screen resolutions without concern that an image will become 'jaggy' or unrecognisable.

Several vector formats exist for use on the Internet. These construct information in the same way yet provide different functionality. The table below provides a breakdown of the main formats.

Name Developer Availability Viewers Uses
Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) W3C Open standard Internet browser Internet-based graphics
Shockwave/Flash Macromedia Proprietary Flash plugin for browser Video media and multimedia presentation
Vector Markup Language (VML) W3C Open standard MS Office, Internet Explorer, etc. XML-based format.

For Internet delivery of static images, the W3 recommend SVG as a standard open format for vector diagrams. VML is also common, being the XML language exported by Microsoft products. For text-based vector files, such as SVG and VML, the user is recommended to save content in Unicode.

If the vector graphics are to be integrated into a multimedia presentation or animation, Shockwave and Flash offer significant benefits, enabling vector animation to be combined with audio.

Creating Vector Graphics

A major feature of vector graphics is its ability to construct detailed objects that can be resized without quality loss. XML (Extensible Markup Language) syntax the basis of the SVG and VML languages is understandable by non-technical users who wish to understand the object being constructed. The example below demonstrates the ability to create shapes using a few commands. The circle, shown on the left, was created by the textual data on the right.

Although XML enables the creation of a diversity of data types it is extremely meticulous regarding syntax usage. To remain consistent throughout multiple documents and avoid future problems, several conventions are recommended:

The use of XML enables a high level of interoperability between formats. When converting for a target audience, the designer has two options:

  1. Vector-to-Raster conversion - Raster conversion should be used for illustrative purposes only. The removal of all coordination data eliminates the ability to edit files at a later date.
  2. Vector-to-Vector conversion - Vector-to-vector conversion enables data to be converted into different languages. The use of XML enables the user to manually convert between two different formats (e.g. SVG to VML).

At the start of development it may help to ask your team the following questions:

  1. What type of information will the graphics convey? (Still images, animation and sound, etc.)
  2. What type of browser/operating system will be used to access the content? (Older browsers and non Mac/PC browsers have limited or no support for XML-based languages.)

Further Information

Comments On This Document

This section will be used to provide notes on the section, including details of any changes.

April 2006
Document added

Image Quality


This section was originally published as QA Focus Briefing papers.


A digitised image requires careful preparation before it is suitable for distribution. This document describes a workflow for improving the quality of scanned images by correcting faults and avoiding common errors. It also offers advice on digitising and improving image quality when producing a project Web site.

Choose Suitable Source Material

Quality scans start with quality originals - high-contrast photos and crisp B&W line art will produce the best-printed results. Muddy photos and light-coloured line art can be compensated for, but the results will never be as good as with high-quality originals. The use of bad photos, damaged drawings, or tear sheets - pages that have been torn from books, brochures, and magazines - will have a detrimental effect upon the resultant digital copy. If multiple copies of a single image exist, it is advisable to choose the one that has the highest quality.

Scan at a Suitable Resolution

It is often difficult to improve scan quality at a later stage. It is therefore wise to scan the source according to consistent, pre-defined specifications. Criteria should be based upon the type of material being scanned and the intended use. Table 1 indicates the minimum quality that projects should choose:

Use Type Dots Per Inch (dpi)
Professional Text 200
Graphics 600
Non-professional Text 150
Graphics 300

Table 1: Guidelines To Scanning Source Documents

Since most scans require subsequent processing, (e.g. rotate an image to align it correctly) that will degrade image quality, it is advisable to work at a higher resolution and resize the scans later.

Once the image has been scanned and saved to in an appropriate file format, measures should be taken to improve the image quality.

Preparing your Master Image

The sequence in which modifications are made will have a significant contribution to the quality of the final image. Although conformance to a strict sequence is not always necessary, inconsistencies may be introduced if the order varies dramatically between images. The Technical Advisory Service for Images (TASI) recommends the following order:

  1. Does the image require rotation or cropping?
    In many circumstances, the digitiser will not require the entire image. Cropping an image to a specific size, shape or orientation will reduce the time required for the computer to manipulate the image and prioritise errors to those considered important.
  2. Are shades and colours difficult to distinguish?
    Scanners and digital cameras often group colours into a specific density range. This makes it difficult to differentiate shades of the same colour. Use the Histogram function with Photoshop (or other software) and adjust the different levels to best use the range of available tones.
  3. Is the colour balance accurate in comparison to the original?
    Some colours may change when digitised, e.g. bright orange may change to pink. Adjust the colour balance by modifying the Red, Green & Blue settings. Decreasing one colour increases its opposite.
  4. Are there faults or artefacts on the image?
    Visual checks should be performed on each image, or a selection of images, to identify faults, such as dust specks or scratches on the image.

Once you are satisfied with the results, the master image should be saved in a lossless image format - RGB Baseline TIFF Rev 6 or PNG are acceptable for this purpose.

Improving Image Quality

Subsequent improvements by resizing or sharpening the image should be performed on a derivative.

  1. Store work-in-progress images in a lossless format
    Digitisers often get into the habit of making modifications to a derivative image saved in a 'lossy' format, i.e. a format that simplifies detail to reduce file size. This is considered bad practice, will reduce quality and cause compression 'artefacts' to appear over subsequent edits. When repeatedly altering an image it is advisable to save the image in a lossless format (e.g. TIFF, PNG) until the image is ready for dissemination. Once all changes have been made it can be output in a lossy format.
  2. Filter the image
    Digitised images often appear 'noisy' or contain dust and scratches. Professional graphic manipulation (Photoshop, PaintShop Pro, etc.) possesses graphic processors that can be useful in removing these effects. Common filters include 'Despeckle' that subtly blurs an image to reduce the amount of 'noise' in an image and 'median' that blends the brightness of pixels and discards pixels that are radically different from adjacent pixels.
  3. Remove distracting effect
    If you are funded to digitise printed works, moiré (pronounced more-ray) effects may be a problem. Magazine or newspaper illustrations that print an image as thousands of small coloured dots produce a noticeable repeating pattern when scanned. Blur effects, such as the Gaussian blur, are an effective method of reducing noticeable moiré effects, however these also reduce image quality. Resizing the image is also an effective strategy that forces the image-processing tool to re-interpolate colours, which will soften the image slightly. Although these effects will degrade image to an extent, the results are often better than a moiré.

Straighten Images

For best results, an image should lay with its sides parallel to the edge of the scanner glass. Although it is possible to straighten images that have been incorrectly digitised, it may introduce unnecessary distortion of the digital image.

Sharpen the Image

To reduce the amount of subtle blur (or 'fuzziness') and improve visual quality, processing tools may be used to sharpen, smooth, improve the contrast level or perform gamma correction. Most professional image editing software contains filters that perform this function automatically.

Correct Obvious Faults

Scanned images are often affected by many problems. Software tools can be used to remove the most common faults:

Be careful you do not apply the same effect twice. This can create unusual effects that distract the observer when viewer the picture.

Further Information

Comments On This Document

This section will be used to provide notes on the section, including details of any changes.

April 2006
Document added

Creating Online Learning Materials


This paper was originally commissioned by the New Opportunities Fund from Keith Shaw of Keith Shaw Associates and first published on the UKOLN Technical Advisory site in March 2002.

Developing On line Learning Material


The use of information technology to deliver learning resources has a 30 year old history. There have been examples of outstanding success in this time as well as initiatives that have failed to engage the interest or motivation of the intended learners.

Success is associated with material that presents information in an active and engaging manner with much to commend it over more traditional learning methods. Interaction is more than simply presenting a limited range of objective style questions (predominantly poorly constructed multiple choice) or presenting material in a book-like manner. Best practice examples identify the circumstances in which the medium can make a unique and valuable contribution to the experience of learners.

It is important at the start of the development process to examine the questions 'for whom?', 'why?' and 'how?' which hold the keys to acceptability and success. Whilst the following is considered to be 'best practice' it is recognised that many projects will not have direct access to their prospective audience (as, say, a college would) so that addressing the following considerations will present a more difficult challenge.

Defining the learners and the outcomes

'For whom?' is sometimes addressed rather superficially. The target population needs to be defined carefully and the desired learning outcomes specified appropriately for the audience. Analysis of what the learners currently know or can do, and what they need to know or be able to do, will identify the performance, knowledge or skills gaps (although in some cases this can be readily identified). A description of the desired learning outcomes, and how these will be recognised and assessed, should then follow.

Defining a target population includes describing their known or predictable characteristics, where the material is likely to be used and anticipated access environment. Characteristics include likely prior knowledge or experience, educational attainment, and anticipated familiarity with the media to be used for delivery. In some cases it may be desirable to state that prior knowledge is important and to provide references or links to other sources of information that will help to prepare the learner.

Alternative applications of on line learning

Defining the learners and the outcomes Developing a justification in response to the question 'What added benefits do online materials bring?' demands a rational analysis of the contribution the medium can make in the envisaged circumstances of application and identifying the features of the medium that create an advantage over alternative means of presentation?

One of the most powerful justifications is that the technology allows approaches which might not otherwise be possible, for example the simulation of events which are inherently dangerous, difficult or time consuming. Alternatively it can facilitate investigations which require accessing information from a variety of sources, analysis and application of this information, and solving problems or undertaking other challenges which actively engage the learner in making decisions and drawing conclusions. Transforming otherwise bland qualitative exercises into ones where quantitative exploration can be carried out through the rapid replication of otherwise tedious calculations and exploring 'what happens if …' is another valuable application. In all these cases there is the opportunity to create circumstances which lead to the establishment of understanding as well as acquisition of knowledge, and to create mechanisms whereby this understanding can be demonstrated and confirmed.

Other well rehearsed justifications are those applying to any open and flexible learning approach such as the ability to study at one's own pace, in a variety of environments and at a time of choosing. The starting point is often a desire to teach a larger body of knowledge or even a whole topic, even though it might be broken down into small, digestible, elements or 'learning objects'.

The challenge here is to avoid unnecessarily didactic approaches or the creation of electronic books. The outcome should warrant the justification that it gives rise to more effective learning. This leads on to the next question: 'how?' (ie. the design of the learning experience and the construction of the material).

Development and usage issues

A crucial task is the establishment of an appropriate development team with adequate resources. Successful teams require a variety of skills and expertise. People with an understanding of how technology can be applied to good educational effect, and experience of designing effective interactive learning materials (sometimes called instructional design), is very important. Equally fundamental is subject matter expertise, experience of mediation in the subject and graphic design. Other essential skills are a thorough knowledge of the capabilities and limitations of the technology and the ability to construct, implement and support the technical aspects of the project.

There are features of on line learning which make it unique in the spectrum of open and flexible learning technologies, such as the ability to communicate remotely with experts and other learners, and accessing other resources. These features can help learners manage and structure their approach to learning, and ensure that learning outcomes can be consolidated. Designing these types of experience presents new and complex challenges to the creators. They are deciding about more than content; they are designing a complete and integrated experience utilising a variety of resources and activities. They have to determine which features of on line learning to incorporate, such as communications with subject experts, communications with other learners, sharing applications and access to other Internet sites.

They have to devise the activities, research and review resources, determine appropriate strategies for the use of these resources, anticipate how learners might approach a discovery learning exercise, and ensure the structure is sufficiently flexible to accommodate the alternatives yet capable of delivering a coherent learning experience.

They also have to decide how the learner will be directed and supported. Too much freedom can create insecurity in the learner and inhibit learning, too little may frustrate the learner.

These heuristic approaches are lengthier and more costly to develop and implement than their more didactic counterparts. They also generate a number of interesting questions such as:


The advent of on line learning has raised a number of significant questions as well as creating a wealth of opportunities. These opportunities need to be exploited wisely and the mistake of assuming on line equates to intrinsically motivating must be avoided. Materials must be engaging and require active participation by the user; they should generate a desire in the user to learn and to develop. They should be sufficiently flexible to allow different modes of use and they should appeal to a wide variety of users at very different life-stages.

Planning On Line Learning Materials

The Development Stages of a Project

The diagram below illustrates the different stages that you will need to consider when planning your project.

Planning stages diagram
Figure 1: Stages To Consider When Planning Your Project

Standards on use of language

Standards should be established for spellings (e.g. -ise or -ize), abbreviations, punctuation, use of italics, emphasis, gender, style for lists, rules for numbers (in figures and words), spacing after full-stops and line spacing. Frequently used terminology should also be standardised at the beginning of the project - so that every team member uses the same terms.

Learning design

The interaction of the learner with the materials is one of the most significant factors affecting how the learner progresses and should be considered central to the design of your materials. It is important that a clear approach to learning is demonstrated in the design. For instance, the materials might enable differentiation in subject, level, learning styles, learning rates and access to learning. They should also support learners with special needs, as far as possible. You should consider the following within the design of your materials:

Developing a functional specification for learning materials

Thought should be given to the functionality of the materials and any interactions to be used should be fully defined in your documentation. The following items should be planned and described:


The style of the materials will need planning and consideration given to the branding and overall graphical treatment.


Careful consideration needs to be given to the content and subject experts should be used to make decision about:


The structure of the material needs defining in terms of:

Target learners

The number, the location and the characteristics of the learners should be documented. Characteristics may include familiarity with computers.


Purpose of a storyboard

A storyboard sets out the content of the materials to be developed and describes the format in which it will appear in the finished product. It should be checked by the subject expert before it is committed to screen.

What is a storyboard?

The storyboard is the presentation of the material to be delivered in the package in a narrative format, including screen content, audio script and a description of any interactions and graphics specified for each screen.

Guidelines for producing a storyboard

The storyboard should detail:

Storyboards and user testing

A storyboard can be used as a basis for testing ideas with potential users of the site, to help generate ideas and test your assumptions.

Designing On Line Learning Materials

Creating the look and feel of your learning materials will probably be thought to be the 'fun' part of the project but if they are to be accessible to all groups of learners the design will need serious care.

You will normally have to comply with a set of issued technical standards and guidelines from your funders. Standards are designed to enable optimum accessibility and usability of the materials that you develop and to help preserve the materials for future re-use. Remember that users will include those with physical, language or cognitive disabilities, and those who are visually impaired and people who are hard of hearing or deaf. Some learners may have multiple disabilities. Other users will be using slow internet connections, or will be using a wide range of devices which will not support the use of plug-ins. You should consider testing your Web site with a text-to-speech browser at an early stage in the design process.

Some projects may additionally wish to consider recognising IMS Guidelines for Developing Accessible Learning Applications available at <>.

The following notes provide important basic guidelines for screen design, use of text and graphics, navigation, multimedia, assessments and activities.

Screen Design

Screens should be uncluttered, and data and information should be ordered consistently, so as not to confuse learners with learning difficulties. Try to ensure that screen elements share similar appearance, location, and behaviour. The learner interface should be consistent throughout.

Try to use appropriate colours that all individuals can recognise, taking into account colour blindness. Use high contrast colours such as white on a black background, so that the text is clear to the learner. The use of more than five colours (including black and white) may be confusing. Where possible, use strong shapes as well as colour, to help learners discriminate between objects/images.

Present the key information at the top of each page.

Ensure all links are identified/named logically and clearly - a blind person may navigate using these. For example, "Click here" is not informative to the user.

Links to other pages or related resources need to be easy to find. Try to ensure that there are no more than three levels of menu before reaching the content. If links or resources are difficult to find then this will discourage learners, de-motivate them and they may lose their way. Ensure that the most used links come first so that if learners are using the tab key they will meet these first. Limit the number of links per page to about 20. Make sure there is space between the links.

Try to minimise the number of hypertext links that appear in a single line of text. In preference to this use vertical lists of links.

Menu options should be self-explanatory and limited in number.

Layout of Text - the material should be broken down so that between five and nine points are made at a time. This will avoid information overload and ensure that the learner can access the materials in bitesize chunks. Lengthy sections should be broken down into chunks and paragraphs should be kept short. Bulleted and numbered lists should be used rather than lists in prose.

Label graphical images with text (see below for use of Alt Text and Longdesc).

Icons should be clearly visible, customisable in size and named logically and clearly.

Try to avoid using images made up of bitmapped text. Screen readers cannot read the text contained in images.

Any interactive content that requires the learner to press a key should not be time-limited. Animations that use text should show the text long enough for a slow reader to read it. Essentially, this should be under learner control. Learner control should also be available for selection of sound and its alternative representation.

Document metatags should be used to improve searching. Ensure the search facility is forgiving in terms of spelling.

Consider a system for version control which will display the date, version number and the date it was created. This will assist in user-testing and piloting of your site.

Text Format

Text should be a mixture of upper and lower case letters and should be left justified with a ragged right edge. The length of a line of text should ideally be between eight and twelve words for some user groups.

The clarity and legibility of information depends upon the visual contrast between fonts, text blocks, headlines and surrounding white space.

Do not specify the text in pixels as it is difficult to magnify. For more background information see - ign.htm

Potential problems include:

Italic text - some learners may find this difficult to read.

Underlining text- this is also difficult to read and some users may think the text is a hyperlink.

Tables for formatting, because the cell contents may be presented in a wrong or misleading order. Tables to control text width may not work if larger (or smaller) font is selected; it is generally better to let users control the window size.

Flashing text - many users find this difficult to read - especially those with dyslexia or epilepsy.

Upper case text should be avoided, even in headings because it is not accessible to all groups of learners. Unnecessary capitalisation should be avoided.

Too many Acronyms and Abbreviations should be avoided as screen reading software may read them as a word.

Other considerations include:

It is recommended that animated or moving graphics are not used, unless the animation is necessary to illustrate important information, such as animation demonstrating how a machine works. It is best to place the animation on a different page, or to set it up to start only when activated by a mouse click or keystroke.

The size of text and graphics affects usability as well as accessibility. For those with visual impairments, magnification can make the difference between being able or unable to use the application.

Where multimedia is used, displaying more than three rows of text at once may prove impractical, as the viewer may have difficulty reading the captions and keeping up with the video.

There needs to be an easy-to-use facility to print, copy and save the desired portion of text (as a text file - not HTML) or a picture.

Provide information for learners to change their default settings. For more background information see


There must be keyboard access for all menus, controls and buttons, in the form of single key. Note that these may already exist in an application and any additional keystrokes should be consistent and compatible.

Some learners using a screen reader will navigate via links - make sure links are labelled logically and meaningfully.

Pages should be broken down into meaningful self-contained chunks, which do not overflow onto the next page; this will enable the learner to absorb the information contained in the chunk of learning, before progressing.

Units should be structured into sufficiently small elements so that learners can easily leave and return to the current point, using a bookmarking facility or a system of menus.

Buttons or keystrokes should be provided for ease of navigation to allow the learner to exit the current section, move upward within a hierarchy of menus and, from the top level, to exit the material. It should be difficult for the learner to close the application down accidentally (by exiting a current section) - there should be a logging off procedure.

The learner should have access via buttons or keystrokes to help and/or hints on the materials and technical issues.

The learner should be provided with the facility to play, pause, stop and restart any audio or video associated with the current screen, to ensure that they can control their own speed of progress through the material.

Progress indicators (breadcrumbs) should be located at the top of the screen. A progress bar shows the learner how far through the material he or she is. Learners should know where they are within the package at all times.

All buttons should be located in the same position on all screens for ease of navigation.

The Back button allows learners to review screens that have already been viewed by moving backwards through the material, screen by screen. It is also used to enable learners to have another attempt at questions or activities.

The Menu will take the learner directly from any tutorial screen to the menu screen. Where the material has more than one menu, this button will take the learner back to the previous menu in the hierarchy. Avoid rollovers for navigation - this may be impossible for those with motor difficulties or those using keystrokes.

Avoid colour-dependent navigation, with instructions such as 'Click on the Green button'

Where larger buttons are used, the amount of screen space available for the learning material is reduced. It is often a good idea to use different versions of buttons: 'available' (out), 'selected' (in), and 'unavailable' (greyed out).


Titles or headings ensure that learners always know where they are within the package.

Choose a suitable point size for headings - so as they are clear but not too imposing.

Do not crowd the screen with too many headings.

The learner should also be provided with an introduction to the learning material - possibly through the use of an introduction screen, to include at least the following:

Use of graphics

It is important to remember that graphical images should be used for instructional, motivational, or attention-focusing effects, and not simply for the sake of including them on the screen. Every item on the screen should earn its place. Graphics should be crisp and clear.

When graphics are used there should be a text alternative to the image.

Multimedia mix

Sound and video should be used with caution and only when they aid understanding.

Video and audio tracks can be used, and multiple text tracks may be included within the clip. Multimedia materials can also be used to overcome problems of accessibility, particularly for use by learners with special educational needs.

Users without the capability of playing sound, as well as the deaf and hard of hearing can benefit from the use of captioned movie clips in learning materials. Users can view captioned clips and follow the soundtrack visually rather than aurally. For maximum accessibility transcripts should always be used in conjunction with audio-only clips.

People who have special needs, whose first language is not English or who have low literacy skills may have problems downloading, using or accessing plug-ins easily.

Where an applet is used to play a video clip, a text description should be provided.

Try to ensure that at the specified minimum bandwidth there is a delay of no more than ten seconds in the loading of an image or animation. Audio effects should be free from extraneous noise, such as unnecessary hiss and page turns etc. which can be distracting to some groups of learners.

Examples of accessible media rich materials can be found at


This is an area where many learners are often excluded due to inappropriate design.

Drag and drop should be usable by mouse or keyboard.

Multiple-choice questions can be difficult for learners to engage with. Avoid too much scrolling and it may be appropriate to open a new window for each question.

Ensure different sources of information are available separately.

Avoid information that is available only in graphic format e.g. a pie chart

Provide alternative activities, for example it would be inappropriate to ask a visually impaired person or someone with a motor disability to draw a diagram. However, remember that equivalent access (providing your resources in a range of formats) is preferable to alternative access.

Revised by Shirley Evans, Royal National College for the Blind, Hereford.

Trialling On Line Learning Materials

The Functional Prototype

Ideally, a pilot or prototype should be produced - even in small projects. The prototype should be run on hardware with the exact target specification and should be produced early in the project. This will reveal any potential technical problems and 'look and feel' conflicts before they become serious, preventing costly changes later on.

The purpose of the functional prototype is to demonstrate how each element will function and test how users interact with the material. The prototype should also demonstrate the proposed interface, functionality and screen layout. The prototype should be tested with as many end-users as possible, and if appropriate, use their feedback to develop a further prototype.

What should be included in a functional prototype

The functional prototype is a fully working sample, and as such should contain an example of every element of functionality to be used in the material. A functional prototype typically comprises the following:

The functional prototype should be submitted to your 'client' who must check:

Usability Trials

At the start of the project you should identify the quality expectations for the learning materials and at an early stage in the development the proposed design, in the form of the functional prototype, should be tested on a sample of users.

The purpose of the trial, is to ensure that the material will function correctly and is effective for the target users before the majority of the content has been incorporated.

Users, or, where applicable, subject specialists should be used for content testing. In the case of a consortia those involved in the trialling should be drawn from more than one group to avoid bias. This trialling team should be responsible for approving the content of the learning materials, beta testing and providing user evaluation of the materials. A checklist-based approach should be used to assess the learning materials against quality criteria. End user testing must be conducted at each stage.

Running a usability trial:

Starting the observation

You should record your observations on a Usability Trial checklist. Remember to attribute problems to the product rather than to the user. Record your observations and use prepared prompts on areas of particular interest, such as new types of functionality, or for example ask - 'Do you find the Help facility useful?' 'Are the question feedbacks helpful? etc.

Assess the experience of users

Log the following information about users, e.g.:

Assess the motivation of users

Establish and record the motivation of users towards the product, and towards the use of a computer as the means of delivery.

Ease of use

To assess how easy the prototype is to use you will need to record the actions of users, noting:

Appropriateness of material

To assess how easy the prototype is to understand record the actions of users, noting:

Appropriateness of delivery style

To assess the effectiveness of the delivery style record the actions of users, noting:

Assess the environment in which the usability trial takes place

To assess how the delivery environment will affect the use of the materials you will need to record the actions of users, noting:

You will also need to compare and record any differences between the trial environment and the intended delivery environment.

Comments On This Document

This section will be used to provide notes on the section, including details of any changes.

2 Dec 2004
Document made available to MLA staff for comments.
January 2005
Document added.

Web sites

Guidelines for Setting Up Web Sites


Author: Brian Kelly, UK Web Focus, UKOLN
Originally commissioned as part of the Information Paper series from the NOF-digi Technical Advisory Service.


This section provides advice and guidance on best practices for setting up Web sites. The information provided in this section is intended to be used during the planning stages for a Web site.

Purpose of the Web Site

Before setting up your Web site it is important to identify its purpose(s). The primary purpose of many cultural heritage Web sites will be delivering cultural heritage and learning materials to end-users. However organisations may also choose to make available information about development activities, its development, remit, etc. to partners, funders and other interested parties. The site could be structured in such a way that different audiences are targeted for specific sections of the site, whilst ensuring that all the materials digitised are freely accessible to the public.

It is necessary to have a clear idea of the purpose of the Web site at the planning stage in order to help with the planning of the structure of the Web site, identify the potential costs, management support, technical resources required and staffing numbers and skill levels, etc.

Domain Name for your Web Site

Users often find it easier to remember a short project- or organisation-specific URL, rather than a long and non-intuitive one. Organisations might wish to consider registering their own domain name (<>, say) rather than requiring users to remember a less friendly URL (such as <>).

If your Web site is hosted on an organisational server there are several options available. Web sites are often set up within a deep hierarchical structure (e.g. <>). Such URLs can be difficult to remember and are prone to errors when typing. In addition many search engines are believed not to index deeply within a Web site.

Another alternative is to make use of the ~ (tilde) convention (e.g. Although this approach can provide a short URL novice users may find the ~ key difficult to find. Also users may regard content on Web sites which contain ~ to be personal home pages rather than quality services.

If you change the domain name for your Web site you should ensure that you inform relevant parties, such as the funders of the Web site.

Life Time of the Web Site

What is the expected life time of the Web site? The information contained on a Web site is likely to be valuable even after the project has finished. You should try to ensure that the Web site will continue to exist after the funding has finished and that bookmarks and published URLs will continue to function.

Directory Structures

Resources on your Web site should be located within its directory (e.g. if the directory is <> this should be the project entry point and not <>). This allows the Web site to be treated as a unified collection - e.g. to allow the Web site to be downloaded onto a PDA or by an offline browser, without having to download the entire organisation Web site.

The Pre-Release Web Site

A preliminary site may be up and running before the development work is complete and the full version of the Web site launched. You should note that once a Web site has been set up it may be indexed by search engines or linked to from other Web sites. Since the index and links may persist after the official project Web site has been launched it may be desirable to manage the dissemination of the pre-release Web site. For example, you may wish to provide text on the Web site informing users of its status. You should also consider use of the robots.txt file or equivalent <meta> tags in HTML pages to prevent robots from indexing the site until it is officially launched [1].

Promoting the Web Site

Once your Web site has been developed and checked for compliance with appropriate standards and best practices is ready it should be promoted in order to ensure that end users know about the service.

You should make use of a robots.txt file to ensure that quality areas of your Web site are indexed: for example, you may wish to exclude draft documents or personal pages from being indexed by search engines such as Google.

You are advised to be pro-active in submitting your Web site to key search engines (e.g. Google) and directory services (e.g. Yahoo). You should consider use of submission software and services [2].

You should be aware of the difficulties which search engine software can have in indexing your Web site if you provide frames-interfaces (especially if you do not provide a no-frames alternative for accessing the full content of your Web site), if you use 'splash screens' or if you use proprietary file formats, such as Flash.

The use of metadata on key areas of your Web site may be a requirement of the funding body. Metadata (information about a Web resource, such as the author, keywords, brief description, etc.) may be used by search engines such as Google and also by local search engines.

During the lifetime of the Web site there are likely to be several deliverables and items of news which you would like your users to be aware of. You should consider providing a news area on your Web site. You may wish to use an automated notification service such as Trackengine [3] so that users will receive an automated message when the news page is updated. You should also consider use of RSS [4] to allow your news items to be automatically syndicated to remote Web sites.

For further information on Web site promotion see [5].

Content on Your Web Site

The content that your Web site will provide will influence the design of the site, particularly the navigational elements on the Web site. In addition the nature of the content will help in structuring the content and defining the underlying directory structure.

It may be useful to produce a diagram showing the key areas of content which defines how the content will be grouped: try to think about how the Web site will be structured in a couple of year's time. The Web site should be designed to ensure that it will not have to be re-organised as the site grows as this can be very time-consuming and can lead to many broken links.

File Formats

Standards and Proprietary Formats

Cultural heritage Web site should make use of open standard file formats wherever possible in order to maximise access to resources. Open standards (such as HTML and XML) are developed by consortia (such as W3C) and are designed to be platform and application independent. There will often be freely available tools to create and view formats based on open standards.

However, in some cases there may be no relevant open standards or the relevant standards may be sufficiently new that conformant tools are not widely available. In some cases therefore, the use of proprietary standards may be acceptable. Ideally you will document the reasons for selection of the proprietary formats and have outlined a migration strategy to use of open solutions if they become available. Proprietary formats (such as Macromedia Flash and Adobe PDF) are owned by commercial companies and may only work on limited platforms. Use of proprietary formats may require licensed products, and even when their use is free, there can be no guarantee that this will continue.

You may be required to follow the technical standards which may be mandated by a funding body. For example, projects funded by the NOF-digitise programme were required to follow the NOF-digitise Technical Standards and Guidelines [6] which described the recommended file formats for creation and storage of digital resources.


HTML will be used extensively on your Web site. In order to maximise the range of browsers which can access your Web site you are advised to ensure that your Web site conforms to HTML standards (currently HTML 4.0 or XHTML 1.0 [7] standard) and that you avoid use of proprietary extensions.


HTML or XHTML should be used to describe the main structural elements on your Web site. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) [8] s hould be used to define the appearance of the elements on a browser. Separation of the structure of resources on the Web site from its appearance will enable the appearance to be more easily changed and will ensure that resources can be accessed by a variety of devices (digital TV, PDAs, etc.)

Browser Support

Although HTML/XHTML and CSS are the recommended formats for Web sites, unfortunately many older browsers fail to support CSS adequately. Until standards-compliant browsers are widely deployed you may wish to consider use of 'safe' CSS features which can be used with all browsers and which degrade gracefully (see [9]).


Validation of HTML/XHTML and CSS resources will help to detect errors. Your Web pages may not be displayed correctly or function correctly in all browsers if they contain errors. You should ensure that you systematically check Web pages using validation tools, which may be built into the authoring tool, may be independent applications or may be provided on the Web, such as W3C's validation services [10] and [11].

Audio visual File Formats

Your Web site may contain a variety of images, such as navigational icons, photographs, flow-charts and organisational diagrams, etc., and may also contain sound and video resources. The following requirements may apply to the delivery of resources funded by public sector funding bodies.

Other File Formats

Browser plugin technologies allow a range of other file formats to be provided on the Web such as Macromedia Flash and Adobe PDF. It should be noted that such formats are proprietary and there is no guarantee that plugins will continue to be free. There may also be accessibility considerations for plugin technologies: the content may not be accessible to speaking browsers, digital TVs, etc. For these reasons plugins should be avoided if possible. However in certain circumstances their use may be permitted, e.g. in the design of games, etc. and a case can be made in your project's business plan for their use, provided this case does not contradict any of the 'must' requirements of any technical guidelines document provided by your funder.

HTML Tools

A number of approaches to creating HTML documents can be taken. Experienced HTML authors may make use of text editors to create HTML markup manually. However this approach can be time-consuming and is prone to errors. Many HTML authors prefer to make use of dedicated HTML authoring tools such as FrontPage or Dreamweaver.

If you have large numbers of documents in proprietary formats, such as a word processing format, you may wish to make use of a conversion tool. Some dedicated HTML authoring tools allow formats such as MS Word to be imported and converted, although the quality of the conversion may be poor. Dedicated conversion tools may do a better job, or enable large numbers of documents to be converted in bulk.

Another way of providing access to documents which use a proprietary file format is to use 'on-the-fly' conversion software on the server (i.e. files are dynamically converted by software typically running on the Web server).

Another alternative is to make use of a content management system. A content management system may be regarded as a database which provides management functionality for a Web site. Content management systems normally provide facilities such as reuse of resources, automated removal of expired resources, personalised interfaces, etc. Content management systems may provide a dedicated data entry system in which knowledge of HTML is not required. Content management systems should also provide support for new file formats which may supersede or extend HTML (e.g. provide support for WML to provide access to users of mobile phones). Further information on contentmanagement systems is given elsewhere in the document [13].

Future Developments

As the underlying Web technologies and file formats are constantly being developed it is important to keep up-to-date with developments in order to be in a position to exploit new developments in a timely manner. Important developments to be aware of include XML, XHTML and XSLT.

XML, the Extensible Markup Language, will act as the basis for new file formats [14]. It enables richly structured resources to be described in an open and extensible format. XML is already widely used in many large-scale commercial Web sites and will grow in importance as new browsers become available which will provide native support for XML. In addition to XML itself, there are many related developments which will enhance the functionality of services based on XML.

XHTML [15] is an XML version of HTML. It is designed to provide the benefits of XML (i.e. structured, reusable documents) while allowing resources to be accessed by existing browsers.

XSLT [16] is a transformation language which allows XML resources (such as XHTML pages) to be transformed into other formats such as WML pages for use by mobile phones).

Design Issues

A well-designed Web site will be quick and easy to use and will reflect positively on the organisation. A poorly designed Web site is likely to be difficult to use and will give a poor impression of the organisation. When designing your Web site think about the following issues:

Who designs? Who will be responsible for designing the Web site? Will it be done inhouse, or by an external designer? What skills do they have? Are the design skills relevant to a Web site?

The design brief. It is important to produce a thorough design brief and methodology for approving the proposed designs.

Technologies. What technologies will be used to implement the design? Will the use of technologies such as Shockwave or Flash be acceptable? Are the technologies backwards compatible?

Accessibility. Is the design accessible to people with disabilities or users of older browsers or specialist devices?



The navigational aids on a Web site should be part of the overall site design. It is desirable that consistent navigational aids are widely available throughout the Web site. It should enable users to quickly access the key areas of the Web site such as the 'home page', a search facility or site map and help information or frequently asked questions.


A search facility is essential for most Web sites. A wide range of search engines are available, many free-of-charge. If you cannot install a search facility for your project Web site (for example if the institution hosting your Web site does not provide searching across specified areas) you can make use of an externally-hosted search engine. For further information see [17].

Error Pages

Your Web site's 404 error page (the message which is displayed when a user selects a Web page which does not exist) can play an important role in helping users navigate. A well-designed 404 page will provide access to a search facility or a site map. For further information see [18].

Quality Assurance

In order for a Web site to continue to provide a quality service after it has been launched it will be necessary to maintain the service.

The content on the Web site will need maintaining to ensure that it remains up-to-date and relevant. The maintenance process can by assisted by the inclusion of contact details or clearly defining the person or group with responsibility for the information content. User feedback mechanisms, such as email links or Web forms can help to encourage users to report on inaccuracies. The inclusion of a user form on your Web site may be a requirement of your funding body in order to enable users to provide feedback on the quality of your service.

Broken links on a Web site are always irritating. You should ensure that you provide systematic link checking. This should cover both internal links to resources within your Web site and links to external resources.

Although there are many link checking tools available you should bear in mind that broken links can be caused not only by use of the <a> and <img> elements to link to resources and images, but also by technologies, such as style sheets, forms, etc. You can check for other broken links by analysing your Web server's log file. The error log file (which may be a separate file) will give more complete information on errors.

You should ensure that you have procedures for monitoring the availability of your Web service. If you do not have procedures available locally you may wish to make use of remote services such as WatchMyServer [19] and InternetSeer [20].

Performance Indicators

You may be expected to provide performance indicators for your Web site to your funders. You may wish to record performance indicators for your own use and to give information to your management group, to help with future planning for growth of the service.

Web statistics can provide a useful performance indicator, although they should be treated with caution. For example a substantial growth in the number of hits on our Web site may simply indicate a redesign of your Web site with greater numbers of images or that your Web site is being accessed regularly by robot software rather than users. Information on the number of page impressions or user sessions is probably better than number of hits, but again this can be misleading. For example growth in the number of page impressions and user sessions may be the result of large numbers of users finding your Web site using a search engine and leaving the Web site after reading one page and deciding it is not relevant.

Despite these reservations, Web usage statistics should be collected and summaries produced. There are parallels with the published statistics on TV viewing. Audience viewing figures for TV programmes are also difficult to define rigorously: for example the TV may be on but either nobody is watching or many are; the figures may be skewed by videoing programmes for later viewing, etc. Despite these reservations TV viewing statistics are collected and published and for the basis for decision making.

The important point to be made is that any figures must be regarded with some scepticism and care must be taken before using usage figures for making any decisions or comparisons with other services. It will also be important to ensure that a consistent approach is taken towards the collection of the data and any data processing. For example, you should seek to ensure that you collect and process the data in a consistent fashion during the lifetime of your project Web site. For example, should you record only accesses from outside the organisation; should you remove access data from robots; etc.? As well as ensuring that you process the data in a consistent fashion within your organisation, it is also desirable that similar approaches are taken by your peers, such as project work funded by the same funding body.

You must also ensure that care is taken if you aggregate summaries of the usage statistics. For example, if monthly Web log analysis reports shown that you get 1,000 unique visitors per month, you cannot say that over a year you have received 12,000 unique visitors. You may, in fact, have received only 1,000 unique visitors over the year. On the other hand, you may indeed have received 12,000 unique visitors (although this is unlikely).

Other performance indicators are available, such as the number of links to your Web site, the coverage of your Web site by search engines, Web server uptime, user feedback, etc. For further information see [21].

Auditing Your Web Site

You may find it useful to carry out periodic auditing of your Web site. This can help in spotting errors, evaluating the accessibility of the Web site, evaluating the success of your dissemination, etc. For further information on approaches to monitoring and auditing Web sites see the survey of eLib project Web sites [22].


  1. Robot Exclusion Protocol
  2. Submitting to Search Engines Using "Scrub The Web", Exploit Interactive, 6,
  3. Trackengine
  4. Rich Site Summary Resources, UKOLN
  5. Promoting Your Project Web Site, Exploit Interactive, issue 4
  6. NOF-digitise Technical Standards and Guidelines
  7. Hypertext Markup Language, W3C
  8. CSS, W3C
  9. CSS Support Table, RichInStyle
  10. W3C HTML Validation Service, W3C
  11. W3C CSS Validation Service, W3C
  12. PNG, W3C
  13. Good Practice Guide for Developers of Cultural Heritage Web Services: Content Management Systems
  14. The XML FAQ
  15. XHTML, W3C
  16. Extensible Stylesheet Language, W3C
  17. UK University Search Engines, Ariadne, issue 21
  18. 404s: What's Missing?, Ariadne, issue 20
  19. WatchMyServer
  20. InternetSeer
  21. Performance Indicators For Web Sites, Exploit Interactive, 5,
  22. WebWatching eLib Project Web Sites, issue 26

You may also find the Advice to Content Providers document useful (note it is in PDF format).

Comments On This Document

This section will be used to provide notes on the section, including details of any changes.

2 Dec 2004
Document made available to MLA staff for comments.
January 2005
Document added.



This section was originally published as QA Focus Briefing papers.


Usability refers to a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. The term is also used to refer to a number of techniques and methods for improving usability during the various stages of design and development.

Usability can be separated into several components such as:

How easy it is to get to grips with an unfamiliar interface?
How quickly an experienced user can perform a given task?
Once familiar with an interface, is it easily forgettable?
How easy is it to make mistakes/recover from mistakes?
Is the design enjoyable to use?

These characteristics are all useful metrics, although the importance of each one depends on the expected uses of the interface in question. In some circumstances, such as software designed for a telephone switchboard operator, the time it takes for a skilled user to complete a task is rather more important than learnability or satisfaction. For an occasional web user, a web site's designers may wish to focus principally on providing a site that is learnable, supports the user, and is enjoyable to use. Designing a usable site therefore requires a designer to learn about the needs of the site's intended users, and to test that their design meets the criteria mentioned above.

More attention is paid to accessibility than to usability in legislation, perhaps because accessibility is perceived as a clearly defined set of guidelines, whilst usability itself is a large and rather nebulous set of ideas and techniques. However, a Web site can easily pass accessibility certification, and yet have low usability; accessibility is to usability what legible handwriting is to authorship. Interfaces with low usability are often frustrating, causing mistakes to be made, time to be wasted, and perhaps impede the user from successfully reaching their intended goal at all. Web sites with low usability will not attract or retain a large audience, since if a site is perceived as too difficult to use, visitors will simply prefer to take their business elsewhere.

Usability Testing

User testing is traditionally an expensive and complicated business. Fortunately, modern discount ('quick and dirty') methods have changed this, so that it is now possible to quickly test the usability of a web site at any stage in its development. This process, of designing with the user in mind at all times, is known as user-centred design. At the earliest stages, an interface may be tested using paper prototypes or simple mockups of the design. It is advisable to test early and often, to ensure that potential problems with a design are caught early enough to solve cheaply and easily. However, completed Web sites also benefit from usability testing, since many such problems are easily solved.

User testing can be as simple as asking a group of users, chosen as representative of the expected user demographic, to perform several representative tasks using the Web site. This often reveals domain-specific problems, such as vocabulary or language that is not commonly used by that group of users. Sometimes user testing can be difficult or expensive, so discount techniques such as heuristic evaluation, where evaluators compare the interface with a list of recommended rules of thumb, may be used. Other discount techniques include cognitive walkthrough in which an evaluator role-plays the part of a user trying to complete a task. These techniques may be applied to functional interfaces, to paper prototypes, or other mockups of the interface.

A common method to help designers is the development of user personas, written profiles of fictitious individuals who are designed to be representative of the site's intended users. These individuals' requirements are then used to inform the design process and to guide the design process.

Considering the usability of a web site not only helps users, but also tends to improve the popularity of the site in general. Visitors are likely to get a better impression from usable sites. Quick and simple techniques such as heuristic evaluation can be used to find usability problems; frequent testing of a developing design is ideal, since problems can be found and solved early on. Several methods of usability testing can be used to expose different types of usability problems.

Cognitive Walkthroughs

The cognitive walkthrough is a method of discount ("quick and dirty") usability testing requiring several expert evaluators. A set of appropriate or characteristic tasks to be completed is compiled. The evaluators then "walk" through each task, noting down problems or difficulties as they go.

Since cognitive walkthroughs are often applied very early in development, the evaluators will often be working with mockups of interfaces such as paper prototypes and role-playing the part of a typical user. This is made much simpler if user personas, detailed descriptions of fictitious users, have been developed, because these simplify the role-playing element of cognitive walkthrough. These are often developed at the beginning of a user-centred design process, because designers often find it much easier to design to the needs of a specific user.

Evaluators are typically experts such as usability specialists, but the same basic technique can also be applied successfully in many different situations.

The Method

Once you have a relatively detailed prototype, paper or otherwise, you are ready to try a cognitive walkthrough.

Start off by listing the tasks that you expect users to be able to perform using your Web site or program. To do this, think about the possible uses of the site; perhaps you are expecting users to be able to book rooms or organise tours, or find out what events your organisation is running in the next month, or find opening times and contact details for your organisation. Write down each of these tasks.

Secondly, separate these tasks into two parts: the user's purpose (their intention) and the goals that they must achieve in order to complete this. Take the example of organising a tour; the user begins with the purpose of finding out what tours are available. In order to achieve this, they look for a link on your Web site leading to a Web page detailing possible tours. Having chosen a tour, they gain a new purpose - organising a tour date - and a new set of goals, such as finding a Web page that lets them book a tour date and filling it out appropriately.

Separating tasks into tiny steps in this way is known as decomposition, and it is mostly helpful because it allows you to see exactly where and when the interface fails to work with the user's expectations. It is important to do this in advance, because otherwise you find yourself evaluating your own trial-and-error exploration of the interface! Following these steps "wearing the users' shoes" by trying out each step on a prototype version of the interface shows you where the user might reach an impasse or a roadblock and have to retrace his or her steps to get back on track. As a result, you will gain a good idea of places where the interface could be made simpler or organised in a more appropriate manner.

To help this process, a Walkthrough Evaluation Sheet is filled in for each step taken. An example is shown below [1]:

  1. Will the users be trying to produce whatever effect the action has?
  2. Will users see the control (button, menu, switch, etc.) for the action?
  3. Once users find the control, will they recognize that it produces the effect they want?
  4. After the action is taken, will users understand the feedback they get, so they can go on to the next action with confidence?

Advantages and Disadvantages

Cognitive walkthroughs are often very good at identifying certain classes of problems with a Web site, especially showing how easy or difficult a system is to learn or explore effectively - how difficult it will be to start using that system without reading the documentation, and how many false moves will be made in the meantime.

The downside is principally that on larger or more complex tasks they can sometimes be time-consuming to perform, so the technique is often used in some altered form. For example, instead of filling out an evaluation sheet at each step, the evaluation can be recorded on video [2]; the evaluator can then verbally explain the actions at each step.

'Cognitive walkthroughs are helpful in picking out interface problems at an early stage, and works particularly well together with a user-centred design approach and the development of user personas. However, the approach can sometimes be time-consuming, and since reorganising the interface is often expensive and difficult at later stages in development, the cognitive walkthrough is usually applied early in development.

Task Analysis

A key issue in usability is that of understanding users, and a key part of user-centred design is that of describing the tasks that the users expect to be able to accomplish using the software you design [3]. Because of the origins of usability as a discipline, a lot of the terminology used when discussing this issue comes from fields such as task analysis. Within the usability and human-computer interaction communities, the term is generally used to describe study of the way people perform tasks - that is, the way in which a task is currently performed in real-life situations. Task analysis does not describe the optimal or ideal procedure for solving a problem. It simply describes the way in which the problem is currently solved.

Gathering Data For Task Analysis

Since the intent of task analysis is description of an existing system, the ideal starting point is data gathered from direct observation. In some cases, this is carried out in a controlled situation such as a usability laboratory. In others, it is more appropriate to carry out the observation "in the field" - in a real-life context. These may yield very different results!

Observational data can be gathered on the basis of set exercises, combined with the "think-aloud" technique, in which subjects are asked to describe their actions and their reasoning as they work through the exercise. Alternatively, observations can be taken by simply observing subjects in the workplace as they go through a usual day's activities. The advantage of this latter method is principally that the observer influences events as little as possible, but the corresponding disadvantage is that the observations are likely to take longer to conclude.

Unfortunately, there are significant drawbacks of direct observation, principally cost and time constraints. For this reason, task analysis is sometimes carried out using secondary sources such as manuals and guidebooks. This, too, has drawbacks - such sources often provide an idealised or unrealistic description of the task.

A third possibility is conducting interviews - experts, themselves very familiar with a task, can easily answer questions about that task. While this can be a useful way of solving unanswered questions quickly, experts are not always capable of precisely explaining their own actions as they can be too familiar with the problem domain, meaning that they are not aware on a conscious level of the steps involved in the task.

Analysing Observations

There are several methods of analysing observational data, such as knowledge-based analysis, procedural or hierarchical task analysis, goal decomposition (the separation of each goal, or step, into its component elements) and entity-relationship based analysis. Data can also be visualised by charting or display as a network. Some methods are better suited to certain types of task - e.g. highly parallel tasks are difficult to describe using hierarchical task analysis (HTA). On the other hand, this method is easy for non-experts to learn and use. Each answers a slightly different question - for example, HTA describes the knowledge and abilities required to complete a task, while procedural task analysis describes the steps required to complete a task.

A simple procedural task analysis is completed as follows:

  1. Choose the appropriate procedure to complete the task that is being analysed.
  2. Determine and write down each step in that procedure; break down each step as far as possible.
  3. Complete every step of the procedure.
  4. Check that the procedure gave the correct result.

These steps can be charted as a flowchart for a clear and easy to read visual representation.

Task analysis provides a helpful toolkit for understanding everyday processes and for describing how human beings solve problems. It is not appropriate to perform detailed task analysis in every situation, due to cost and complexity concerns. However, the results of a task analysis can usefully inform design or pinpoint usability problems, particularly differences between the system designer's assumptions and the users' "mental models" - ways of looking at - the task to be performed.

Heuristic Evaluation

Heuristic evaluation is a method of user testing, which enables a product to be assessed in order to identify usability problems - that is, places where the product is not easy to use. It is a discount ("quick and dirty") method, which means that it is cheap and requires relatively little expertise.

In this technique, a number of evaluators are first introduced to the heuristics, then given some tasks to complete and invited to report the problems - where the system fails to comply with the heuristics - either verbally or in some form of written report or checklist. Unlike many forms of usability testing, the evaluators do not have to be representative of the system's expected users (although they can be!), nor do the evaluators have to be experts, as the heuristics can be read and understood in a few minutes. Just three to five evaluators are needed to find the majority of usability problems, so the technique is quite efficient and inexpensive.

The problems found in heuristic evaluation essentially represent subjective opinions about the system. Evaluators will frequently disagree (there are no absolute right or wrong answers) but these opinions are useful input to be considered in interface design.

There are several sets of possible heuristics available on the Web and elsewhere. This reflects the fact that they are "rules of thumb", designed to pick out as many flaws as possible, and various sets of usability evaluators have found different formalisations to be most useful for their needs, e.g. [4]. Probably the most commonly used is Nielsen's set of ten usability heuristics [5] given below with a sample question after each one:

An excellent resource to help you choose a set of heuristics is the Interactive Heuristic Evaluation Toolkit [6] which offers heuristics tailored to your expected user group, type of device, and class of application.

As heuristic evaluation is simple and cheap, it is possible to use it to quickly test the usability of a web site at any stage in its development. Waiting until a fully functional prototype Web site exists is not necessary; interface ideas can be sketched out onto paper or mocked up using graphics software or Flash. These mockups can be tested before any actual development takes place.

Most projects will benefit from a user-centred design process, an approach that focuses on supporting every stage of the development process with user-centred activities. It is advisable to test early and often, in order to ensure that potential problems with a design are caught early enough that they can be solved cheaply. However, even web sites that are already active can benefit from usability testing, since many such problems are easily solved, but some problems are difficult or expensive to solve at a late stage.

If a developing design is tested frequently, most usability problems can be found and solved at an early stage. Heuristic evaluation is a simple and cheap technique that finds the majority of usability problems. An existing Web site or application will often benefit from usability testing, but testing early and often provides the best results. Finally, it is useful to alternate use of heuristic evaluation with use of other methods of usability testing, such as user testing, since the two techniques often reveal different sets of usability problems.

Developing User Personas

When designing a Web site or program, the obvious question to ask at once is, "who are my audience?" It seems natural to design with users in mind, and just as natural to wish to build a product that is satisfactory to all one's users - however, experience shows that it is difficult to design something that appeals to everybody [7]. Instead, it is useful to start with a few sample profiles of users, typical examples of the audience to whom the design should appeal, and design to their needs. Not only is it easier for the designer, but the result is usually more appealing to the user community.

The intent behind a user persona is to create a shared vocabulary for yourself and your team when discussing design questions and decisions. User personas provide easy-to-remember shorthand for user types and behaviour, and can be used to refer to some complex issues in a simple and generally understood way. Sharing them between management and development teams, perhaps even with funders, also provides a useful avenue for effective communication of technical subjects. Furthermore, it is much easier to design for a persona with whom one can empathise than for a brief, dry description of user demographics.

It is good practice, when making design decisions, to consider each user persona's likely reaction to the result of the decision. Which option would each user persona prefer?

User personas can also feed in to discount usability testing methods such as the cognitive walkthrough, saving time and increasing the effectiveness of the approach.

Finally, the research required to create a user persona is an important first step in beginning a user-centred design process, an approach that focuses on supporting every stage of the development process with user-centred activities, which is strongly recommended in designing for a diverse user group.

The first step in developing a user persona is to learn a little about your users; qualitative research techniques like one-to-one interviews are a good place to start. It's best to talk to several types of users; don't just focus on the single demographic you're expecting to appeal to, but consider other groups as well. Focusing on one demographic to the exclusion of others may mean that others do not feel comfortable with the resulting design, perhaps feeling alienated or confused. The expected result of each interview is a list of behaviour, experience and skills. After a few interviews, you should see some trends emerging; once you feel confident with those, it's time to stop interviewing and start to build personas [8].

Once you have an idea of each type of persona, write down the details for each one. It may help to write a sort of biography, including the following information:

You can even find a photograph or sketch that you feel fits the personality and add it to the persona's description.

User personas are a useful resource with which to begin a design process, which allow the designers to gain understanding of their users' expectations and needs in a cheap and simple manner, and can be useful when conducting discount usability testing methods. Additionally, they make helpful conversational tools when discussing design decisions.

References and Further Information

  1. Evaluating the design without users, from Task-Centered User Interface Design,
  2. The Cognitive Jogthrough,
  3. Task Analysis and Human-Computer Interaction, Crystal & Ellington,
  4. Heuristic Evaluation - A System Checklist, Deniese Pierotti, Xerox Corp.
  5. Heuristic Evaluation, Jakob Nielsen,
  6. Interactive Heuristic Evaluation Toolkit,
  7. The Inmates are Running the Asylum, Alan Cooper, ISBN: 0672316498
  8. 5 Minute Whitepaper: Which persona are you targeting?,

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April 2006
Document added.



Written by Peter Dowdell, UKOLN technical advisor July 2004.


As the use of digital networks becomes pervasive, the imperative to develop Web sites and Web services that are accessible to all users becomes apparent. Much work has been done since the inception of the Internet to understand the issues surrounding accessibility and groups such as the WAI at the World Wide Web Consortium have produced structured guidelines to assist developers.

The subject of digital accessibility is a very broad one and encompasses many different sub-sets of user requirements accordingly. The challenge facing Web site developers is to harmoniously integrate the formal requirements of the design and function of their sites with the current accessibility standards and guidelines.

Accessibility - the challenge

Responsibility for the publication of a publicly-accessible Web site demands that the developers understand the very diverse range of means by which their online resources may be accessed and used. Satisfactory appearance and usage of a site depends upon firstly understanding the audience and their requirements then applying that understanding in the specification and development of the site.

Accessibility and usability

The two areas of accessibility and usability have significant overlap in scope and intent. Put simply, a 'usable' site can be considered to be one that is fully accessible to all users whatever their means of access and physical impairment. However, usability criteria extend into less definable elements regarding process and work flow required by both the site structure and the user interface. All projects aiming to develop material for Internet delivery should have as one of their foremost goals the attainment of a fully usable service and that within that goal there should be a clear acknowledgement that this is only achieved once all accessibility issues have been satisfactorily resolved.

Formal guidelines

The authoritive group concerned with the accessibility of Web resources is Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), a group within the umbrella of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The WAI have been active over many years in producing a structured set of guidelines representing 3 levels of compliance. These are referred to as level A, AA and AAA, with level A containing the minimum set of requirements and AA and AAA building deeper upon them. Each level is broken up into two parts: recommendations and requirements. It is not in fact possible to mandate and codify the measures necessary to be classed as 'accessible', as some of the issues cannot be assessed automatically and can only be assessed by human judgement - the selection of colour schemes, the judicious choice of alternative text for images and graphics, etc.

The NOF-digitise programme standards, for example, required all participants to achieve at least the WAI level A requirements. In practice it was found that most projects were able to fulfill all the demands and satisfy the guidelines to at least level A. Problems achieving compliance were mostly encountered with the use of JavaScript. We will therefore address some of these issue in some detail.

Use of JavaScript on Web pages

JavaScript is the predominant scripting language used to programme client browsers. JavaScript is a very useful tool, able to bring enhanced levels of functionality to pages and improve the visual interface in various ways - richer navigation schemes, selective layer visibility, mouse-triggered events and so forth. However, where these techniques become essential to the gain full access and use to the site, there is an accessibility problem. Level A compliance (and beyond) require a site to be fully accessible without JavaScript enabled. There are three reasons for making this demand:

  1. Javascript functionality is not included in many alternate Web clients, including screen readers, page indexers, handhelds, WebTV etc.
  2. Javascript functionality may be disabled on public access terminals as a security measure
  3. Javascript is not implemented across all browsers in an identical fashion and there are significant differences in execution across different browsers, platforms and operating systems.

Therefore, it is essential that pages are designed to fail gracefully when intended JavaScript functionality is not available on a client browser so that they do not result in the user being locked out from content or functionality on the site. It is necessary to distinguish between core and non-core uses of scripting: where scripting is used to enhance a page and does not result in any significant loss of experience in a non-JS enabled client, there is no real issue to resolve. However, where JavaScript has a core role on the page, for example in providing nested 'rollover' navigation devices, the non-JS client will not be able to fully access the site. This is not acceptable and other methods should be sought to provide the same level of functionality.

Due to the numerous applications to which JavaScript can be put to use on a page, it is difficult to produce effective advice covering all possible situations but the following general coding advice may be helpful in many common cases.

Use of NOSCRIPT tags

NOSCRIPT tags are very useful and should always be considered whenever a script block is inserted into a page. NOSCRIPT tags are ignored by browsers where scripting is enabled but interpreted when it is disabled. Combined with the use of 'document.write()' calls to insert HTML into the page, they allow areas of the page to be handled completely differently according to scripting capabilities. For example, if a polling script where to be inserted on a page that required JavaScript to function, the entire HTML necessary to display the polling utility on the page would be held within the SCRIPT tag and output using document.write(). The NOSCRIPT tag can then fill the same space with some alternate content.

The NOSCRIPT tag can also be useful to display a warning to a user, on the home page or elsewhere, notifying them that the site requires JavaScript to function properly or that some extra functionality may be lost if it is not enabled.

Coding alternate target definitions in <a> tags

A common use of JavaScript is to control the display of large version images in pop-up windows. This is a good use of JavaScript but often causes problems. The following is advised:

  1. Do not include the JavaScript within the href attribute. Use the onClick event attribute instead.
  2. Include the JavaScript in onClick event and terminate the JavaScript code by returning 'false'. This is important!
  3. Use the href attribute to supply a static URL, either direct to the image in question, or (better) to a page designed to display that image with supporting textual information about the image.


JavaScript dependent approach:

<a href="javascript:open_win('/img/large-image/y942_843_loa_85')">
<img src="/img/small-image/y942_843_loa_85.gif" alt=".." title="..">Click for larger photo </a>

Accessible approach:

<a onclick="open_win('/img/large-image/y942_843_loa_85'); return false;"
    href="/img/large-image/y942_843_loa_85" alt=".." title="..">
<img src="/img/small-image/y942_843_loa_85.gif">Click for larger photo</a>

Testing for client-side functionality

There are two main methods used to test a client's functionality in order to determine the (likely) functionality available and hence the compatibility of the browser with the JavaScript intended for the page.

Many scripts will parse the 'user agent' string written in to the browser to determine its type and version. However, this method may encounter problems as the user agent string value may be altered in any individual browser - some browsers give the user the ability to change or customise the user agent value, in other cases it is possible for a knowledgeable user to alter it - for example, the user agent value is held in a registry key in Windows Internet Explorer, and can be simply altered by editing the registry.

The preferred method to determine client-side functionality is to directly test for the desired capability. The required method / object / value is tested first and the code only executed if the test is passed. An (trivial) example:

if (document.images) {
 //..script doing some manipulation on images in the document
else {
 //..opportunity to inform user or quit script etc as appropriate 

In this example, the block of code after the 'if' statement will only be executed if the test returns true, i.e. the Document Object Model (DOM) of the browser has an object called document.images. This style of coding will ensure that code will only be executed if the required functionality is available and is widely considered to be best practice, not only in client side JavaScript coding but in programming in general.

Alternative (text-only) versions

Where a site is unable to modify their design to deliver content in a way that does not rely on JavaScript, one solution is to offer a text-only version of the site.

The ideal way of achieving this is, conceptually, to maintain a separation between the content of the page and the presentation. This is not always easy to achieve and will usually have to be clearly specified at the time the system is commissioned, and will require a very well thought out system architecture and workflow process. Where this is attained, it should be straightforward to reformat the page content into multiple versions, using XSLT transforms, server-side templates or similar, therefore making it easy to provided an alternative, universally accessible version of a page alongside.

Page parsers can be also be used with some success. These utilities take the page code, strip out images and other extraneous items and produce a text-only version of the site. The results depend very much on the nature of the input page, and testing will be necessary to make sure that pages are satisfactorily rendered if this method is chosen.

Not recommended is the approach of maintaining a separate, text-only version of the site. Once content is stored in two separate, disconnected locations it can be a matter of time before the two become unsynchronised, usually resulting in the text-only version becoming out-of-date from the site it is intended to mirror.

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2 Dec 2004
Document made available to MLA staff for comments.
January 2005
Document added.

Web Site Performance Indicators


Author: Peter Dowdell, UKOLN
Originally commissioned by the NOF-digi Technical Advisory Service for projects participating in the NOF-digitise programme.


This section provides advice and guidance on performance indicators for Web sites. The information provided in this section is intended to be initially used during the planning stages for a Web site and throughout the Web site's life.

The basis for generating the performance indicators will be the Web server (HTTP) log. Projects may be required to have the ability either to create reports directly from their Web server logs or to have them generated for them by competent Web hosting companies. A project's programme manager will ask projects to extract and forward a reduced set of data as part of the ongoing monitoring process.

Proposed Performance Indicators

The four measurements that a project's programme manager may require them to supply are as follows:

Explanation of these measurements are provided below:

Table of common log analysis packages

name platform calculates
session length
Webtrends MSoft YES commercial product
Analog ALL NO Open Source
Awstats Unix YES Open Source
Webalizer ALL NO Open Source

User Sessions

The number of distinct user sessions chalked up over the reporting period.

User sessions are determined by grouping together all requests that come from the same IP address within a time interval of no less than 30 minutes between each request. A figure of 30 minutes is widely used and is the default in many Web analysis packages.

Note: This is NOT the "unique users" value. User sessions include repeat visitors to your pages.

Note: Due to issues with NAT (Network Address Translation, used when several machines are connected from a local network through one Internet connection), proxy servers, etc there may be times when many users are simultaneously using the site all through the same IP address. In this situation, the user session becomes invalid - all these user sessions will be counted as one huge user session. This is a limitation of the way the Web works, and all services which collect statistics are subject to the same distortion of their figures.

Average Duration of User Session

By examining the time of the first and the last request made during a user session, a figure for the length of the user session can be obtained. The average duration of a user session is the average length of all user sessions found.

Note: some good packages (notably Analog amongst others) are not able to calculate the user session length, so cannot provide this information. Where this is the case, projects should answer with "n/a : " followed by details of the log analysis package in use.

Page Impressions

Total number of requests for files that are defined as pages.

Generally files that have extensions .htm, .html, .shtml, .php, .asp, .pl, .cgi and so forth. The exact set may differ amongst projects, projects will be expected to set up their analysis packages so that all page-type files are measured.

Note: Do not include images, graphics, stylesheets, external script files or other "component" files that together comprise one page.

Note: Requests that can be positively identified as emanating from non-human sources should as a matter of standard practice be excluded from the analysis. You must ensure that your reports do not include data coming from search engine spiders, network monitors, benchmark tests and other generally invalid sources.

Note: Some projects may be generating dynamic URLs where the base URL remains the same, and the page delivered is determined by the contents of the query string: i.e.
In this case, special steps may have to be taken to convert log files to sensible page impressions values.

Average Page Impressions per User Session

The average is obtained by dividing total page impressions by the total number of user sessions recorded.

Further Information

The following background information may be useful.

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24 June 2005
Document added.

Sector Statistics


Author: Brian Kelly, UKOLN


This section provides advice and guidance on Web site usage statistics intended to provide information on usage across a community of Web site providers.

Proposed Approaches

The four measurements that a Web site owner should record and supply to appropriate bodies are:

Explanation of these measurements are provided below:

User Sessions

The number of distinct user sessions chalked up over the reporting period.

User sessions are determined by grouping together all requests that come from the same IP address within a time interval of no less than 30 minutes between each request. A figure of 30 minutes is widely used and is the default in many Web analysis packages.

Note: This is NOT the "unique users" value. User sessions include repeat visitors to your pages.

Average Duration of User Session

By examining the time of the first and the last request made during a user session, a figure for the length of the user session can be obtained. The average duration of a user session is the average length of all user sessions found.

Note: some good usage statistic analysis packages (notably Analog amongst others) are not able to calculate the user session length, so cannot provide this information. Where this is the case, you should answer with "n/a : " followed by details of the log analysis package in use.

Page Impressions

Total number of requests for files that are defined as pages.

Generally files that have extensions .htm, .html, .shtml, .php, .asp, .pl, .cgi and so forth. The exact set may differ across Web sites, so Web site owner will be expected to configure their analysis packages so that the relevant page type files are measured.

Note: You should not include images, graphics, stylesheets, external script files or other "component" files that together comprise one page.

Note: Requests that can be positively identified as emanating from non-human sources should as a matter of standard practice be excluded from the analysis. You should seek to ensure that your reports do not include data coming from search engine spiders(robots), network monitors, benchmark tests and other sources which do not reflect usage by end users.

Note: Some Web site may generate dynamic URLs where the base URL remains the same, and the page delivered is determined by the contents of the query string: i.e.
In this case, special steps may have to be taken to convert log files to sensible page impressions values.

Average Page Impressions per User Session

The average is obtained by dividing total page impressions by the total number of user sessions recorded.

Limitations Of Aggregated Usage Statistics

It should be noted that, for a variety of technical reasons, Web usage statistics will not necessarily give an accurate indication of the usage of a Web site by end users. In addition, errors can also be introduce when aggregating summaries of usage figures (for example it would not be valid to determine the total numbers of unique visitors by adding the numbers reported for each month, as a visitor in January may well visit the Web site in other months). Finally it should be noted that aggregating usage statistics across different Web sites may also give misleading results since, for example, different methodologies and tools may be used.

Despite such limitations, usage statistics can be useful in identifying trends and in giving an indication of overall usage. In should be noted that limitations in obtaining usage data exist in other fields (e.g. TV viewing figures) and yet, despite such limitations, the data is collected and used for a variety of purposes.


To summarise:

Further Information

The following background information may be useful.

Comments On This Document

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18 October 2005
Document published.

Content Management Systems


Originally commissioned from Alice Grant, Consultant,  in October 2000 for inclusion in the NOF-digitise programme manual
With thanks to Fiona Marshall, Content Manager, British Museum COMPASS Project.


This information paper explains what a content management system is (and is not!), and why your NOF Project needs one. It also explains how to set about finding the best one for your project, including some tips on questions to ask potential suppliers. Finally, there are two case studies, demonstrating approaches which might be taken by smaller and larger projects respectively.

What is a content management system?

A content management system (CMS) is a database which organises and provides access to all types of digital content - files containing images, graphics, animation, sound, video or text. It contains information about these files (known as 'digital assets'), and may also contain links to the files themselves in order to allow them to be located or accessed individually. A content management system is usually used to manage digital assets during the development of a digital resource, such as a Web site or multimedia production. It might be used by staff digitising images, authors and editors, or those responsible for the management of the content development process (content managers). Content management systems range from very basic databases, to sophisticated tailor-made applications. These more complex systems can be integrated with the eventual digital resource in order to enable access to digital assets and to allow regular updating.

This type of product is relatively new and there are very few content management systems available as off-the-shelf packages, although an increasing number of companies have ready-made applications which can be quickly adapted for different projects. Content management systems can be used to carry out a wide range of tasks, including those described below.

What isn't a content management system?

A content management system is not any of the following:

Content management systems do not contain information about the presentation of the digital content (e.g. end-user interface, navigation, design or layout). Content management systems are not aimed at ordinary users; they require training and may have different interfaces depending on the type of user (e.g. editor, system manager, image manager etc.).

Why does your project need a content management system?

Content management systems are essential for large or even small-scale projects which involve the capture or creation of digital assets. They also are increasingly necessary for the creation of any but the most basic Web sites.

Managing the capture or creation of digital images requires metadata to be recorded which documents the capture, ownership, location and licensing conditions relating to each image. Even for a few dozen images, this may add up to hundreds of different pieces of information, the management of which would not be possible without some automated assistance. For a learning resource containing hundreds or even thousands of images, the job is larger still.

Similarly, managing a Web site with even a few pages is a time-consuming task when updates are required, perhaps when a page is added which requires the navigation menu to be updated on other pages, or when a logo changes which then needs to be reflected on all pages. For this reason, the use of templates which draw on content held in a database, is a vital management tool. Without this type of application, the Web site would either fall out of date very quickly, or would require ever greater staff resources to retain its currency.

What do content management systems do - and how do they work?

Holding information about digital content

Content management systems hold information describing digital assets. This information is known as 'metadata' (information about other information). The metadata held in a content management system can be used to manage and provide access to, digital resources. Metadata held in a content management system might include:

Examples of metadata used to manage digital assets can be seen at the University of Berkeley's contribution to the Making of America project, at

Metadata held should support local management processes and should also allow access and resource location functions, by complying with the Dublin Core. Metadata should also comply with domain-specific standards as required, including AACR2 and MARC (for libraries), SPECTRUM (for museums) and ISAD (for archives).

Holding digital content

Content management systems may store narrative text for publication on the web. Text can be recorded together with author, version and currency information, which enables the publication of information online to be managed more effectively. Systems may also provide direct links to digital assets, enabling users to browse through images, sound or video clips as part of the authoring process.

Process management

The system should enable content managers and editors to keep a close eye on the digitisation process, including monitoring the capture of images, or tracking the authoring and editing of narrative text. This can be done using simple checkboxes or by completing data fields which document progress. Some systems allow the pre-publication process to be tracked more visually, using workflow management tools which represent the progress of a piece of text through the authoring process - for example, using coloured 'traffic lights' to indicate when a piece is ready to be published online, or alternatively by displaying a 'route-map' with milestones indicating how far an article has progressed down the editorial route.

Publishing online

Any content management system should have a mechanism allowing it to make this content available to a Web site. Depending on the complexity of the system, this might be done in different ways.

At a basic level, the system might export the content in a pre-defined format, to a separate database used to run a Web site. This would require regular exports to be made as content was updated, and is an effective, if labour-intensive means of enabling the online publishing of digital content.

An alternative would be to use a content management system able to be integrated with a Web site. In this type of arrangement, a web manager would create templates for different types of web page. Layouts for different types of page could be set up, pre-defining the type of content which would be displayed in each template. For example, an organisation's logo might always be displayed, as well as a navigation bar, and a special template might be designed to hold information about an items held in a collection.

This template might then be selected to create a page containing, for instance, an image of an illuminated manuscript, together with a caption and a transcription. This could be done by hand - for instance an image or text could be copied from the content management system and inserted into the correct place in the template. However this would mean that whenever the text was updated, the web page would need to be recreated by hand. For this reason, it is better to create a web page by linking the database directly to a template.

This could be done by selecting the template to be used for a specific page, then instead of adding in the image or text by hand, inserting a database query for each component of the page which includes a digital asset to be drawn from the database. Immediately before the web page is 'published' (i.e. copied to the live Web site), a programme is run which ensures that the web pages are updated by running their database queries on the content management system. The image of the manuscript, the transcription and the caption are retrieved directly from the database, copied to the web page and displayed whenever the page is called up. When content is changed (for example, the caption might be updated, or a better quality image created), the Web page is re-published using a single command - i.e. one or more database queries are re-run - and updated images or text are automatically uploaded, replacing the previous versions. In this type of system, the database is held within the organisation's security firewall and the newly-published web pages are mounted externally.

Publishing 'on-the-fly'

More sophisticated content management systems can deliver digital content direct to web pages which are constructed 'on-the-fly' as users browse through a Web site. For example, a user might wish to select items from a collection by searching on a keyword. The relevant items would be retrieved directly from the content management system, based on the metadata describing the subject of each digital record. A web page is then created to display details of each item online, using a template designed for that specific purpose. As before, the template places the relevant content for each item within a pre-defined layout as it is displayed on the screen. The web 'page' however, only exists at the time of display, and is effectively a temporary composite of design, layout, text and images. The benefit of this type of system is that it allows updated content to be constantly updated, rather than published in batches which may take time to upload. It also makes the management of the Web site much easier.

Clearly security and access for this type of system need to be more sophisticated. In some applications a 'source' database is held within the organisation's firewall and extracts automatically copied to the external version whenever content is updated. Alternatively, additional security measures may be built into the content management system to prevent unauthorised access.

How to select a content management system

Although the market for this type of system is by no means mature, in all but the smallest and simplest projects it would not be advisable for an organisation to attempt to develop one in-house. The process of selecting a content management system is the same as for any other computer system. It may be governed by local rules, prescribed by European law, government or local authorities for example. The process of procurement will normally include the steps described below, although depending on the size of your project, you may wish to simplify the process, or you may be required to include certain formal stages. If in doubt as to the process you should follow, contact your organisation's Finance officer. The steps to procurement include the following:

Develop a business case

Based on the size and complexity of the planned project, decide from the outset the scale and scope of the system which is required to support the development and delivery of the project. Take into account existing systems and skills. One issue for many museums, archives and libraries will be that they already have integrated collections management systems which enable the recording of metadata relating to digital assets. They may be able to extend the use of existing systems to encompass some additional functions, in which case their requirement for a content management system is restricted to a database to run the Web site which will allow content to be drawn from the existing collections management system. (see Case studies below) Once it has been decided to proceed, it may be useful to set up a Project Committee (if one does not exist already) to act as a decision-making body throughout the procurement process.

Draft Operational requirement

Based on the business case, draw up a list of the functions and the recording capabilities which the system will require. If the business case and your knowledge of the market suggest that a simple, off-the-shelf package is required which will not cost a large amount, then it may simply be necessary to follow your organisation's internal rules for purchasing software and demonstrating value for money. However larger projects will almost certainly require more complex systems which require the project to go out to tender, using an Operational Requirement to invite responses from vendors and developers. If this is the case, the Operational Requirement should include the following components:

  • Introduction and background to the project
  • Procurement and project implementation timetable
  • Functional requirements
  • Technical requirements and operating environment
  • Contractual requirements
  • Form of response to the requirement

The functional and technical sections will contain some requirements which are 'mandatory' (i.e. any system must deliver these in order to be considered). Other requirements may be assigned different levels of importance. Try and restrict the mandatory requirements to those areas which you really could not do without - otherwise you may find yourself without a system - or with one which is beyond your budget.

Obtain approval and funding

The draft Operational Requirement alongside demonstrations and initial discussions with suppliers, may be used as a basis for establishing the likely cost of the content management system. Approval to proceed will normally be required from the Project Committee, who may suggest that the Operational Requirement is refined to the point where it can reasonably be expected that the eventual system will fall within budget.

Refine and issue Operational Requirement

A minimum of 28 days is normally required by suppliers to respond to the Operational Requirement. Try and be as helpful as possible - bear in mind that responding to requirements is an expensive and time-consuming process. Invite suppliers to ask questions during the response period - but ensure that any responses are copied to all those submitting tenders. Provide a template for responses - preferably in the form of a spreadsheet.

Evaluate and shortlist proposals

Make sure that you have decided on your evaluation model before opening tenders from suppliers. For larger projects, or those involving consortia, you may wish to set up two evaluating teams in parallel - remember that involvement in the evaluation will help ensure ownership of the selected system across your organisation(s). Assign a ranking of importance for each question (e.g. 3 for important or mandatory requirements; 2 or 1 for less important areas). You might also assign an overall rating to the different sections of the requirement which are being evaluated. For example there may be many more functional than technical requirements, but you may decide that each section is worth 40% of the overall score, with the remaining 20% based on your evaluation of a vendor's ability to deliver and track record. Once this evaluation model is agreed, then you can open the tenders and score the responses to each question, using the spreadsheet.

Finally - remember that the cost of a system is not what matters, so much as the value for money which it represents, and the cost of ownership over its lifetime - including the equipment and people needed to run it. If the ideal system is out of your budget, it might be an indicator that you have asked for too many mandatory requirements - or equally, that your organisation had not recognised the importance of the system to your planned operations. In either case, your Project Board may need to be consulted.

Select system, award contract and implement

Once the system has been selected you will need to notify the vendor and agree terms of delivery. For larger, more complex systems, you may need to keep a vendor in reserve in case the contractual process breaks down with the initial supplier. You should not begin the implementation process until the contract has been signed. It is sometimes possible to exchange formal letters of agreement as a temporary measure to allow initial stages of work to proceed, but in such circumstances approval should be obtained from the Project Committee and other formal sources as required by your organisation. Any work carried out in this way should be extremely closely defined and managed. It is normal to retain a proportion of the cost (5%-10%) until formal tests have been carried out on the system and the implementation has been carried out successfully. This is known as the acceptance process.

What should a content management system do?

The content management system you select will need to assist you in the management and/or delivery of digital resources, depending on the scale of your project and existing systems in place. Your business case will help you decide the scope of the system you need and the functions you require. You may need to consider the following areas when deciding on what your content management system should do:

Unless specific terms are agreed, the IPR in any application developed specifically for your organisation, should normally be retained by your organisation, excluding the rights in any underlying or third-party software which will be owned by the developer or third party supplier respectively.

How to find a content management system

If you are a museum, library or archive with an existing collections management system, find out what content management functions can be undertaken by that system. Similarly, if you are a member of a consortium, find out who has existing systems within your group. Even if you don't use an existing one, you're going to have to ensure that everyone can either contribute content in a standard form, or share a common system at some level.

Fora for asking questions about content management systems can include:

Making sure it's the right CMS for you

In order to decide whether a system is worth considering, try asking the following questions of yourself and of potential suppliers - but bear in mind that no supplier is likely to respond directly when asked 'how much does it cost' on a trade stand or on the phone - you may need to be a bit more subtle!

Ask yourself... Find out...
What's the budget? How much does it cost over its lifetime?
What skills do we have in-house or in our consortium? What skills does it require to run it?
What's our existing hardware and networked infrastructure like? What hardware and network will be needed to run it?
How IT-literate are the staff who will be using it? How complicated is it to use?
How many people & how much content do we have? How many users can it support - and how much content - while maintaining good performance?
How tight is our timetable? How many people in the company - and how many other projects on the go?
What other systems will it need to work with? Can it interoperate with our existing systems?
What kinds of data will we want to record and access? Can it handle data in a wide range of standard formats?
Do we have any special, or difficult problems and what do other organisations like us use? Have the suppliers dealt with your type or organisation/requirements before and can they provide reference sites for you to visit?
What if the system goes wrong? What support and maintenance services are available?

Future-proofing your content management system

To ensure that your content management system will be useful in three or five years time, and that your content will be secure and accessible in perpetuity, there are a number of issues which you will need to consider including the following:

Lastly - but MOST important - how will your new system be maintained and supported? Do you have the necessary internal skills to run the system, and is your chosen supplier able to provide you with effective support? To ensure this, you should consider taking out a separate support services contract, particularly for larger, more complex systems

Case studies

Large consortium

Five organisations who are in a consortium review their existing systems and find that one organisation, a museum, has a Web site and underlying database which could be extended to provide the proposed NOF-funded service. They review their metadata and publishing requirements however, and find that although the existing database is able to publish pages on-the-fly, it isn't able to provide them with the digital asset management and process management functions they require. Together, the partners draw up a requirement for these functions, stipulating that the system should be able to export content to the Web site system, and should be licensed to each of the partners individually, but at a reduced rate, with shared support services. The system is procured jointly by the partners, under the oversight of a project committee comprising a senior staff member from each partner, and a seconded project manager from the largest partner, funded by NOF.

An individual from each partner organisation is designated the project leader within that organisation, responsible for ensuring that local metadata and functional requirements are met, and for planning the local implementation.

At the end of the project they have not only saved on the cost of project management for the procurement, but also on the cost of the system since they were able to negotiate a favourable rate. They are able to share skills and knowledge by using the same system, and the export process which is used whenever the central Web site is updated, only has to be worked out once, after which it can be run as often as necessary. They also share the cost of developing additional templates for NOF content, using the existing Web site, thereby saving on procurement and development costs, even though the templates reflect each of their identities, while providing the public with a single point of access.

Small individual organisation

A small archive comprising various printed and manuscript documents and some physical artefacts, is covering a subject area not addressed by any other NOF applicant, and therefore decides to 'go it alone' with the digitisation of 500 key items in their collection, as part of a local community project. They contact another organisation of a similar size and with comparable collections to find out what was used for their recent HLF project, as well as ringing round various other archives and posting a query on the NOF-digi email list. As a result, they establish that many of the available solutions are too complex for their needs, and also require skills not available to them. However the first place they contacted has an Access database which was developed by a local company to meet the requirements of Dublin Core metadata, as well as to help with the management of a CD-ROM which they produced. They contact the company who agrees to let them use the database for a small fee, and to support it for the duration of the project. Meanwhile following their query on the NOF-digi email list, a local library involved in another NOF bid offers to host their service within the local authority's Web site, provided the archive is able to pay for the development of new templates for its content, and for support services. The archive duly specifies its requirements, ensuring that the library's Web site can import content from their planned Access database. They also ensure that the database developer is able to provide an export routine which enables them to publish their data to the library's Web site without requiring specialist skills to do so. With approval from senior staff, and with formal agreements in place with the developer and with the library, the archive is able to proceed with the digitisation of its resources without undertaking development or procurement work beyond its capabilities, thereby saving time and money, and ensuring the long-term success and sustainability of its project.

Comments On This Document

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Document added.

Emerging Collaborative Technologies


This section was originally published as QA Focus Briefing papers.


The Web is changing. It is no longer a phenomenon but has integrated itself within our culture. However for those creating digital resources and Web services times are far from stable. A wide range of collaborative, Web-based applications continue to be developed, such as blogs, wikis, podcasting, social networking software, RSS feeds etc. The Semantic Web is still on the cards and now we have Web 2.0 which could be an opportunity for a more sharing, more participative Web. This section will outline some of the most useful emerging collaborative technologies and consider how they apply to those creating Cultural Heritage Web Services.

Web 2.0

The term "Web 2.0" refers to what some see as a second phase of development of the Web including its architecture and its applications. As used by its proponents, the phrase refers to one or more of the following:

However, a consensus on its exact meaning has not yet been reached. Many find it easiest to define Web 2.0 by associating it with companies or products that embody its principles. Some of the more well known Web 2.0 entities are Google Maps, Flickr,, digg, and Technorati.

Many recently developed concepts and technologies are seen as contributing to Web 2.0, including Weblogs, Wikis, Podcasts, RSS feeds and other forms of many to many publishing; social software, Web APIs, Web standards, Ajax and others.

Proponents of the Web 2.0 concept say that it differs from early Web development, retroactively labelled Web 1.0, in that it is a move away from static Web sites, the use of search engines, and surfing from one Web site to the next, to a more dynamic and interactive Web. Others argue that the original and fundamental concepts of the Web are not actually being superseded. Sceptics argue that the term is little more than a buzzword, or that it means whatever its proponents want it to mean in order to convince their customers, investors and the media that they are creating something fundamentally new, rather than continuing to develop and use well-established technologies.

Web 1.0 often consisted of static HTML pages that were updated rarely, if at all. The success of the dot-com era depended on a more dynamic Web (sometimes labelled Web 1.5) where content management systems served dynamic HTML pages created on the fly from a content database that could more easily be changed. In both senses, so-called eyeballing was considered intrinsic to the Web experience, thus making page hits and visual aesthetics important factors.

Proponents of Web 2.0 believe that Web usage is increasingly oriented toward interaction and rudimentary social networks, which can serve content that exploits network effects with or without creating a visual, interactive Web page. In one view, Web 2.0 sites act more as points of presence, or user-dependent portals, than as traditional Web sites.

Perhaps Web content will become less under the control of specialised Web designers and closer to Tim Berners-Lee's original concept of the Web as a democratic, personal, and DIY medium of communication. Content is less likely to flow through email and more likely to be posted on a attractive Web page and distributed by RSS.

With its allusion to the version numbers that commonly designate software upgrades, Web 2.0 was a natural way to indicate an improved form of the World Wide Web, and the term has been in occasional use for a number of years. It was eventually popularised by O'Reilly Media and MediaLive International for a conference they hosted after Dale Dougherty mentioned it during a brainstorming session. Dougherty suggested that the Web was in a renaissance, with changing rules and evolving business models. The participants assembled examples - "DoubleClick was Web 1.0; Google AdSense is Web 2.0. Ofoto is Web 1.0; Flickr is Web 2.0." - rather than definitions.

In their first conference opening talk, O'Reilly and Battelle summarised key principles they believe characterise Web 2.0 applications: the Web as platform; data as the driving force; network effects created by an "architecture of participation"; innovation in assembly of systems and sites composed by pulling together features from distributed, independent developers (a kind of "open source" development); lightweight business models enabled by content and service syndication; the end of the software adoption cycle ("the perpetual beta"); software above the level of a single device, leveraging the power of "the Long Tail".

An earlier usage of the phrase Web 2.0 was as a synonym for "Semantic Web", and indeed, the two concepts complement each other. The combination of social networking systems such as FOAF and XFN with the development of tag-based folksonomies and delivered through Blogs and Wikis creates a natural basis for a semantic environment. Although the technologies and services that comprise Web 2.0 are less powerful than an internet in which the machines can understand and extract meaning, as proponents of the Semantic Web envision, Web 2.0 represents a step in its direction.

Advancing from the old HTML, the technology infrastructure of Web 2.0 is complex and evolving, it includes server software, content syndication, messaging protocols, standards-based browsers, and various client applications. (Non-standard browser plugins and enhancements are generally eschewed.) These differing but complementary approaches provide Web 2.0 with information storage, creation, and dissemination capabilities that go beyond what was formerly expected of Web sites.

A Web site could be said to be built using Web 2.0 technologies if it features a number of the following techniques:




The first and most important evolution towards Web 2.0 involves the syndication of Web site content, using standardised protocols which permit end-users to make use of a site's data in another context, ranging from another Web site, to a browser plugin, or a separate desktop application. Protocols which permit syndication include RSS, RDF (as in RSS 1.1), and Atom, all of which are flavours of XML. Specialised protocols such as FOAF and XFN (both for social networking) extend functionality of sites or permit end-users to interact without centralised Web sites.

New Web Protocols

Web communication protocols are a key element of the Web 2.0 infrastructure. Two major ones are REST and SOAP.

In both cases, access to the service is defined by an API. Often this API is specific to the server, but standard Web service APIs (for example, for posting to a blog) are also widely used. Most, but not all, communications with Web services involve some form of XML (Extensible Markup Language).

Recently, a concept known as Ajax has evolved that can improve the user experience in some browser-based Web applications. It involves a Web page requesting an update for some part of its content, and altering that part in the browser, without refreshing the whole page at the same time. There are proprietary implementations (as in Google Maps) and open forms that can utilise Web service APIs, syndication feeds, or even screen scraping.

Another relevant standard is WSDL (Web Services Description Language), which is the standard way of publishing a SOAP API.

Server-side Software

Web 2.0 functionality builds on the existing Web server architecture, but puts much greater emphasis on back-end software. Syndication differs only nominally from dynamic content management publishing methods, but Web services typically require much more robust database and workflow support, and become very similar to the traditional intranet functionality of an application server.

Web 2.0 has created new online social networks amongst the general public. Some web sites run social software where people work together; others reproduce multiple RSS feeds on one page; others provide deep-linking between individual Web sites.

The syndication and messaging capabilities of Web 2.0 have created a tightly-woven social fabric not possible previously. The meaning of these changes, however, has pundits divided. Basically, ideological lines run thusly: Web 2.0 either empowers the individual and provides an outlet for the 'voice of the voiceless'; or it elevates the amateur to the detriment of professionalism, expertise and clarity.

RSS and Newsfeeds

RSS is increasingly being used to provide news services and for syndication of content. The document provides a brief description of RSS news feed technologies which can be used as part of an communications strategy by projects and within institutions. The document summarises the main challenges to be faced when considering deployment of news feeds.

News feeds are an example of automated syndication. News feed technologies allow information to be automatically provided and updated on Web sites, emailed to users, etc. As the name implies news feeds are normally used to provide news; however the technology can be used to syndicate a wide range of information.

The BBC ticker [1] is an example of a news feed application. A major limitation with this approach is that the ticker can only be used with information provided by the BBC.

The RSS standard was developed as an open standard for news syndication, allowing applications to display news supplied by any RSS provider.

RSS is a lightweight XML application (see RSS fragment). Ironically the RSS standard proved so popular that it led to two different approaches to its standardisation. So RSS now stands for RDF Site Summary and Really Simple Syndication (in addition to the original phrase Rich Site Summary).

<title>BBC News</title>
<title>Legal challenge to ban on hunting</title>
<description>The Countryside Alliance prepares a legal challenge to Parliament Act ... </description>
<link> </link>.

Figure 1: Example Of An RSS File

Despite this confusion, in practice many RSS viewers will display both versions of RSS (and the emerging new standard, Atom).

There are a large number of RSS reader software applications available [2] and several different models. RSSxpress [3] (illustrated below) is an example of a Web-based reader which embeds an RSS feed in a Web page.


In addition to these two approaches, RSS readers are available with an email-style approach for the Opera Web browser and Outlook and as extensions for Web browsers.

There are several approaches to the creation of RSS news feeds. Software such as RSSxpress can also be used to create and edit RSS files. In addition there are a number of dedicated RSS authoring tools, including standalone applications and browser extensions (see [9]). However a better approach may be to generate RSS and HTML files using a CMS or to transform between RSS and HTML using languages such as XSLT.

Issues which need to be addressed when considering use of RSS include:


Wiki technologies are increasingly being used to support development work across distributed teams. This document aims to give a brief description of Wikis and to summarise the main challenges to be faced when considering the deployment of Wiki technologies.

A Wiki or wiki (pronounced "wicky" or "weekee") is a Web site (or other hypertext document collection) that allows a user to add content. The term Wiki can also refer to the collaborative software used to create such a Web site [4].

The key characteristics of typical Wikis are:

Wikipedia is the largest and best-known Wiki - see <>.


Wikipedia provides a good example of a community Wiki in which content is provided by contributors around the world.

Wikipedia appears to have succeeded in providing an environment and culture which has minimised the dangers of misuse. Details of the approaches taken on the Wikipedia are given on the Wikipedia Web site [5].

Wikis can be used for a number of purposes:

Advantages of Wikis include:

Disadvantages of Wikis include:

A useful article on Making the Case for a Wiki is available in Ariadne [9].


A folksonomy is a decentralised, social approach to creating metadata for digital resources. It is usually created by a group of individuals, typically the resource users, who add natural language tags to online items, such as images, videos, bookmarks and text. These tags are then shared and sometimes refined. Folksonomies can be divided into broad folksonomies, when lots of users tag one object, and narrow folksonomies, when a small number of users tag individual items. This new social approach to creating online metadata has sparked much discussion in the cataloguing world.

Note that despite its name a folksonomy is not a taxonomy. A taxonomy is the process, within subject-based classification, of arranging the terms given in a controlled vocabulary into a hierarchy. Folksonomies move away from the hierarchical approach to an approach more akin to that taken by faceted classification or other flat systems.

With the rise of the Internet and increased use of digital networks it has become easier to both work in an informal and adhoc manner, and as part of a community. In the late 1990s Weblogs (or blogs), a Web application similar to an online diary, became popular and user centred metadata was first created. In late 2003 delicious, an online bookmark manager, went live. The ability to add tags using a non-hierarchical keyword categorisation system was appended in early 2004.Tagging was quickly replicated by other social software and in late 2004 the Folksonomy name, a portmanteau of folk and taxonomy, was coined by Thomas Vander Wal.

Robin Good is quoted as saying that "a folksonomy represents simultaneously some of the best and worst in the organization of information." There is clearly a lot to be learnt from this new method of classification as long as you remain aware of the strengths and weaknesses.


Folksonomies at this point in time are more about browsing than finding and a great deal of useful information can be found in this way.
Cheap and extendable
Folksonomies are created by users. This makes them relatively cheap and highly scalable, unlike more formal methods of adding metadata. Often users find that it is not a case of 'folksonomy or professional classification' but 'folksonomy or nothing'.
The key to folksonomies success is community and feedback. The metadata creation process is quick and responsive to user needs, new words can become well used in days. If studied they can allow more formal classification systems to emerge and demonstrate clear desire lines (the paths users will want to follow).


Imprecision of terms
Folksonomy terms are added by users which means that they can be ambiguous, overly personalised and imprecise. Some sites only allow single word metadata resulting in many compound terms, many tags are single use and at present there is little or no synonym control.
The uncontrolled set of terms created can mean that folksonomies may not support searching as well as services using controlled vocabularies.

Over time users of the Internet have come to realise that old methods of categorisation do not sit comfortably in a digital space, where physical constraints no longer apply and there is a huge amount to be organised. Search services like Yahoo's directory, where items are divided into a hierarchy, often seem unwieldy and users appear happier with the Google search box approach. With the rise of communities on the Web there has also come about a feeling that meaning comes best from our common view of the world, rather than a professional's view.

While there is no doubt that the professional cataloguing will continues to have a place, both off the Internet and on, there has been recent acceptance that new ways of adding metadata, such as folksonomies, need more exploration, alongside other areas like the semantic Web. The two models of categorisation (formal and informal) are not mutually exclusive and further investigation could only help us improve the way we organise and search for information. If nothing else folksonomies have achieved the once believed unachievable task of getting people to talk about metadata!


Podcasting has been described as "a method of publishing files to the internet, often allowing users to subscribe to a feed and receive new files automatically by subscription, usually at no cost." [10].

Podcasting is a relatively new phenomena becoming popular in late 2004. Some of the early adopters regard Podcasting as a democratising technology, allowing users to easily create and publish their own radio shows which can be easily accessed within the need for a broadcasting infrastructure. From a technical perspective, Podcasting is an application of the RSS 2.0 format [11]. RSS can be used to syndicate Web content, allowing Web resources to be automatically embedded in third party Web sites or processed by dedicated RSS viewers. The same approach is used by Podcasting, allowing audio files (typically in MP3 format) to be automatically processed by third party applications - however rather than embedding the content in Web pages, the audio files are transferred to a computer hard disk or to an MP3 player - such as an iPod.

The strength of Podcasting is the ease of use it provides rather than any radical new functionality. If, for example, you subscribe to a Podcast provided by the BBC, new episodes will appear automatically on your chosen device - you will not have to go to the BBC Web site to see if new files are available and then download them.

Note that providing MP3 files to be downloaded from Web sites is sometimes described as Podcasting, but the term strictly refers to automated distribution using RSS.

There are several potential applications for Podcasting in an educational context:

Although there is much interest in the potential for Podcasting, there are potential problem areas which will need to be considered:

It would be advisable to seek permission before making recordings or making recordings available as Podcasts.

Listening To Podcasts

It is advisable to gain experiences of Podcasting initially as a recipient, before seeking to create Podcasts. Details of Podcasting software is given at [12] and [13]. Note that support for Podcasts in iTunes v. 5 [14] has helped enhance the popularity of Podcasts. You should note that you do not need a portable MP3 player to listen to Podcasts - however the ability to listen to Podcasts while on the move is one of its strengths.

Creating Podcasts

When creating a Podcast you first need to create your MP3 (or similar) audio file. Many recording tools are available, such as the open source Audacity software [15]. You may also wish to make use of audio editing software to edit files, include sound effects, etc.

You will then need to create the RSS file which accompanies your audio file, enabling users to subscribe to your recording and automate the download. An increasing number of Podcasting authoring tools and Web services are being developed [16] .

Instant Messaging

Instant messaging (IM) is growing in popularity as the Internet becomes more widely used in a social context. The popularity of IM in a social context is leading to consideration of its potential for work purposes in providing real time communications with colleagues and co-workers.

Popular IM applications include MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and AOL Messenger [17]. In addition to these dedicated applications a number of Web-based services also provide instant messaging facilities within the Web site, such as YahooGroups [18]. The JISCMail list management service also provides a Web-based instant messaging facility.

Instant Messaging software can provide several benefits:

Instant messaging fans appreciate the immediacy of communications it provides, which can be particularly valuable when working on small-scale concrete tasks.

There is a need to be aware of potential problems which can be encountered when using instant messaging software:

Critics of instant messaging argue that, although IM may have a role to play for social purposes, for professional use email should be preferred.

Instant messaging may prove particularly useful when working with remote workers or if you are involved in project work with remote partners. However in order to make effective use of instant messaging tools there is a need to implement a policy governing its usage which addresses the problem areas described above.

You will have to select the IM software. Note you may find that users already have an ID for a particular IM application and may be reluctant to change. There are multi-protocol IM tools available, such as gaim and IM+ although you should be aware that these may have limited functionality. In addition to these desktop applications, there are also Web-based tools such as JWChat.
You will need to define how instant messaging is to be used and how it will complement other communications channels, such as email.
Privacy, security, etc issues:
You will need to define a policy on dealing with interruptions, privacy and security issues.
It is important to note that different IM environments (e.g. Jabber and MSN) work in different ways and this can affect privacy issues.
You will need to define a policy on recording instant messaging discussions. Note that a number of IM clients have built-in message archiving capabilities.


  1. Desktop Ticker, BBC,
  2. RSS Readers, Weblogs Compendium,
  3. RSSxpress, UKOLN
  4. Wiki, Wikipedia,
  5. Wikimedia principles, Wikimedia,
  6. IT and Society Wiki, Queen's University Belfast
  7. FOAF Wiki, FoafProject,
  8. Experiences of Using a Wiki for Note-taking at a Workshop, B. Kelly, Ariadne 42, Jan 2005,
  9. , E. Tonkin, Ariadne 42, Jan 2005,
  10. Podcasting, Wikipedia,
  11. RSS 2.0, Wikipedia,
  12. iPodder Software,
  13. iTunes - Podcasting,
  14. Podcasting Software (Clients), Podcasting News,
  15. Audacity,
  16. Podcasting Software (Publishing), Podcasting News,
  17. Instant Messenger FAQs, University of Liverpool,
  18. YahooGroups,

Further Information

The following additional resources may be useful:

Folksonomy Bookmark Sites

Folksonomy Images, Video and Sound Sites

Other Folksonomy Sites

Comments On This Document

This section will be used to provide notes on the section, including details of any changes.

April 2006
Document added.

Digital Curation

Metadata Sharing and XML


Written by Pete Johnston, Research Officer, UKOLN

About This Section

This paper explains how the use of XML might contribute to your ability to share information about the valuable resources that your project is developing. Although its coverage is of necessity general, it may help you to evaluate some of the comments made by vendors and developers in this area.

The first part of the paper contains a very brief overview of the subject of metadata, with particular emphasis on metadata for resource discovery. The purpose of this section is not to make detailed recommendations about what metadata you may require to describe your resources, but rather to try to highlight some of the ways metadata is used, and how those uses create particular requirements for its exchange.

The main part of the paper explains what XML is. It provides some background to the development of the XML specification, a brief overview of some features of XML, and some examples of how XML is used. It includes a simplified summary of XML syntax, but does not provide a detailed treatment of this area, as such information is widely available elsewhere. The main aim is to highlight exactly how XML supports the effective sharing of information in different contexts.

Finally, we examine how well XML meets the requirements for the exchange of metadata. This part of the paper seeks to draw out some of the limitations of XML and to explain some related specifications and technologies that seek to address those limitations.

By way of conclusion, the paper offers a short set of questions that your project may wish to consider. These questions represent an attempt to move the discussion from the general issues covered in the body of the paper to their relevance in the particular context of NOF-digitise projects, though the breadth of the subject area means that they remain fairly general.

This paper does not make specific recommendations for the use of particular XML-based markup languages or metadata schemas within NOF-digitise projects: the potential range of uses are simply too wide to address in a general paper. The paper concentrates on the structural and syntactic aspects of sharing metadata, rather than the specific semantics of that metadata.

Note: In the context of this paper the expression "metadata sharing" that is used in the title is employed in a general sense to refer to the "disclosure" or "publishing" of resource descriptions. It is not intended to carry the more specific sense of the re-use of existing metadata records under some form of "collaborative cataloguing" model.


What Is Metadata?

Metadata is structured information about resources (including both digital and non-digital resources) that can be used to help support a wide range of operations. The activity most often considered in discussions of metadata is that of resource discovery - locating resources of interest by using the descriptions of resources which have been disclosed (published) by their creators, distributors or custodians (or indeed by third parties). The content of resource discovery metadata should allow a user to evaluate the relevance of a resource, and metadata may also provide information on the mechanisms required to access resources once they have been selected and located. Metadata may also help a user interpret the content of a resource.

However, metadata may also support many other activities related to the management of resources by their custodians, including the administration of rights associated with the resource and issues related to its preservation [l]. Metadata is created within a specific context and for specific purposes. It is hardly surprising, then, that different purposes and different contexts have different metadata requirements.

The following definitions of metadata highlight a number of issues:

Metadata is machine understandable information about web resources or other things [2]. Metadata is data associated with objects which relieves their potential users of having to have full advance knowledge of their existence or characteristics. A user might be a program or a person [3].

Both these definitions emphasise that metadata is to be used by programs as well as by human readers. Berners-Lee takes a broad view of the range of "resources" that metadata might describe. He envisages metadata used to describe not only the objects we might think of as "Web resources" (HTML pages, images, databases etc) and physical resources (books, manuscripts, artefacts), but also people and places and even "abstract" resources like concepts and events.

Dempsey and Heery's definition suggests that a metadata record is a surrogate for - "stands in" for - the resource itself, albeit in some specific, limited ways. A user can access metadata about a resource quite separately from the resource itself, and some user requirements may be met through reference to the metadata alone with no need to access the resource it describes.

How metadata is used

It proves almost impossible to sustain a clear distinction between "data" and "metadata". A pragmatic approach suggests that information is metadata when it is used as metadata! However, by examining some of the functions that metadata is created to support, it is possible to suggest some features of metadata use that condition its content and the form in which it is made available.

For example, taking the case of resource disclosure and discovery, we can suggest some actions that various agents may wish to perform. This list is not intended to be exhaustive.

Typically the users (or potential users) of resources wish:

  • to search across the range of resource descriptions made available by different resource providers, regardless of the fact that those descriptions may use the conventions of different resource description communities
  • to combine or compare descriptions of resources from different communities
  • to reuse both the resources and the descriptions of those resources in new contexts

Resource providers wish:

  • to disseminate descriptions of their resources to potential users and often as widely as possible
  • to share descriptions of their resources with other resource description communities
  • to describe relationships between their resources and those of other resource description communities

In addition, third parties may wish

  • to describe (or add to existing descriptions of) resources owned by others
  • to describe relationships between resources from multiple resource description communities

Metadata and aggregation

To support these functions, the (possibly diverse and distributed) descriptions of individual resources (or at least some data extracted from those descriptions) must be brought together - aggregated - with metadata about other resources by a service which then makes that aggregated data accessible to users through some form of search interface.

The scope of such a service may vary: it may be within a single project, across a cluster of projects, across the whole of a funding initiative like the NOF-digitise programme, or within the scope of a subject area or a geographical domain. Indeed a resource provider may make metadata available on the basis that it can be used by any service which locates it. This is typically the approach underlying the creation of simple metadata embedded in the headers of HTML documents on the Web: the resource provider expects that it will be indexed by the "spiders" of search engine services but does not make specific agreements with those services. Of course, those different services process such metadata in different ways and it is sometimes difficult to predict how (if at all) the presence of metadata affects the ranking of a resource in their retrieval services.

The mechanism by which that aggregation takes place may vary: a resource provider may actively submit metadata records to the service (information "push"); or the service may "harvest" those metadata records from the resource provider (information "pull"). The Open Archives Initiative (OAI) metadata harvesting protocol represents a standardised approach to harvesting (based on the use of XML) so that metadata is made available to any service which seeks to use it [4]. In a "closed" context, the harvesting may take place according to system-specific procedures: indeed the use of the OAI protocol presumes that some level of aggregation will be performed internally by the resource provider before it is made accessible to external services through OAI.

The indexing of metadata records in situ for the purposes of enabling a central service to "cross-search" that distributed resource might be regarded as a distinct option. However, the objective in this case is usually to present to the end user a view of that distributed dataset as a unified whole. The records may not be copied to a single central database, but the results of a query are presented to the user as if that is the case - with many of the same challenges.

While the mechanism chosen may impose some constraints on the form and content of the metadata records, the key point is that metadata is created by resource providers with the expectation that it will be aggregated in some way by a service. As a prerequisite, it must be available in a form which that service can locate, access and use.

This has implications for the form in which metadata is created. Some file formats and resource creation tools provide some means of embedding metadata within the resource: the use of HTML <meta> elements was noted above; the document summary information available within word processor tools like Microsoft Word is another example. However, that information has little value as metadata unless it can be extracted from the resource and made available to an aggregation service, and for proprietary file formats that may be a complex task.

Figure 1. Extracting embedded metadata
Figure 1. Extracting embedded metadata

An alternative to embedding metadata within a resource is to create it as a separate but related resource: that may be a separate file or a record in a database. The resource may contain a pointer to the metadata (for example an HTML <link> element) and the metadata will almost certainly contain a pointer to the resource.

Figure 2. Metadata record as linked resource transferred to database
Figure 2. Metadata record as linked resource transferred to database

In short then, metadata for resource discovery may be created in diverse forms and made available to a range of parties using many different mechanisms. However, we can say with some certainty that metadata is created with the intention that it will be.

  • used beyond its creator community and
  • combined with metadata from other communities

These two factors create requirements for the effective sharing of information which go beyond the requirements for information exchange within a community.

What Is XML?

The Extensible Markup Language (XML) is a recommendation of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a member organisation that develops technical specifications for the infrastructure of the Web [5]. The XML 1.0 specification defines a means of describing structured data in a text-based format. Within a short period of time (the XML specification was published in 1998), XML-based formats have been employed widely for storing data and especially for exchanging data between programs, applications and systems.

Within NOF-digitise projects, it may be appropriate to use XML for either or both of these functions. The main emphasis in this paper is on how XML can be used to share information about your resources. And while there may be many reasons for sharing such resource descriptions one will be the fundamental requirement for you to disclose information about the existence of your resources in a form which enables potential users to discover them.

It is worth considering briefly some of the reasons for the widespread success of XML. The specification emerged at a time when there was a clear demand to address precisely this problem of how to share effectively data created on one system with a recipient working on a remote system with quite different characteristics. Such data exchange did, of course, take place before the advent of XML, but it often represented a complex and costly part of application development.

So, the owner or manager of the information can have confidence that the data they create can be read on a remote system (or indeed on their own system after a change of software). And the software developer is freed from at least some of the work in having to read or write many different (and rapidly changing) file formats. Many major commercial vendors have an interest in facilitating such data exchange, and several of the largest contributed to the development of the XML specification and have subsequently invested heavily in software initiatives that build on XML.

A note of caution is necessary, however: XML is not a "silver bullet" solution to all the difficulties involved in the effective exchange and reuse of information. Indeed, claims that an application or system "uses XML" provide little basis on which to judge how well it meets those challenges. This paper recognises the valuable role that XML plays, but also emphasises that XML addresses only one facet of the problem.

Markup & Markup Languages: From Documents To Data

Markup is text that is added to the data content of a resource in order to convey information about that content [6]. The notion of markup pre-dates the use of automated information systems: the annotations that provided instructions about layout to typesetters were an example of markup. A "marked-up" document contains both data and markup. A markup language is a set of conventions for providing markup so that the reader can interpret accurately the intentions of its creator. At a minimum, the rules of a markup language must specify:


The Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) is the precursor of XML. It is an ISO standard (ISO 8879:1986), which, like XML, defines a means of describing structured data in text format, using markup embedded in the data. The description of SGML and XML as "markup languages" is slightly misleading, as neither the SGML standard nor the XML specification meets all the criteria listed above for a markup language. SGML and XML are sometimes described instead as "meta-languages". They both provide a general syntax for markup (i.e. they address the first of the three requirements above, and some parts of the second element), and they also provide a set of rules for defining an unlimited number of specific markup languages. So when someone says they are "using XML", what they usually mean is that they are using one or more of these specific markup languages in accordance with the general XML syntax rules.

The difference between SGML and XML is that the former provides a great deal more flexibility. That flexibility makes it a powerful tool, but the cost is one of complexity both in terms of the standard itself and the software required to implement it. XML is a subset of SGML that sacrifices some of that flexibility in return for the benefits that it is easier to use, with all the advantages mentioned in the previous section.

A document perspective

SGML evolved from the 1960s to the 1980s. It was designed primarily to meet the requirements of large scale document publishing systems, and some of its features are a reflection of the characteristics and constraints of automated processing systems at that time. Nevertheless, most of SGML's fundamental approach has been inherited by XML.

The premise underlying the "document-oriented" approach to markup is that all documents have structure, that is, they are made up of component parts and those parts have relationships with each other. The most visible facet of a document's structure (at least in the domain of printed documents) is that it has a physical structure: a document may consist of a number of pages, for example. Physical structure is contingent: the same document may be rendered with a different physical structure (e.g. printing more words per page will reduce the number of pages, or using a continuous scrollable screen display abandons the concept of the page completely).

However, a document has a logical structure that is independent of its physical rendition. Typically that logical structure is communicated to the reader through the use of presentational conventions - a heading is formatted "bigger and bolder" than the text of a section - and indeed when such formatting is removed, the reader is confused precisely because they lose the cues required to interpret logical structure.

Within automated systems, presentation is defined by using markup that instructs a program how to render text.

Figure 3. Markup describing presentation
Figure 3. Markup describing presentation

The problem faced by the publishing industry was that such formatting instructions are usually specific to individual programs, and furthermore the presentational requirements may be different for different output media. So embedding presentational markup in a document ties the document to a particular rendering program and limits the ability to re-publish in different formats.

The solution proposed by SGML is to use markup to identify the logical components of a document and to apply the formatting as a separate process. This use of markup is referred to as "descriptive markup": the author identifies "headings", "quotations" or "captions" without saying anything about font weight or size or indentation. This means that the source document is no longer tied through presentational markup to a particular rendering process, and that it can be re-published in multiple formats and multiple media through the application of different formatting processes.

Figure 4. Document reuse through descriptive markup
Figure 4. Document reuse through descriptive markup

The HyperText Markup Language, HTML, was conceived as a descriptive markup language: it provides (a fixed set of) markup for identifying a very simple set of structural components of a document (headings, divisions, lists, paragraphs etc) [7]. However, HTML also includes markup which is explicitly presentational (describing alignment, font size etc). Furthermore, the use of HTML has become inextricably associated with the formatting behaviour of a very few "user agents" (programs which render HTML documents), namely the small number of Web browsers which dominate the market. As a result, many authors have deployed HTML markup so as to achieve presentational effects using those formatting programs without considering the structures which that markup is describing - so for example, list structures are used simply to achieve indentation, headings for emphasis, and so on. The problems of the approach are highlighted when such HTML documents are "rendered" using other agents such as audio browsers, which depend on a coherent description of document structure. The W3C's promotion of the use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and the associated "deprecation" of the presentational features of HTML, represent an effort to re-emphasise the descriptive aspects of HTML [8].

A further benefit of descriptive markup is that it makes the logical structure of a document available to other software applications that are not concerned with formatting. For example if occurrences of personal names in the text are explicitly identified, then an index of those names could be built.

The success of all of these operations (both formatting and more complex manipulation) depends on the document creator and the agent processing that document sharing the same understanding of the markup language - in all three of the aspects identified at the start of section 3.

From this point, the discussion will focus on XML. Many of the concepts are inherited from SGML, but because XML has attracted the interest of a different use group, there are often differences of emphasis and of terminology between the XML and SGML communities. And at the level of syntax, XML imposes its own layer of constraints.

XML syntax : elements and attributes

It is not the main purpose of this paper to provide a detailed study of the syntax of XML, but this section presents a very brief overview with an emphasis on those features most relevant to the discussion of information sharing below. The basic principles of XML syntax are very simple, and will be familiar to anyone who has used HTML - though it should be noted that there are some important differences and the syntactic rules of XML are less permissive than those to which many HTML authors are accustomed. Again, those differences are not discussed in detail here [9].

XML uses tags embedded in the content of a document to delimit and label parts of the document, and those parts are known as elements. Tags themselves begin and end with special characters (<....>) so that they can be distinguished from the data content, and element end tags can be distinguished from start tags by a special character combination (</...).

Figure 5. Elements
Figure 5. Elements

The start and end tags include an element type name and may also contain attributes (see below). Elements may contain character data (only), other elements, a combination of character data and elements - or nothing (i.e. elements can be empty).

Attributes are pairs of names and values that occur within the start tag of an element. An individual element can contain only one occurrence of each attribute, and attribute values can contain only character data.

Figure 6. Attributes
Figure 6. Attributes

Document types, DTDs, schemas and validation

In section 3.1, we noted that strictly speaking XML was not a markup language. Rather, the XML specification provides rules to define specific markup languages. It also provides a means of formally describing those specific markup languages in a standard, machine-readable form so that the description of the language can be shared.

The purpose of markup is to describe the structure of a document. Further, individual documents can be classified by their type - we recognise classes of documents like memos, minutes, manuals, reports, timetables, and so on, and we do so on the basis that members of a class (or "instances") share a common structural model. Two different reports will contain a different number of sections and paragraphs, but they both conform to the same general model. Markup languages are created on precisely this basis: the designer identifies the common structural characteristics of a class of documents and constructs a markup language that can be applied to all the instances of that class.

The XML specification describes how to encode this common structural model in the form of a Document Type Definition (DTD). A DTD lists all the element type names and attribute names that are available to label the component parts of an instance document. It also describes constraints on the use of these elements and attributes that must be followed if an instance document is to conform to the model. So for example, a DTD specifies the names of attributes associated with an element type, or that occurrences of an element type should contain only certain other element types, and that they occur in a certain sequence, and so on. For example, a DTD which described the structural model for a (much simplified!) "report" could specify that the document should contain a main heading, followed by the name of the author, and then one or more sections, each of which should have a heading followed by a number of paragraphs.

A more recent specification from the W3C, XML Schema, specifies a second mechanism for capturing this class of information [10]. The XML Schema specification includes more powerful mechanisms for controlling element content than DTDs and also supports a more modular approach. Also, unlike DTDs, XML schemas are themselves encoded using XML syntax.

This paper will not describe DTDs or XML Schemas in detail. The key point is that both describe the structural model of a class of XML documents and define and constrain the markup that can be used in instance documents that conform to that model. A model might be described either by a DTD or an XML Schema, though the latter permits more information to be expressed and is generally more flexible. For example, XML Schema allows a schema creator to specify that the content of an element should be a date or a URI. New XML applications, and particularly data-oriented applications (see section 3.5), tend to use XML Schemas in preference to DTDs. Data-oriented applications are more likely to make use of XML Schema's capacity to express tighter constraints and the fact that the model itself is expressed in XML and the schema can itself be processed as an XML document. Sometimes the literature on XML uses the term "schema" more generally to encompass both DTDs and XML Schemas.

In terms of the requirements for the rules of a markup language listed at the start of section 3, a DTD or XML Schema provides the remaining parts of the second element - it describes what markup is allowed in an instance document. It defines both the "vocabulary" (the element type names and attribute names which may be used in an instance document) and the "structure" of the language (how elements and attributes may be related in an instance document). A DTD or XML Schema says nothing about what the markup means. It does not explain the semantics of the vocabulary (even if an XML Schema specifies that an element is of type "date", it can not express what sort of date that is) and it does not express the meaning conveyed by the structural relationships between component parts of the document. This point is explored further in section 4. However, since a description of the meaning of markup is an essential part of the description of a markup language, a DTD or XML Schema must be supported by additional documentation that provides this information to its human users. Such documentation consists at the very least of a "tag library" or "data dictionary" which lists the vocabulary of the markup language and describes its semantics; usually it includes more detailed guidelines on the use of that markup language. That documentation must support both the document creator applying markup to a document, and the recipient of a document who must interpret the markup of others.

Because DTDs and XML Schemas are machine-readable documents, if an instance document is associated with a specified DTD or XML Schema, a program can validate the document against that DTD or schema i.e. check that the element types and attributes used in the instance are defined in the DTD/Schema and that they are used in the instance in accordance with the constraints expressed in the DTD/Schema. Validation checks that the structure of the instance conforms to the structural model of the document type. Many XML parsers incorporate the capacity to validate against a DTD or XML Schema, though it should be noted that in XML, such validation is optional: there is no requirement that an XML document conforms to a DTD or XML Schema. The only structural constraints which an XML document must follow are the rules of "well-formedness", which, for the purposes of this discussion at least, require that elements have start and end tags, and are correctly nested.

This level of structural validation using a DTD or XML Schema performs only minimal checking of the textual content of XML elements or attributes. DTDs provide only very limited functionality in this area, and although XML Schemas extend this functionality, the validation provided at this level is rarely sufficient, particularly for "data-oriented" applications (see section 3.5), and there will usually be a requirement for some additional validation to be performed by application-specific software.

The control of content is, then, a major consideration for the creator of an XML document. That control may be as loose as conforming to general rules for the style and coverage of the content an element or it may be as specific as the selection of terms from "controlled vocabularies" (classification schemes, thesauri, taxonomies etc). Such controls remain largely outside the domain of XML itself, and can not be enforced by general purpose XML tools.

A data perspective

The generic structural "paradigm" used within XML is that of a tree structure. Simplifying slightly, a single "document element" (or "root element") contains a number of "children", which may in turn have "children" of their own, and so on to an unlimited number of levels, with the lowest levels, or the "leaves" on the tree, being text data. In XML syntax, the tree structure is represented (in its simplest form) as a set of nested elements.

Figure 7. Document as tree-structure; XML document
Figure 7. Document as tree-structure; XML document

Note that this is simply one way of representing the tree structure using the XML syntax: it represents the decision of one designer, and it is not the only way i.e. the same tree structure could have many different expressions using XML. This is a very important point and we return to it at the end of this section (see Figure 10.)

The tree-structure model is a simple but powerful one, and a wide range of structured data can be represented in this way - including the classes of data that are typically stored in a relational or object-oriented database.

Figure 8. Table as tree-structure; XML document
Figure 8. Table as tree-structure; XML document

Indeed the most widespread use of XML is in this area, rather than in the "traditional" area of "document markup" (though XML continues to be used in the latter area too). This capability was already present in SGML, but the complexity of SGML and its software tools made it much too costly and difficult to deploy in this context. In contrast, the simplicity of XML and the lightweight nature of its tools make it much better suited for this purpose. This assertion should be qualified by a note of caution that, even within the reduced complexity of XML, this sort of exchange depends on the careful management of several variables.

It should also be emphasised that such data exchange did take place before the advent of XML, using technologies designed specifically for that purpose (e.g. the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA)), and indeed that continues to be the case. From a strictly technical viewpoint, an XML-based approach may not be appropriate in all contexts, but there has been a massive deployment of XML in this area. Indeed that deployment has led to moves to improve the integration between the XML-based and non-XML-based technologies [11].

The term serialisation is used to describe the process of creating an XML-based representation of structured data that either is stored persistently in another form or has been created by an application within memory, in order to transmit that data to another application or system. At the other end of the transmission channel, it is read, parsed and de-serialised and, depending on the nature of the application, the data may be added to a persistent store (e.g. a database) at the "target" side of the exchange. In some cases the XML document might exist only for the brief duration of its transmission over a network; in other cases it may be stored in a semi-permanent form which is accessed by the target application some time later. The capability of XML to support this sort of exchange between different operating systems is one of the main reasons for its widespread use, and some major database vendors have begun to integrate such XML serialisation / de-serialisation functionality into their systems.

Figure 9. XML as serialisation syntax
Figure 9. XML as serialisation syntax

An analogy is sometimes drawn between XML elements and attributes and nouns and adjectives, with the suggestion that the designers of XML markup languages should represent "primary" content as character data and reserve attributes for "information about content". Such assertions perhaps reflect a rather narrow "document-oriented" perspective or experiences of the behaviour of a small subset of software tools. In fact, no such universal rules can be applied and different designers make different decisions about the use of elements and attributes. Figure 8 described one way of serialising a record from a database table using XML syntax, and in that form the data content of the fields in the table was represented as element content in the XML document. A second designer may take the decision to serialise the data using attribute values instead:

Figure 10. Table as tree structure; table as XML document - data as attribute values
Figure 10. Table as tree structure; table as XML document - data as attribute values

It is perhaps worth repeating at this point that while XML documents are human-readable, it is rarely the case that human readability is the primary design consideration - and this is especially true of data-oriented applications where the primary generators and consumers of the XML documents are software tools.

XML in practice

In fact, although the XML specifications use the SGML-based terminology of the "document", such a document may be any collection of information processed as a unit, and not necessarily one which we would label as a "document" in the more general sense of the word. Such a "unit" might be a report or a technical manual, but it might also be an employee record, a purchase transaction, or a metadata record describing an information resource - or indeed an aggregation of several of these units to be processed as a whole. Many "data-oriented" XML-based applications have little relationship with the "document-oriented" domain of publishing and formatting - though it should be noted that there are also a large number of XML applications that do retain precisely these concerns.

The document-data distinction should perhaps be thought of not as a simple opposition but as a continuum, with individual applications lying somewhere between the two poles. There is some correspondence between the position of an application on this document-oriented/data-oriented continuum and the way the XML document is created. Although there are exceptions to this generalisation, XML documents in a "document-oriented" application are typically created by the direct action of a human author using a text-based software tool (an "XML editor") to apply markup to the data content of a document. Such tools make use of the rules recorded in a DTD or XML Schema to ensure that the author can use only the markup that is permitted by the structural model.

This process of "marking up" a document is sometimes described as "encoding", and perhaps the most widely known "document-oriented" applications are those which make use of the of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) DTD to encode literary and linguistic texts for academic research, or the DocBook DTD for structuring technical documentation [12].

In contrast, in a data-oriented application the XML document is usually created by the action of an export or serialisation program that applies markup to data stored elsewhere, probably in a database. If a human creator created the content initially, they probably did so by entering it using a form without even being aware that it would be "marked-up" as an XML document! In such applications, the use of XML is completely invisible to the human users of the application, both the information manager and the end user - though of course not to the application designer or software developer.

The case of the Encoded Archival Description (EAD) DTD illustrates perhaps that the document-data distinction is not always clear-cut. EAD is a DTD for the encoding of archival finding aids [13]. Archival finding aids are highly structured documents that describe archival materials, and such finding aids are created in accordance with a number of structural and content standards. Usually, such finding aids have a hierarchical structure that incorporates description at various levels, from that of a high-level aggregate of material, through sub-groups of that whole, possibly down to the description of individual items. The standard documentation that supports the use of EAD tends to emphasise a "document-oriented" approach to the encoding of this information. It is certainly true that the higher levels of description within an archival finding aid usually consist of extended pieces of textual description. At lower levels, however, the descriptive information within the finding aids often has a regular tabular structure that has many of the characteristics we might associate with the data-oriented perspective. The tools and processes used to create EAD-encoded documents are a matter for the individual implementer to decide, but a "hybrid" approach is quite possible, with some information encoded using an XML editor and other parts created by exporting the content of database tables.

Information Sharing Using XML

Some of the popular literature on XML suggests that "XML lets you make up your own tags". It is quite true that XML permits the document creator to choose whatever element type names and attribute names they wish (subject to XML's limitations on the use of special characters). Further, because validation against a DTD or XML Schema is optional, the XML specification itself imposes no requirement that the markup used in an instance is checked against a pre-existing model: the only requirement is that the document should be "well-formed". You could use element type names and attribute names that are not pre-defined elsewhere. However, it is vital to remember that the primary purpose of using XML is to share structured data (or documents) with another party.

As was emphasised in section 3.4, XML says nothing about the meaning of the element type names and attribute names that you assign. Even if you choose names that you consider meaningful, precise and unambiguous, you can have no certainty that a human recipient of your XML document will interpret your names as you intended or that a software agent will process your data elements as you expected. To avoid misinterpretation, you must establish prior agreement with the recipient in advance on exactly what your markup means: you must use a common markup language.

In theory your project could design your own markup language, create and publish a DTD or XML Schema and the supporting documentation to describe the language, and then ensure that all of your communication partners understand its meaning. This may be sustainable for XML-based information exchange within a "closed" community with a small number of partners, but even in this case it should be emphasised that the design of a markup language is not a simple task.

In short, then, you should only consider "making up your own tags" for XML documents which you are certain will be circulated only within the boundaries of your own system - and even then it is vital that you document the meaning of your markup for the benefit of other developers who will have to maintain that system in the future.

For sharing of information beyond the boundaries of a system, it is almost always preferable to adopt an existing DTD or XML Schema that reflects the consensus of a community. As the use of XML increases, there are XML markup languages for a wide range of applications in a number of domains, and many of these are recognised as standards for information exchange within particular communities.

The use of XML Schemas is a key component of the UK government's e-government Interoperability Framework (e-GIF) [14]. The e-GIF initiative is defining XML Schemas to describe and (through validation) control the structure (and to some extent, through data-typing constraints, the content) of information which is exchanged internally between government systems and in at least some transactions between government and external communication partners. Such schemas are central to the management of transactions to be conducted via the "Citizen's Portal" [15].

At this point, it is useful to consider a little more closely the requirements for the effective transmission of information using language. Consider the example of making a simple statement using the English language. For my statement to be interpreted correctly by a reader, we need to have agreement about (at least!) three things:

  1. semantics: what the terms of the vocabulary mean e.g. the concepts associated with the nouns "cat" and "mat" and the verb "to sit".
  2. structure: the significance of the arrangement of terms within a statement, which is an aspect of grammar e.g. in English, the order of the parts of a sentence is subject-verb-object.
  3. syntax: the exact rules of expression e.g. "The cat sat on the mat".

If my reader's interpretation of any of these factors differs from mine, then there is risk that my statement will not be interpreted as I intended.

The power of XML

A language community is defined by consensus on such conventions, and the same is true for the exchange of information using XML i.e. we can think of "markup language communities" where

  1. conformance to the XML specification represents consensus on syntax
  2. conformance to a common DTD or XML Schema produces consensus on vocabulary and on structure
  3. conformance to the tag library or data dictionary and other guidelines associated with the DTD/Schema (including application-specific controls on content) ensures consensus on semantics

This is best illustrated through some simple examples.

Suppose that I prepare a music catalogue using the (imaginary!) MusicCat XML Schema and publish my catalogue on the Web, and a remote collector prepares and publishes a catalogue using the same XML Schema (see Figure 11).

  <album identifier="">
    <title>The Spotlight Kid</title>
    <artist>Captain Beefheart</artist>
    <track identifier="">
      <artist>Captain Beefheart</artist>
      <song identifier="">
        <title>Grow fins</title>
        <author>Van Vliet, Don</author>
    <track identifier="">
<!-- and so on... -->
  <album identifier="">
    <title>Clear Spot</title>
    <artist>Captain Beefheart</artist>
    <track identifier="">
      <artist>Captain Beefheart</artist>
      <song identifier="">
        <title>Big eyed beans from Venus</title>
        <author>Van Vliet, Don</author>

Figure 11. Two MusicCat XML catalogues

Then I can read their XML document and locate tracks by a specified artist, but more importantly my software can search their document because I have already programmed it with the following mapping:

User request: Program action
Find identifiers of all songs with author "Van Vliet, Don" Find values of identifier attributes of song elements which have an author child element with content "Van Vliet, Don"

The limits of XML

As with natural language, the difficulties arise when information must be shared beyond the boundaries of the community - and this is a primary requirement in the use of metadata.

Continuing the example above, suppose that a museum has published a description of its holdings using the (imaginary...) ArtCat XML Schema.

    <title>The Magic Band Sketches Collection</title>
    <creator>Van Vliet, Don</creator>
          <title>Zoot Horn Rollo</title>
          <artist>Van Vliet, Don</artist>
<!-- and so on... -->

Figure 12. An ArtCat XML catalogue

Then I can read their XML document and I can probably locate pictures painted by a specific artist in their catalogue. However, it requires either some guesswork on my part based on the element type names and attribute names or a reference to the documentation that describes the semantics and structure of the ArtCat schema.

To search across both catalogues, my software - the search component of my cross-domain metadata service - now has to be programmed with two mappings:

User request: Program action
Find identifiers of all "works" with "creator" "Van Vliet, Don" MusicCat:
Find values of identifier attributes of song elements which have an author child element with content "Van Vliet, Don"
Find content of identifier elements which have a picture parent element with a details child element which has an artist child element with content "Van Vliet, Don"

In fact there are at least three separate problems to be addressed here, and these are considered in turn in the following sections.

The uniqueness of names : Namespaces in XML

The first problem is that two different XML Schemas can use the same term to express different concepts. In our examples above, both MusicCat and ArtCat use the element type name "artist". In this particular example, the difference in meaning is perhaps not so great and both might be seen as types of resource creator.

However, it is easy to think of examples where the same term is used with quite different meanings in different domains: the term "conductor" signifies three quite different concepts in the separate areas of public transport, classical music and electrical engineering - and yet it would be quite possible for three domain-specific XML Schemas to use the term as an element type name! As long as document instances are exchanged only within the domain - within the boundaries of that markup language community - then the name is interpreted unambiguously according to the conventions of that community. However, when this data is passed from one community to another or data from the three communities is combined (as in the case of a metadata aggregation service), we face the problem of the "collision" of names - the same term used with quite different meanings.

The W3C "Namespaces in XML" specification addresses this problem [16]. It allows names to be qualified by associating them with a "namespace". A namespace is a collection of names, and it has a unique name: the uniqueness of namespace names is guaranteed by making them URIs. Element type names and attribute names can then be qualified by a namespace name - which removes the ambiguity where two names from different schemas "collide".

At the syntactic level, the association between the "local part" of the name and the namespace name is made through the use of a namespace prefix. The prefix is associated with the namespace name (by a namespace declaration), and the prefix is then used to qualify names. The resulting qualified name has a local part and a namespace name.

The following example associates the element type name "title" with the namespace "<>".

<doc xmlns:my="">
  <my:title>XML and metadata sharing</my:title>

Figure 13. XML namespaces

A second example illustrates the use of two different namespaces to avoid a "collision" of names:

<doc xmlns:our=""
  <our:title>Metadata sharing and XML</our:title>
      NOF Information Paper 5: 
      Metadata sharing and XML

Figure 14. XML namespaces

Finally it should be noted that the title element in Figure 13 (my:title) has the same qualified name as the first title element in Figure 14 (our:title): it is not the namespace prefix which is significant, but the namespace name with which that prefix is associated.

The use of XML namespaces has probably caused more debate than any other XML-related subject. We certainly do not propose to revisit that debate here. The main point is that all XML namespaces do is provide a mechanism for qualifying names to make them unique (the use of URIs) and a shorthand syntax for applying this in XML documents (the use of namespace prefixes).

The need for a pidgin : the Dublin Core

The second problem in the example above is that the two XML Schemas (MusicCat and ArtCat) use different element type names ("author" and "artist") to express the concept of the "creator" of two different types of resource. In fact the two names probably convey to their human reader rather more than the concept of "creator", since they express more information about two different processes of creation.

These differences are important to the manager of those resources and to the user of this information within the respective domains. From the point of view of a fairly simple process of resource discovery, however, the concept of "the creator of the resource" is often satisfactory. This is not the same as saying that the distinction between an "author" and an "artist" is irrelevant: rather, that there are some contexts where that distinction is not of primary importance.

The Dublin Core Metadata Element Set is usually presented as a small set of terms (only 15 elements in its basic subset) which describe properties common to most types of resource, and which can be used for composing simple descriptions of resources [17]. However, since we have approached the subject of metadata sharing as one of communication and the use of language, it is appropriate to apply this same perspective here. In an important article [18], Tom Baker presents the view that the Dublin Core element set is a small vocabulary that can be used to make simple statements: Dublin Core performs the role of a "pidgin" language. The markup languages of the many different resource description communities are certainly more powerful and expressive than the Dublin Core pidgin, and that power is appropriate for communication within those communities where it can be interpreted as its "speakers" intend. As with natural language, however, when information is shared beyond the community - as is the case with metadata - , some simplification of that expression is often the most effective means of communication.

At this point in the paper, we concentrate on the first aspect of the Dublin Core pidgin: its simple vocabulary. Baker's article emphasises the simple structure of its statements, and we return to this aspect in section 4.2.3. The proponents of Dublin Core do not suggest that this simple vocabulary serve as the "native" lexicon of each community (though in some cases it may prove adequate). Rather those communities should seek to "map" the terms of their local languages - or at least a subset of those terms - to the terms of the Dublin Core vocabulary and make descriptions of their resources available in this simplified form - which (it is hoped!) a larger proportion of readers outside of the community will be able to interpret and understand.

The Open Archives Initiative (OAI) metadata harvesting protocol recognises the value of this approach in its requirement that metadata records be made available using the simple Dublin Core vocabulary (and OAI provides a corresponding XML Schema for this purpose). OAI allows a resource provider to make available records conforming to other schemas, but the availability of simple DC records is mandatory. The Technical Standards & Guidelines for NOF-digitise also mandate that Dublin Core descriptions are produced:

In order to facilitate potential exchange and interoperability between services, item level descriptions must be capable of being expressed in Dublin Core and should be in line with developing e-government and UfI metadata standards. [19]

If the MusicCat and ArtCat XML Schemas had made use of XML namespaces to disambiguate the names of all element types and attributes, and had made use of the more generic Dublin Core elements in place of the domain-specific names like "author" and "artist", the above examples might appear as:

<music:catalogue xmlns:music="" 
  <music:album dc:identifier="">
    <dc:title>The Spotlight Kid</dc:title>
    <dc:creator>Captain Beefheart</dc:creator>
    <music:track dc:identifier="">
      <dc:creator>Captain Beefheart</dc:creator>
      <music:song dc:identifier="">
        <dc:title>Grow fins</dc:title>
        <dc:creator>Van Vliet, Don</dc:creator>

<art:catalogue xmlns:art=""
    <dc:title>The Magic Band Sketches Collection</dc:title>
    <dc:creator>Van Vliet, Don</dc:creator>
          <dc:title>Zoot Horn Rollo</dc:title>
          <dc:creator>Van Vliet, Don</dc:creator>

Figure 15. MusicCat and ArtCat using XML Namespaces and Dublin Core

The meaning of structure : XML and RDF

However, even with the use of namespaces to qualify names and the pidginisation of some of the terms drawn from domain-specific vocabularies, the cross-domain search service must still be programmed with two sets of mappings:

User request: Program action
Find identifiers of all "works" with "creator" "Van Vliet, Don" MusicCat:
Find values of dc:identifier attributes of music:song elements which have a dc:creator child element with content "Van Vliet, Don"
Find content of dc:identifier elements which have an art:picture parent element with an art:details child element which has an dc:creator child element with content "Van Vliet, Don"

These multiple mappings are necessary because the two different XML Schemas employ different structural conventions to express relationships between units of information. For example, the statement that a resource (album, track, song, collection, picture etc) has a "creator" is expressed using different XML constructs in the two schemas - and within the ArtCat schema different conventions are used for the "collection" and the "picture". These are simply the choices of the schema designers and all are equally good and valid.

A human reader of the document may be able guess the conventions, but a software tool must be programmed with prior "knowledge" of the different structural conventions in use.

While this may be sustainable for a service operating over instance documents conforming to a small number of different XML Schemas, it is not scalable to a context in which the number of schemas and the number of structural conventions is ever increasing - which is quite likely to be the case for a service operating on metadata from several domains.

Tim Berners-Lee summarises the problem: XML allows users to add arbitrary structure to their documents but says nothing about what the structures mean
Berners-Lee, 2001 [20]

The solution proposed by Berners-Lee and the W3C is the adoption of a common simple model for the expression of statements about resources, and a set of standard syntactic conventions for representing those statements in XML. In adopting this standard model and the syntax to represent it, communication partners accept a common convention for the meaning of structures in their XML documents. This is what the Resource Description Framework (RDF) seeks to provide.

The Resource Description Framework (RDF)

RDF Model & Syntax

The Resource Description Framework (RDF) Model and Syntax is another recommendation of the W3C [21]. (There are a number of other specifications that build on RDF, RDF Schema being of particular importance, but they will not be discussed here.) The designers of RDF sought to address the requirements for exchanging metadata and for combining metadata from diverse sources, while leaving the description of the semantics of that metadata to the appropriate resource description communities.

The premise underlying RDF is that metadata consists of simple statements about resources. This is similar to Tom Baker's approach to the pidgin "grammar" of Dublin Core: as well as adopting a small vocabulary, pidgin speakers employ that vocabulary using simple sentence patterns that can be used in many different contexts.

In RDF, those statements take the form: a resource has a property which has a value, and the value may be a string (a literal) or a second resource. In RDF, a property is an "attribute" (in the general sense of the word!) used to describe that resource.

For example, Figure 16a represents the statement that:

  • The resource identified by the URI has a property "author" whose value is the string "John"
  • Or, "John" is the "author" of the resource identified by

Figure 16a. The RDF model
Figure 16a. The RDF model

Figure 16b extends that first statement by adding that:

  • The value of property "author" is another resource which has a property "name" with value "John" and a property "email" with value ""

Figure 16b. The RDF model
Figure 16b. The RDF model

Figure 16c illustrates that the second resource can also be uniquely identified:

Figure 16c. The RDF model
Figure 16c. The RDF model

A resource is anything which can be identified by a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) - which turns out to mean "anything that has identity" [22]. That "thing" need not exist as a physical or digital object, but if we assign a URI to it, that assignment enables us to make statements about it! Sometimes, when a URI has been assigned to a resource, then the resource is described as being "on the Web". Further, it is common practice for people making statements about resources to ensure the uniqueness of their URIs by using URIs constructed on the basis of the domain name of a Web server, and carrying the http: scheme prefix. This convention is a means of ensuring uniqueness, but that is all it is: the use of http:-based URIs does not mean that anything exists at the location identified if that string is interpreted as a URL.

So, anything can be identified by a URI. The properties used in an RDF statement can be uniquely identified by URIs, which is useful when we wish to combine statements which use the vocabularies of different resource description communities:

Figure 16d. The RDF model
Figure 16d. The RDF model

This simple model proves to be extremely powerful. It is extensible: RDF provides a pidgin grammar, but it has little to say about the vocabulary to be used. In fact, RDF allows properties to be drawn from any vocabularies, and multiple vocabularies can be used in the same document. Further, these simple statements can be combined to build up more complex ones. Because URIs provide unique identifiers for both resources and properties, statements created independently by different authors can be "merged".

Figure 17a. Merging RDF descriptions
Figure 17a. Merging RDF descriptions

Figure 17b. Merging RDF descriptions
Figure 17b. Merging RDF descriptions

Figure 17c. Merging RDF descriptions
Figure 17c. Merging RDF descriptions

Figure 17d. Merging RDF descriptions
Figure 17d. Merging RDF descriptions

This model is independent of XML - RDF-based statements could be (and indeed are) recorded in many different forms - but the RDF Model & Syntax recognises the value of XML as a syntax for exchange and defines conventions for expressing RDF statements in XML. The document fragments in figures 18a to 18d correspond to the descriptions portrayed diagrammatically in figures 17a to 17d. Figure 18d represents the merged description:

<rdf:RDF xmlns:js="">
  <rdf:Description about="">
      <rdf:Description about="">

Figure 18a. Merging RDF/XML descriptions

<rdf:RDF xmlns:js="">
  <rdf:Description about="">

Figure 18b. Merging RDF/XML descriptions

<rdf:RDF xmlns:js="">
  <rdf:Description about="">

Figure 18c. Merging RDF/XML descriptions

<rdf:RDF xmlns:js="">
  <rdf:Description about="">
      <rdf:Description about="">

Figure 18d. Merging RDF/XML descriptions

Furthermore, the RDF model corresponds well to the data used within relational and object-oriented databases: it is relatively easy to express the information held in a database using the RDF model and to publish that information using the RDF/XML syntax. And once it is published in that form it is available for querying and processing in association with similar data from other sources. Returning to the example above, where three sets of RDF statements were "merged", imagine that the sources of those three sets of statements were records stored in three quite separate databases. The databases can be queried separately, certainly, and a human user could perform three separate queries and merge the results together. Once the data is published using RDF, programs can join the previously separate statements together - and other parties can begin to add new statements about those resources.

We noted above that in many cases XML documents are created by programs rather than by human authors, and this holds even more so for RDF/XML documents.

In short, then using RDF in association with XML means adopting specified conventions for the meaning of structures in an XML document. By constraining the options available, RDF enhances interoperability by reducing the risk that a document is misinterpreted. A reader of the document who is aware of those conventions and who recognises that the document is applying them can interpret the meaning of the structures without ambiguity.

Furthermore, the reader can do so on the basis that they may not be familiar with all the vocabularies used in the document, but they are able to recognise the statements made about resources and extract those statements which use the vocabularies they do recognise. For example, consider the instance document in Figure 19:

<rdf:RDF xmlns:dc=""
  <rdf:Description about="">
    <dc:title>Metadata sharing and XML</dc:title>
    <dc:creator>John Smith</dc:creator>

Figure 19. A multi-vocabulary RDF/XML description

Any RDF-aware application reading that document will interpret it as containing three statements about the resource Suppose the application has been programmed to seek statements made using the properties of the Dublin Core element set - perhaps it is part of an aggregation service reading descriptions harvested from the Web in order to compile a database of Dublin Core-based resource descriptions. The properties of the Dublin Core element set are of course all identifiable by URIs. The application "recognises" that two of the statements in this description use Dublin Core properties and it can create the appropriate database entries. The third statement uses a property which the application does not recognise - it is presumably of interest to another use community - and the application can simply ignore that statement. (If the application had access to additional information about the relationships between terms from different vocabularies, then it might be able to establish that it was in fact the equivalent of a Dublin Core property, but that is beyond the scope of this discussion.)

For a cross-domain metadata service, then, the use of RDF/XML addresses the scalability issue of having to manage the structural conventions of an ever-expanding number of domain-specific XML Schemas. It also permits the use of multiple vocabularies in a manner which allows partners to communicate, at least on a basis of "partial understanding".

RDF: a note of caution

At the time of writing (late 2001), there is a good deal of enthusiasm about the potential of RDF. It forms the cornerstone of Tim Berners-Lee's vision of a "Semantic Web", and there is considerable activity in this area at the W3C and within academic research communities. There are some RDF applications in use outside this context - the most widely deployed is perhaps RDF Site Summary (RSS), used primarily to deliver metadata about news stories between content providers and portals on the Web [23].

However, RDF has not yet been adopted as widely as its developers and supporters might have hoped. In part, this is perhaps a problem of perception: because the interest in RDF is coming in the first instance from research communities, it is perceived as theoretical. And indeed, some of the discussions about RDF tend to be cast within a language which is not immediately familiar to the XML community. Further, at the time of writing (November 2001), a W3C working group is in the process of making some (minor) revisions to the RDF Model & Syntax specification and completing work on the RDF Schema specification [24].

As a consequence, there are fewer RDF-based software tools available, and considerably less expertise amongst application designers and software developers than is the case for XML - though this situation is changing.

However, there is a real danger of ignoring the existence of the problems that RDF is designed to address, and which this paper has sought to explain.


XML is designed specifically to support the sharing of structured data across applications and systems, and it has a vital role to play in the sharing of metadata to facilitate resource discovery.

The essential contribution that XML makes is to provide a syntax for data exchange, but this is only one of the requirements for effective sharing of information using XML. The adoption of a standard schema for resource description and the use of that schema in accordance with its supporting documentation provides a vocabulary and the semantics associated with that vocabulary.

Conformance to a community standard XML DTD or XML Schema represents adherence to a common structural model and consensus on what that structural model conveys - an agreement on grammar. XML document instances can be shared within that community and their syntax, semantics and structure will be unambiguous to their recipients.

However, one of the defining characteristics of metadata is that it is shared beyond the boundaries of a single community. In this open environment, the use of XML namespaces and of small "pidgin" vocabularies like the Dublin Core metadata element set provide support for syntactic and semantic interoperability, but the multiple XML DTDs and XML Schemas of the different communities lack a common convention for the meaning conveyed by structure - they do not share a common grammar.

The RDF Model and Syntax specification seeks to provide this common grammar by specifying the meanings of structures: by constraining the options available to express meaning through structure, the risk of ambiguity and misinterpretation is reduced and the potential for interoperability between systems is increased.

Some Questions To Consider

Does your project intend to use XML for data storage or for data exchange or both?

What types or classes of data are to be stored or shared using XML?

Do standard XML DTDs or XML Schemas for the description of this data exist?

How will you create your XML documents? Will they be authored with a suitable editor or generated by software tools?

With whom do you need to share your data or metadata?

Are you exchanging data or metadata through specific agreements with a defined number of partners?

Are you supplying metadata to specific services? Do those services specify requirements for the syntax, structure and semantics of the data they accept? Do those services specify conformance to XML DTDs or XML Schemas which they provide?

Or are you intending to make data or metadata available in a more "open" environment, with the expectation that it may be used by a potentially unlimited number of services?

Is it appropriate to make that metadata available through OAI?

Is it appropriate to make that metadata available in an RDF/XML form, as well as a form based on a standard XML DTD or XML Schema?


A name/value pair associated with an element and encoded in the start tag for the element.
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
A W3C specification which describes a means of specifying formatting for HTML and XML documents. Recent releases of most of the popular Web browsers have good support for CSS level 1.
A collection of information which is processed as a unit.
document type definition (DTD)
A means of describing the structural model for a class of documents in machine readable form. A DTD lists all the SGML/XML element type names and attribute names that are available to label the component parts of an instance document. It also describes constraints on the use of these elements and attributes that must be followed if an instance document is to conform to the model.
A component of the structure of a document. The boundaries of an element are identified by start and end tags (or for an empty element, a single empty element tag). Every element has an element type name.
Extensible Markup Language (XML)
A W3C specification that defines a means of describing structured data in a text-based format. XML is a subset of SGML. Like SGML, XML provides a set of rules for defining an unlimited number of markup languages and the general syntactic rules for how any of those markup languages should be applied to individual documents.
HyperText Markup Language (HTML)
The "publishing language" of the World Wide Web: a markup language for describing, in a simple way, the structure of a document. HTML is defined as an application of the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), and is formalised in a Document Type Definition (DTD). (More accurately, each version and "dialect" of HTML is formalised in a DTD).
Text that is added to the data content of a resource in order to convey information about that content.
markup language
A set of conventions for providing markup. The description of a markup language should cover: (i) how markup is distinguished from data; (ii) what markup is allowed; and (iii) what that permitted markup means.
Structured information about resources (including both digital and non-digital resources) that can be used to help support a wide range of operations on those resources.
Open Archives Initiative (OAI)
The Open Archives Initiative is an organisation that seeks to develop and promote interoperability standards that facilitate the effective dissemination of information resources. The cornerstone of the OAI interoperability framework is the OAI Metadata Harvesting Protocol. The protocol provides a means for data providers to expose metadata about their resources and for service providers to request that metadata from the data providers.
RDF Site Summary (RSS)
A simple metadata description and syndication format. An RSS document describes a "channel" of URL retrievable items, with each item consisting of a title, a link and a description. It has traditionally been used to describe news headlines but more recently has been deployed for other "alerting" applications. RSS is an XML application and also conforms to the RDF Model & Syntax specification i.e. it uses the RDF/XML syntax.
Resource Description Framework (RDF)
The foundation for a number of activities at the W3C related to the exchange of knowledge on the Web. The expression "using RDF" usually signifies using the RDF model for making statements about resources, though sometimes it is also used to mean employing the RDF/XML syntax to represent and transport such statements. Both the RDF model and the RDF/XML syntax are defined by the W3C RDF Model & Syntax specification.
In a generic sense, a model for describing the structure of information. In the XML context, the term "schema" is often used to mean an XML Schema.
More generally, the process of creating a byte-stream representation of a data object held in memory, usually so that it can be stored persistently or transmitted over a network. More specifically, in an XML context, the process of creating a representation of such an object in an XML-based form.
Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML)
An ISO standard (ISO 8879:1986), which defines a means of describing structured data in text format, using markup embedded in the data. SGML provides a set of rules for defining an unlimited number of markup languages and the general syntactic rules for how any of those markup languages should be applied to individual documents.
A set of rules for rendering or formatting the element types of a class of documents. The use of stylesheets allows the presentation of data to be described separately from the description of the structure of the data.
XML Schema
A W3C specification which describes another (in addition to the DTD) means of describing the structural model for a class of XML documents. XML Schema addresses the DTD's lack of support for XML Namespaces and lack of extensibility, and also adds improved support for datatyping.

Notes And References

[1] For more information, see UKOLN, nof-digitise Technical Standards and Guidelines Version 3, (July 2001). Available at

[2] Berners-Lee, Tim, "Metadata architecture", "Design issues" working paper (January 1997). Available at

[3] Dempsey, Lorcan and Rachel Heery, "Metadata: a current view of practice and issues", Journal of Documentation 54 (2), (March 1998). Preprint version available at

[4] The Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting Version 1.1 (July 2001). Available at

[5] Extensible Markup Language 1.0 (Second Edition) (October 2000). Available at

[6] This section draws heavily on the introductory sections of:
Goldfarb, Charles F. The SGML Handbook, Oxford University Press (1990).

[7] HyperText Markup Language (HTML 4.01) (December 1999). Available at

[8] Cascading Style Sheets, Level 1 (December 1996). Available at

[9] Introductions to XML syntax include:
Ray, Erik. "Markup and Core Concepts", Chapter 2 of Learning XML: (Guide to) Creating Self-Describing Data (January 2001). Available at
Walsh, Norman. "A Technical Introduction to XML", (October 1998). Available at

[10] XML Schema is published in three parts:
Part 0: Primer (May 2001). Available at
Part 1: Structures (May 2001). Available at
Part 2: Structures (May 2001). Available at

[11] For information on CORBA, and on the relationship of CORBA and XML, see the Object Management Group site at
particularly the CORBA, XML and XMI Resource Page at

[12] The Text Encoding Initiative web site is at
The DocBook website is at

[13] The Encoded Archival Description website is at

[14] Cabinet Office, e-government: a strategic framework for public services in the Information Age, (April 2000). Available at
Cabinet Office, e-government Interoperability Framework, Version 3, (October 2001). Available at

[15] The website is at

[16] Namespaces in XML (January 1999). Available at

[17] The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative website is at

[18] Baker, Thomas. "A Grammar of Dublin Core", D-Lib 6 (10), (October 2000). Available at

[19] UKOLN, nof-digitise Technical Standards and Guidelines Version 3, (July 2001). Available at

[20] Berners-Lee, Tim, James Hendler and Ora Lassila, "The Semantic Web", Scientific American, (May 2001). Available at

[21] Resource Description Framework Model and Syntax Specification, (February 1999). Available at

[22] RFC 2396: Uniform Resource Identifiers (URI): Generic Syntax , (August 1998). Available at

[23] RDF Site Summary (RSS) 1.0, (December 2000). Available at

[24] The RDF Core Working Group website is at

Comments On This Document

This section will be used to provide notes on the section, including details of any changes.

2 Dec 2004
Document made available to MLA staff for comments.
January 2005
Document added.

Digital Preservation


This section was first published as part of the NOF-digi Technical Advisory Service Programme Manual in 2004.

What is Digital Preservation?

A basic definition of digital preservation is the maintenance of digital material over the long-term with a view to ensuring continued accessibility. Digital material refers to any material processed by a computer and includes both that which is "digitised" (reformatted to digital) as well as those resources that are "born digital". Long-term in this context should be taken to mean long enough to be concerned with the impact of changing technologies - and should include timescales of decades and even centuries. There has been a great deal of confusion around the term "digital preservation" mainly because of early projects that (perhaps inadvertently) equated the process of digitisation with preservation. In general, digital preservation involves a number of organised tasks associated with a variety of technical approaches or strategies for ensuring that digital resources are not only stored appropriately, but also adequately maintained and thus consistently useable over time. Day-to-day preservation is based around the management of archive copies of deposited data resources - i.e. copies that are independent of any online representation.

Technical Strategies For Ensuring Digital Materials Are Maintained And Accessible Over The Long-term

Put simply, a digital preservation strategy is a particular technical approach to the preservation of digital materials. There are three main technical approaches to preserving digital materials: technology preservation, technology emulation and data migration. The first two focus on the technology itself. In order to preserve the functionality of any digital resource there must be preservation, in some form, of the technical environment that created and employed it. Data migration strategies focus on the need to maintain the digital files in a format that is accessible using "current technology". In this strategy scenario, files require regular migration from one technical environment to another, newer one. Each strategy will be described briefly in turn but it is important to realise that even within each approach there are variations.

Technology Preservation

If digital material relies on the technical environment used to create it in order to preserve the functionality and "look and feel" of the product, then the most obvious approach is to preserve the original technology. This is a "museum style" approach and probably only suitable as a short-term solution. Hardware and software from the object itself are maintained so that access can be guaranteed. However, this generally means that access is limited to a specific physical location (i.e. where the hardware/software are kept) and the cost/space implications for storing this kit are probably beyond the realm of possibility on a large scale. Over a number of years the machines themselves will inevitably degrade making this approach problematic as a long-term strategy. The Science Museum and the Computer Conservation Society in the UK are interested in the merits of this approach and are currently maintaining old computer systems that may prove valuable resources for scholars in the future. For a library, archive or publisher, the sheer space and resources needed to maintain old systems would in all likelihood make this approach impossible.

Technology Emulation

Another approach based on the need to preserve the technological environment (and therefore original functionality) is emulation. Unlike the strategy described above, an emulation strategy seeks to preserve that environment not through the preservation of original hardware/software but by using current technology to mimic the original environment. This might involve emulation of the original software or (more likely) emulation of the original hardware (in this case the original software and operating system are stored along with the digital object itself). Either way, the strategy relies on a detailed description of the original environment on which to base the emulation in future. The emulator itself is not necessarily stored in the archive (although it may be, it may be created at a later date when there is demand for the material. The detailed technical descriptions (metadata - see below) on which this strategy is often based is a key component of an emulation strategy and. As yet, there are no standard approaches available for descriptions of this kind.

Although controversial, many experts are beginning to believe that for truly long-term preservation emulation is the best solution. It accepts the necessary conundrum of preserving the original technical environment but it ensures that material is not held hostage to obsolete technology. Instead it can take advantage of new technologies as they develop for emulation. Although we are unable to predict how future technologies will develop, we can be certain of some general principles - it will be more effective, cheaper and faster.

Data Migration

Unlike the strategies above, data migration focuses on maintaining digital material in current formats. At present many libraries and publishers are involved in regular migrations for image files e.g. moving images from one software version to a newer version. The attraction of this strategy is that material is maintained in an accessible format. The two strategies above both advocate storing the material as a bytestream in its original format and then making it accessible when necessary. Data migration means the material is maintained in the archive in a currently useable format.

However, there are also significant disadvantages to this strategy:

It is important to stress that data migration as it is described here is more complex than what is often called data "refreshing". All preservation strategies must include regular data refreshing which is the systematic transfer of stored material to newer and fresher media (e.g. from one magnetic tape to another). Refreshing does not imply ensuring the material is kept useable - it is only the transfer of a bytestream from one medium to another. Migration focuses on keeping the material functional with new technology.

Preservation Metadata

The effective use of digital resources in an archive will rely on a robust system of resource description - for the purposes of resource discovery, managing access and ensuring preservation of the resources. Metadata research has continued to generate interest world-wide but, to date, most of activity has focused on metadata for resource discovery. However, there is increasing awareness that effective digital archives will depend on the creation and storage of relevant descriptive information (metadata) required to support a chosen preservation strategy, whether migration, emulation or technical preservation. This information will need to describe the data in detail including file format, software and hardware platforms. It may also contain information about rights management and access control. UKOLN has led a great deal of the work on preservation metadata for the Cedars project [1] and the first public draft of the Metadata for Digital Preservation: the Cedars Project Outline Specification was released in March 2000. Well-kept digital preservation metadata is essential and all NOF projects must comply with the technical standards and guidance published [2].

A summary of the three main strategic approaches to digital preservation

Technology preservation strategy: preserve the individual software (and possibly hardware) that was used to create and access the information; also involves preserving the original operating system and hardware on which to run it

Technology emulation strategy: programme future powerful systems to emulate older obsolete computer platforms/operating systems as required

Digital information migration strategy: ensure that digital information is re-encoded in new formats before the old format becomes obsolete.

Choice of strategy must reflect fitness for purpose. Certain technical factors will impact on this choice: the basic data types employed in each category; the application programs used to create them; the structures applied to them; the systems used to manage or distribute them prior to deposit.

Getting Started

Maintaining access to archived digital resources over the long term involves interdependent strategies in the short/medium term based on:

A preservation strategy is going to be most effective if it takes into account the full life-cycle of the resource - allowing for the greatest efficiencies between: data creation; access and preservation.

Procedures To Prepare Data And Documentation For Storage And Preservation

Unique numbering

Every data source accessioned should be allocated a unique identifier. This number will identify the resource in the institution's catalogue and be used to locate or identify physical media and documentation - if a resource is de-accessioned for any reason, this unique number should not be reallocated.

Preferred marking and labelling

At a minimum all physical media and hard-copy documentation should be marked with the unique number allocated to the resource, and any additional information required by the institution to easily identify content and formats.

Handling guidelines

From accessioning, guidelines should be followed that reflect best practice in storage/preservation handling for the different media involved.


Validation checks should be carried out by the institution on transfer media; content; structure of deposited data resources, and on any accompanying documentation.

Validation procedures may well need adapting in the light of the materials/resources available in the acquisitions/collections section - and some of these procedures will have to be undertaken manually.

Such checks may include:

Re-formatting file formats

Where the file formats used to transfer the resource are unsuitable for long-term preservation, the institution may reformat the resource onto its preferred file formats. In addition to archive formats, versions in other formats suitable for delivery to users may also be produced from the original

Reformatting storage media

Where storage media used to transfer the resource are unsuitable for long-term preservation - the institution may reformat the resource onto its preferred media


Multiple back-up copies of an item may be generated during accessioning as part of a storage and preservation policy and to enable disaster recovery procedures.


  1. Cedars Project,
  2. NOF-digitise Technical Standards,

Further Information

Digital Culture: Maximising the nation's investment

Dublin Core metadata Initiative

AHDS Guide: Creating a viable data resource

Comments On This Document

This section will be used to provide notes on the section, including details of any changes.

2 Dec 2004
Document made available to MLA staff for comments.
January 2005
Document added.

Publicity and Marketing

PR and marketing for digitisation projects


This section was first published as part of the NOF-digi Technical Advisory Service Programme Manual.


Marketing a cultural heritage Web site is vital if you want to increase the number of users accessing it. To carry out successful marketing you need to have some sort of marketing plan which may involve determining the needs of your users and a strategy to execute your plan.

Within the context of digital cultural heritage development work which takes place as part of a funded programme, the objective sof the PR and marketing plan should be to:

All of this can be done using traditional methods, but given these are Web sites that are being promoted, electronic marketing is very important.

In any publicity materials it is important to add your URL to all slides, handouts. In fact, make sure your Web address is on everything your organisation produces, including headed notepaper, email signatures, paper bags.

Target Audiences

You will need to clarify the target audienes for your project. For the NOF-diigitise programme, for example, the material was targeted particularly at users of public libraries through the Peoples Network (PN) [1] and schools through the National Grid for Learning (NGfL) [2].

However, you should also remember that the Internet knows no geographical boundaries and access to Web sites is not restricted.

The object of the marketing exercise is to identify target audiences and then best means of promoting the projects deleverable and component parts to these audiences, using traditional and electronic strategies. The product is the resources and services created in this programme.

Target audiences will include (not exhaustive):

Brand Identity

It is important that a brand identify is created for funding programmes. For projects funded by the NOF-digise programme, for example, it was required that the NOF funded mark appeared on news releases relating to all projects being supported under the programme. The funded mark also appeared on appropriate Web pages, enabling sites to be readily identifiable as part of an overall project.

Publicity Photos

If publicity photos are created that include children the consensus is that consent forms are needed. An example consent form is given at [3] and [4].

Some brief but relevant advice from NGfL on using children's images on Web sites is given at [5].

Methodology: the Tools

You should aim to use traditional marketing tools along side electronic marketing. Traditional marketing would include:

You should establish what your selling points are and build up a database of good examples. Web address should be on everything you produce.

You may want to write articles about your project or interesting aspects of the project for relevant publications, either printed or online. You are always entitled to include a URL in your author details for pieces about your NOF-project or any other areas of work you are involved in.

One of the most positive ways your Web site URL will get distributed is by 'viral' marketing, or word of mouth. This will happen if your resources are accessible, interesting and user friendly and your site well designed.

Electronic Marketing would include:

Web Marketing

There are a number of ways that you can use the Web itself as a marketing tool. Firstly, by encouraging other sites to link to you. This can be done by approaching relevant sites, swapping links and encouraging others to bookmark your site. During this process the value of a short and persistent URL becomes clear. It may also be useful to have a logo with a small piece of HTML available for people to copy and paste onto their site. After your site is released you should try to join industry/subject related hub sites, you may also be able to register it with a number of portals, such as the NGfL [2]. Towards the end of the programme a portal may be developed which will further enhance access to your resources.

Another way of disseminating information about your Web site's arrival is through use of electronic mailing lists. JISCMail [6] host a number of different mailing lists in various subject areas. When writing to mailing lists you should try to tailor your message for the target audience. Don't forget to advertise internally too, such as within your department, University or organisation.

Search Engines

One of the most important ways of increasing awareness of your site is through submission to search engines and directories. The best strategy is to manually submit your key pages to the major search engines (Google, Excite, HotBot, Lycos etc.). It is possible to use a submission application or Web service but these can be fairly unreliable. Finding a link from a search engine home page to the page where you add your URL can often be quite difficult. Search engines page designers frequently move the location of the link, possibly in order to make paying for submission an easier and more appealing prospect. The link may be listed as 'Add URL', 'Add your Web site', 'List with us' or another. When you find the page for free URL submission you may need to give extra details, such as your email and a category for the page you are submitting. For further information on the use of search engines have a look at the Search Engine Watch Web site [7]. This form of promotion should really take place before your launch and may take some time (over a month).

In order to be successfully indexed by the search engine software there are certain areas of Web site that need to be considered.

You should give some thought to the keywords on your Web page. Search engine indexers pick up on two different types of keywords: the meta tags held in the HTML markup of your page and the keywords mentioned in the content of your page.

Metadata in the form of meta tags (information about a Web resource, such as the author, keywords, brief description, etc.) is often used by search engines when indexing and is sometimes provided as a description on a search results page. An example of a few of the meta tags available for use on a Web site is given below:

<meta name="keywords" content="SCRAN, scotland, scottish, scot, gael, scran, alba, past, history, image, identity, scran, ethnography, archaeology, scran, education, school, college, university, museum, gallery">
<meta name="date" content="May, 2001">
<meta name="dc.title" content="SCRAN Web Site">

As you can see from the examples above basic meta tags can be used or information can provided in Dublin Core. It may also be useful to provide alternative spellings and language versions of keywords if relevant.

You should make sure that you include a well-worded title in the <head> block. This will definitely be indexed and is weighted heavily in the results, in general: title words are ranked more relevant than free-text words.

However keywords used in your content are also important. If your site provides access to resources on the River Avon is this mentioned on your page? Are other keywords, such as the counties the river is in, mentioned? How are your keywords positioned? Is there a lists of links, tables or frames that move the valuable keywords further down the page? Make sure that all your graphics have alt tags as some search engines can use image alt tags for indexing. Note that most search engines have technologies that look for spamming so avoid excessive usage of a particular word.

Much relevancy ranking (where your site appears on a search results page) is done by the location and frequency (of keywords) method. Other search engines use the popularity method. This looks at the number of links to a site and the importance of those links, certain links to sites will be weighted. For example if the BBC links to your site this will count for more than a friend's home page. Reviewed sites that are found to be of good quality by directories will also appear higher up a search results page. Unfortunately more recently the most consistent way that you can guarantee that your Web site appears at the top of the search results is by paying.

After marketing your Web site you could check the popularity of your page using which measures how many other sites link to yours. It is also possible to find out if you have been referenced by a search engine. For further information see the article on "Promoting Your Project Web Site" in Exploit Interactive [8]. To check that search engine indexers are visiting your site you can also check the server logs files to see if any robots (like googlebot) have visited your site yet.

Some search engines will have difficulties indexing your page if you use frames, splash screens, javascript, databases or have strange characters (~,*,?) in your URL. Try not to use frames and always offer an HTML alternative to proprietary file formats, such as Flash.


Marketing your project Web site should be an ongoing process. If your site is well designed and functional people will add it to their bookmarks; but reminders about your useful site will not go amiss. Keep people informed of interesting additions to the site, possibly by creating a database of interested users and emailing them whenever substantial changes are made.

Make sure that your Web site gets noticed by combining online and real world marketing and continually mentioning your resources. You need to consistently get more people to your site because 'magnetic marketing' is the best marketing there is. The more people who use your site, the more useful it will become.

Monitor your Web site's usage both qualitatively and quantitatively and adapt your site in line with this feedback. Monitor, evaluate, elevate.

What Next?

What The Funding Body May Offer

The funding body for your cultural hritage project may be able to provide various support services for your project. This can include the following:

Press advice and support on:

Web and publications support such as:

What projects can do


  1. People's Network
  2. National Grid for Learning
  3. Using images of people: photographs, videos and webcams, Hantsweb
  4. Consent form for County Council non-school staff commissioning photography, Hantsweb
  5. Superhighway Safety
  6. JISCMail
  7. Search Engine Watch
  8. Promoting Your Project Web Site, Exploit Interactive, Issue 4, Brian Kelly

Comments On This Document

This section will be used to provide notes on the section, including details of any changes.

2 Dec 2004
Document made available to MLA staff for comments

Income Generation and Sustainability


Commissioned from Harvard Consultancy Services Ltd by UKOLN on behalf of NOF in association with the People's Network.


Projects funded through cultural heritage programmes such as the nof-digitise programme will normally be expected to remain sustainable for at least three years beyond the lifetime of funding. Therefore projects must give consideration to ways of establishing a sustainable basis for development. Although it is a requirement that content funded through the programme must be made available free to users at the point of access, there are a number of ways in which this content can be used to generate income whilst still fulfilling this requirement.

This section is intended to be used as a means of focussing on the issues associated with income generation and sustainability for digitisation projects. The advice given is for guidance and should not be seen as the only solution. It is recommended that each project should be reviewed on its own merits, using these guidelines as a starting point. The paper covers the following range of income generating options available and considers their advantages and disadvantages:

This paper has been written assuming that most projects will be working with a range of digitised content, which includes text, image, video and audio. However, as the most mature area in this sector for revenue generation is that for the digital image, we have focussed more in this area when giving examples.

It is also important to appreciate the difference between sustainability and income generation. The former does not necessarily rely on the latter. For example, an institution could decide that its digital library is a core service and should be maintained and developed from the central budget - particularly as many institutions' customers are coming to expect such digital services.

Finally, a few words on intellectual property rights and copyright. Before considering any of the income generating options, it is important that each institution understand the rights position regarding their collections. Each consortium must tackle this issue in its own way and come to its own agreement with all partners and suppliers of content/images. If there is any doubt about the rights position for a consortium's collection it is strongly recommended that it is not used in any way to generate revenue.

A useful book on rights and related issues, Guide to Copyright for Museums and Galleries, has been produced by Peter Wienand, Anna Booy and Robin Fry, in conjunction with the Museums Copyright Group [1].

The copyright consultant Sandy Norman has published a number of titles covering copyright across a range of libraries in conjunction with the Library Association. More information is available from the Library Association Web site [2].

An excellent paper by the Networked Services Policy Taskgroup covering copyright and the networked environment is available [3].

In addition, the Visual Arts Data Service (VADS) [4] has useful guidelines on good practice for digitisation projects. Digital content can also be deposited with VADS, through both voluntary submissions and strategic alliances. This benefits content providers by providing a long-term archival home for the materials in which they have invested time, effort and money. Providers also benefit from VADS promoting the digital collections and the organisations who created them. There is a licence agreement online [5] that may be useful, although it does not deal with the commercial sale of content.

Target Markets

There are a number of ways in which income can be generated directly from digitised material. Before looking at the specific mechanisms, it is important to understand the target markets available. Generally speaking, there are three main target markets:

The Public

This is a notoriously difficult sector to generate revenue from, especially when using the Internet as a channel to market. It is estimated that as at August 2000, there were over 17.5 million UK users of the Internet, representing almost one fifth of the population [6]. In the short to medium term, this is expected to continue growing at the rate of around 11,000 new users per day [6]. This rate of explosive growth has been greater than the take-up of almost any other technology platform, including radio, TV and telephone.

Usage started to accelerate in 1995, with the largest increases during 1999-2000. As such, it is still very much an immature medium through which to market (As an example, commercial direct telephone services - such as telephone banking and insurance services - only started maturing in the 1990s, 10 or so years after they first came to market and over 115 years after the phone was invented!) It is not expected that the Internet will take anything like this long to mature, but the reality is that it is still a very young medium, particularly for selling.

New business models are still developing and predicting successful models is not easy. Few could have predicted, for example, the success of online auction services, such ebay [7] and qxl [8].

The public are also very nervous of using online commerce, especially when using credit cards. Recent high-profile security scares from major organisations' Web sites have done little to help this.

It should be remembered also that a large percentage of the population still currently do not have Internet access or the knowledge of how to use it and many do not have credit cards. The demographics of the Internet consumer-base are not that of a typical retail or mail order business opportunity. This needs to be considered when reviewing potential business opportunities. However, the Government is committed to providing universal Internet access, and all UK public libraries will be offering public access to the Internet by 2002.

Typical revenue levels generated from sales directly to the public are very much lower than those for commercial sales. Experience of organisations that deliver digital content is that a typical content sale to the public will result in revenue of around £5 - £15 per item. To get a sufficient return on investment, selling in this area may require a high volume of sales per item of content.

Some examples of cultural institutions that sell content online include: The British Museum [9], The Natural History Museum [10], SCRAN [11], and HPAC [12].

Content sales are not the sole source of income into this sector, as there will be opportunities to generate additional revenue from other sources, such as advertising, affiliate programs and sponsorship. These are covered in more detail later in this section.

Finally, any business opportunities in this area will need to be supported by a marketing strategy and related resource and budget.

What does this mean to organisations planning to sell their digital collections?

Currently, direct selling to the public using the Internet is risky and revenue levels are likely to be fairly low. Any revenue plan based primarily around public sales needs to be realistic; detailed cash-flow forecasts should be prepared showing likely sales and revenue figures. There may be value in providing a public-facing sales opportunity as part of a wider offering, as long as it is not the primary source of income.

Commercial Organisations

This sector presents the opportunity to generate the most revenue from the sale of digitised assets. However, it is not an easy route and is one that needs to be considered very carefully.

Some organisations can certainly generate income from the sale of content in this sector. For example many of the leading national museums and cultural institutions have commercial photo libraries that generate substantial revenues including The British Museum [9], Natural History Museum [10], SCRAN [11] and HPAC [12].

To illustrate the potential for business to business content sales in this sector, one cultural organisation, having similar content to a library or museum, sells conventional (non-digital) copies of its photos and transparencies. It does not market the images and relies on word of mouth. In 1998, they generated around £125,000 from the sale of around 5,000 images - mainly to publishers and media organisations for use as book covers, pictures for magazines and advertising. Although this is not a unique example it should be said that this particular organisation has excellent staff and some good collections that are in demand, however it proves a point that revenue can be generated from cultural content.

Few cultural institutions currently have operational business to business sites on the Web. Examples of institutions having their own internal commercial libraries include (note that these are links to the main site and not to a specific commercial service): The Victoria & Albert Museum [13], Science Museum [14], Imperial War Museum [15], Royal Geographical Society [16], Royal Photographic Society [17] and The British Library [18].

However, be very careful when trying to assess the value of your content, as many cultural institutions believe that they are sitting on a gold-mine and this is not always the case. It is all about the real value and saleability of content. Marketing is an important consideration too as the institution highlighted in the illustration above has a reputation and contacts built up over a long period of time that many institutions will not have.

ICT can provide benefits in automating many of the processes associated with meeting customer demand for commercial product.

However, there are several major issues associated with commercial content sales:

What does this mean to organisations planning to sell their digital collections?

To exploit these commercial opportunities institutions need to become, in effect, a commercial content library.

This may not be feasible or desirable for many. However, there are several choices available that could overcome this:

Content sales are not the sole source of income into this sector, as there will be opportunities to generate additional revenue from other sources, such as advertising, affiliate programs and sponsorship which are covered in more detail later in this paper.

Again, it is recommended that detailed and realistic revenue and cash-flow forecasts are created if this is a chosen option.

The Culture And Education Sectors

These sectors provide further opportunities to generate subscription or license revenue. This sector has the demand as well as the infrastructure (in most cases) to use such a service. However, funds to date have been limited and it is unlikely that cultural institutions or education establishments would commit to funding multiple services.

The guidance from the DfEE on the development of the National Grid for Learning in 2000/2001 requires 15% of budgets to be spent on 'developing and providing content' [19]. This is part of a long term strategy to encourage the continuing development of an educational software industry that will provide high quality resources. Schools, LEAs and Regional Broadband Consortia may therefore provide both a market, and also a mutually beneficial source of partnerships. The Regional Broadband Consortia are, in some cases, developing their own digital learning resources, and it may be possible to build long term partnerships which will include the hosting and delivery of digital learning resources [20]. Becta have developed a Curriculum Software Initiative [21] which gives information to support developers of educational software and digital learning resources.

It is this sector that is likely to provide more two-way transactions between p rojects and third parties - cultural and educational organisations probably offer the greatest opportunities for projects and consortia to work collaboratively with them to form longer-term partnerships to develop and deliver Web services.

A very successful and relevant model to consider is that used by SCRAN - the Scottish Cultural Resource Access Network [11]. SCRAN is a searchable resource base of history and culture with photos, objects, artwork, movies and audio. SCRAN has negotiated licensing arrangements through central bodies, such as JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee of the Higher and Further Education Funding Councils) and Local Education Authorities and offers its full service to schools, further and higher education establishments for a license fee, ranging from £60 to £2000 per annum, depending on the type and size of institution. The five-year contract they have negotiated with JISC pays for access from every further and higher education authority. Two thousand schools also have access.

However, the SCRAN model is not just about sustainability, it also covers rights management, IPR issues and how contributor/providers are dealt with. SCRAN's licensing model ensures that the new digitised object remains the Intellectual Property of the owner of the original, while securing for SCRAN a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive licence for its educational use.

SCRAN's approach to rights management includes sophisticated authentication and authorisation, as well as a dynamic watermarking and fingerprinting system, which invisibly encodes into every copy image downloaded, a unique audit trail including the copyright status of the object, who downloaded it, when and on which machine. So downloads of high quality content can be restricted to users in licensed institutions, such as public libraries, and they have the means to police licensed users to discourage unauthorised use of SCRAN content.

What does this mean to organisations planning to sell their digital collections?

To market and sell to potential users effectively in this sector a collaborative approach is recommended. Approaches to schools, further and higher education establishments are best made centrally, through Local Education Authorities and the Regional Broadband Consortia, for example.

Another issue is ensuring that potential users in the education sector are aware of the resources that are available and understand how they might use them to meet their own requirements - in a classroom situation - for example. Projects may consider it worth while to address these issues. This may take the form of simple awareness training, but in some cases could extend to providing training resources, such as manuals or guidelines on how to use the service most effectively.

Main Types Of Income Generation

Essentially there are two main types of income generation for digitised assets on the Internet:

  1. Income directly derived from the digitised material
  2. Other income associated with the publication of digitised material

Income Directly Derived From The Digitised Material

This includes online sales, royalty payments, license fees and subscriptions from the sale or provision of access to the digitised assets.

Sale of content online

This is where the rights to use content is sold online.

Users should be given the opportunity to search, browse and download content. It is recommended that wherever possible, processes connected with the display, download and billing for content should be automated, to minimise impact upon the institutions concerned.

It is important that consideration is given to the management and control of licensing and rights and that appropriate steps are taken to prevent abuse of copyright. This could include a rights management database, encryption, file locking and watermarking.

There are many providers in the market of digital library rights management systems and services. For more information, it is suggested that the mda [22] could be a good starting point as they have a register of technology providers active in the culture sector. Also providers outside of this sector should be considered as digital library and rights management tools are very mature in sectors such as publishing and medicine.

Issues surrounding copyright and licensing are outside of the scope of this section. However further information on IPR can be found in the nof-digitise FAQs [23].

To give a benchmark of likely image sales, commercial photo libraries work on the basis that 5%-10% of their collections will sell every year. The British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA) [24] publishes a recommended scale of fees for image sales. The Tate Gallery has also published its scale of charges on the Web [25].

The advantage of this revenue generating approach is that if an institution has digital assets that are popular, the service can actively promote these to stimulate maximum possible revenue. However, there is a risk in developing a service focusing on generating revenue from the most popular digital assets, as it could 'skew' the service or divert the project from its original aim. Also, more complex processes and systems, especially billing, need to be put in place and the project may need to ensure that it makes a high volume of images available.

Subscription-based services

This is where a subscription fee is charged, allowing access to a library of images. Some sites operate on a multi-tier subscription basis, where basic information is given for free and more detailed information is accessible for a one-off fee or for a regular subscription. The best approach depends on the type of content and site structure. Projects must also be aware that the conditions of funding may require content to be made available free to users at the point of access.

As an example of a subscription-type service, see the Fathom Web site [26], which provides lectures, interviews, online course and trails, for example, from their member institutions - which include The Natural History Museum, Cambridge University Press, the University of Chicago and the New York Public Library.

The advantage of a subscription-based service approach is that the billing process and systems can be simplified, as only a regular subscription is required. It also allows a more regular cash-flow. However, there is a limit to the revenue levels that can be generated (limited by the number of users multiplied by the subscription fee). There is also a need for more behind the scenes sophistication with the underlying technology.

Licensing content to third parties

Another option for the generation of revenue from digital content is through the sale of licenses to third parties, such as commercial digital libraries or software companies producing, for example, educational software or games.

This would typically involve the agreement of a licensing arrangement. The third party would undertake the marketing and distribution of content, and in the case of a software company, repackaging of the digital content for use in a specific commercial product. In exchange, the project would receive a percentage of the sales revenue or a fixed fee for allowing the commercial exploitation of their content.

The leading organisations in this sector for digital images are Corbis [27],Hulton Getty [28] and Bridgeman [29]. For digital textual content see: Lexis-Nexis [30], Reuters [31], Dialog Corporation [32], Newsedge [33] or Ananova [34].

The advantages of this approach are:

The disadvantages of this approach are:

Other Income Associated With The Publication Of Digitised Material

This includes advertising, affiliate programs, sponsorship and merchandising.


Looking at general sites on the Internet, advertising is a principal source of revenue for many commercial Web sites. Indeed, some sites generate sufficient revenue to cover all of their running costs and make a substantial profit. This is particularly true of portal sites such as MSN [35] and Yahoo [36], which provide a range of services and links.

Advertising can take a number of forms. Banner adverts for example, are typically 468 x 60 pixels (16 x 2cm) 72 pixels per inch (ppi) and run across the page and appear on the menu/home pages of Web sites. Brian Kelly's paper Advertising on the network [37], although aimed at options for higher education institutions provides a useful summary.

If you regularly e-mail users, adverts could be incorporated into these messages - offering more revenue potential. This can be quite an effective marketing tool, especially if you hold user information and can target specific user groups with specific mails/adverts. There are data protection and data security issues to consider here of course, and it necessitates user-registration (which may put some people off from using your service). Also, if you are visibly associated with an advertiser or sponsor, users may be suspicious that you may be holding data about them for purposes other than in the context of your project.

The advantage of using advertising to generate revenue is that reasonable revenue generation levels may result.

The disadvantage is that advertising can cheapen a site if done badly, particularly if not relevant or contemporary with the subject matter, so approach with caution. Also, for advertising to be effective, you have to have a defined audience profile which the advertiser wishes to address and you have to be able to quantify the 'throughput' or number of visits to your site - there are Audit Bureau of Circulation [38] approved ways of counting the throughput - and you need to be able to tell the advertiser just exactly what the make-up of your visitor segments are.

Affiliate programs

Another important stream of revenue is through affiliate programs. This is where a site will feature a product or service and provide links to a vendor to supply it. The vendor will pay commission for any products sold. The most common examples are books and CDs - all of the major online bookshops and CD stores offer this sort of service.

The way this works is that after registering with the store, you will have a unique code and access to promotional imagery that you can use on your site. You set up a link to the affiliate site featuring your code and any time someone clicks through, the vendor registers that it has come from your site and credits your account if a purchase follows.

There are several options available, if you set up a simple link from a Web site to the home-page of the book or CD store, most vendors will pay a commission of around 5% on any subsequent purchase made. If you make a link from your Web site to a specific book/CD and this is subsequently purchased, typical commissions of up to 15% can be paid. For an example of an affiliate program see Amazon UK [39].

This could be an important source of revenue for sites and can be targeted more specifically. For example, if a project is featuring a specific period in history or type of collection/information, it could be very relevant to provide links from those pages to a handful of books which provide more information on the subject.

There are other affiliate programs, which will pay if people click through to (usually) a shopping portal or search engine. The revenue levels per click are much lower, for example $0.01-$0.02 per click (most originate in the US) and they can be another potential source of income.

The advantages of the affiliate-based approach are that it is relatively simple to set up and can generate a steady stream of income. From a user's perspective, they will also have access to a broader range of information on the subject matter concerned. A good way to maximise the effectiveness of a range of affiliate programmes and other income generation opportunities is to create a portal, an option which is discussed later in this section.

The disadvantages are that it needs more work to set it up. A considerable amount of research will be necessary to establish the most appropriate products and vendors. Also by engaging affiliate programs, you may be encouraging and creating ways for people to leave your site, rather than stay. Care needs to be taken in page design and layout to prevent or minimise this and to make sure that programs are presented in a way which does not detract from your site.


Sponsorship is another form of revenue, although it is more difficult to obtain and needs time and patience in developing a sustainable strategy. This would normally manifest itself as a payment to the organisation or consortium, in exchange for which, sponsoring organisations would receive a range of benefits such as having their logo and/or adverts featured on the site, a guarantee of a certain customer 'reach' as the service will be available through a given number of outlets, etc. As an example, in some circumstances it may be appropriate to charge Web site designers and/or suppliers to feature their name in the text 'pages designed/made by xyz' or 'powered by abc company' that is included on every page of the project Web site. Think of your pages as your 'virtual real estate', looking at every inch of screen-space as a saleable commodity.

Although this approach is one that can generate reasonable revenue levels it can be difficult to find sponsorship and its use could potentially cheapen a service if a sponsor insists on being featured heavily across a site.


There are also opportunities to offer online shopping and to sell related products through the project Web site. However, there is likely to be a significant cost associated with this as, for example, a display, billing and shipping system will be required to manage transactions. Although it is unlikely to generate significant revenue streams, this option could be useful as part of a broader revenue package. Again, a collective approach is recommend for enabling this and to put the infrastructure in place.

For examples of online shops see The Tate [40], The Smithsonian Institute [41] or The Victoria and Albert Museum shop [42].

The advantages of this approach are that it is relatively straightforward to establish a shop and many institutions will already have merchandising and products which could be sold, although a key issue here is fulfilling and distributing orders - areas which have proved problematic for a number of even well-established retailers. It is important, of course, that such e-commerce opportunities are sensibly related to the project and thus provide a viable business case to justify time and resources invested in their development.


In an earlier section, reference was made to portals - gateways or one-stop sites for information, links, products and services relating to a specific subject or group of individuals. One of the limiting factors for many commercial portals is that they do not have sufficient content themselves and have to strike deals with a number of content providers to provide a viable service. A portal can successfully combine many of the elements mentioned in this paper (advertising, shops, affiliate programs, sale of content and subscription services) into one focused service.

This is one area where cultural heritage applicants have an advantage, in that they are rich in content. Therefore one potential route for applicants - whether consortia, groups of consortia or stand-only partnerships - is to consider the development of a portal. To better illustrate this multi-faceted option, an example is given below for a fictional organisation - The Museums, Archives and Libraries (MALs) of Sandfordshire:

Sandfordshire MALs are engaged in a digitisation program and have generated a large quantity of digital images, text, database records and digital multimedia assets. They have created a Web presence and because of their geographic location, have developed it into a portal aimed at people living in or with an interest in the region of Sandfordshire.

Visitors to the portal enter via an attractive home page. This presents many different options:

This example helps illustrate how a number of methods of revenue generation can be combined into a single service. However, it is important to note that this approach almost certainly will be beyond the reach of individual projects and would only really work if a collaborative approach is taken.

There are currently few examples of these portals in the non-commercial sectors (although this is expected to change). Examples of portals in different sectors include: Portsmouth.web - a portal covering Portsmouth and all it has to offer [43], Microsoft's flagship site [44], which has advertising, links, shops, affiliate programs and content derived from third party sources (see below) and Cumbria - The Lake District [45], which provides tourist information and activities related to the area.

The key is to ensure that there are sufficient levels of visitors to the site and that 'stickiness' is encouraged - this is to ensure that visitors stay longer on the site and keep returning in the future. One effective way of encouraging this is to offer a broad range of additional information and links.

Sources of potential additional content (most of which is free) include:

Type Providers
News Evening Standard (have a good site to which links could be made):
Weather The Met Office (have a local weather page to which links could be made):
Yahoo have local weather pages to which links can be made:
Places of interest Official site of the UK tourist board: could be a useful starting point for identifying attractions.
Travel Network Rail: for train timetables
Link to BAA site for airports (includes latest flight times):
TrafficMaster provides information showing delays, road-works and accidents on major UK roads:
London Transport for tube and bus information:
Entertainment Scoot provides a free utility that can be deployed on a site to allow searching against their database for local restaurants, cinemas, places of interest, etc.:
Yell (Yellow pages on-line) provide a similar free service, but also provide cinema listings:
Time Out: useful entertainment links
NME run an online gig guide for concerts and gigs:
Miscellaneous Mapping information: Mapquest, Global Insight and provide free on-line mapping ( goes down to street level):,,
Air quality: provides localised air quality information

This information is by no means exhaustive, but does give examples of types of services that could be made available.

In Conclusion

When considering ways to sustain projects beyond the initial funding period, it is probably worth considering multiple income streams to generate the maximum possible revenue.

Each project should look at its own individual business needs when developing its business plan and business requirements specification, an approach that is standard practice for IT projects generally. The business plan should include revenue generation and cash-flow forecasts.

It is important that potential solutions, especially IT solutions, should not be considered until this process has been undertaken. Each solution can then be matched against the needs and it may be that one or more of the solutions outlined above are considered appropriate.

Cash-flow and revenue generation forecasts should be realistic, tested wherever possible upon the market and take into account each of the revenue streams.

Again, concerning IPR, before considering any of the income generating options, it is important that each institution understand the rights position regarding the material they are going to use. Each consortium must tackle this issue in its own way and come to its own agreement with all partners and suppliers of content. It is strongly advised that a licensing and rights management system be put in place. Some content might have been created with the permission of third party rights holders, and all of it will be created with public money. We all have a duty of care to protect this. Without an appropriate rights management system, anything put online will be effectively in the public domain and potentially used for the profit of others. Even if a project has established the right to exploit its content, entering into commercial activities may prejudice (future) relationships with content provides who may be reluctant to provide content (on favourable terms) if it is going to be exploited for profit. The New Opportunities Fund expects projects to demonstrate that they have understood this issue and will require successful applicants to indemnify the Fund against any future action over ownership or mis-use of content.

In conclusion then, although content must be provided free at the point of use, there is scope to generate income through exploiting content and services imaginatively, provided that adequate projection is afforded to the IPRs of the content and that a sound business case can be established.


  1. Wienand, P., Booy, A. and Fry, R., Guide to Copyright for Museums and Galleries, Routledge, 2000.
    ISBN: 0415217210.
  2. Library Association Publications
  3. Network Policy Taskgroup Issue Paper
  4. Visual Arts Data Service
  5. VADS License Agreement
  6. Source: NOP Research Group, August 2000
  7. ebay
  8. qxl
  9. The British Museum
  10. Picture Library, Natural History Museum
  11. SCRAN
  12. HPAC
  13. Victoria and Albert Museum
  14. Science Museum
  15. Imperial War Museum
  16. Royal Geographical Society
  17. Royal Photographic Society
  18. British Library
  19. NGfL Standards funding
  20. Regional Broadband Consortia
  21. Curriculum Software Initiative, Becta
  22. mda
  23. FAQs, NOF-digitise Technical Advisory Service
  24. British Association of PictureLibraries and Agencies
  25. Picture Library, The Tate
  26. Fathom
  27. Corbis
  28. Hulton Getty
  29. Bridgeman
  30. ] Lexis-Nexis
  31. Reuters
  32. Dialog Corporation
  33. Newsedge
  34. Ananova
  35. MSN
  36. Yahoo
  37. Advertising on the Network, Kelly, B., VINE, issue 120,
  38. Audit Bureau of Circulation
  39. Amazon UK
  40. Shop Online, The Tate
  41. The Smithsonian Institute
  42. The Victoria and Albert Museum shop
  43. Portsmouth.web
  44. Microsoft's portal
  45. Cumbria - The Lake District