Kas digitaalne infosüsteem ühtlustab teabeasutusi: muuseumide, arhiivide ja raamatukogude konvergents
Keywords:libraries, archives, museums, convergence, heritage
Abstract: Does the digital information system unify information institutions: convergence of museums, archives, and libraries?
Today’s information society is highly dependent on digital information and its management. Since the invention of computers in the 1940s and 1950s, we have reached a point where digital technology affects every citizen of the developed world every day. Information institutions, including libraries, archives, and museums (LAM), among others, ensure the functioning of information systems. These institutions are cultural mechanisms by which a meaningful and ordered social world is created and maintained. Convergence has become an important subject in the field of LAM since the 1980s. In short, this refers to the convergence of institutions and the possible merging of functions. Above all, the development of the digital information environment drives convergence. More and more common digital cultural heritage platforms (e.g., e-Varamu, Europeana) are being created, and data are being shared.
The convergence of LAMs has been a research topic since the 1930s, but a more serious interest in the convergence of LAM institutions arose with the wider adoption of digital information. A common argument in favour of convergence was the recognition that in the digital environment, it is no longer important to the user whether the information that interests them is located in a library, archive, or museum. The literature on the convergence of LAMs is extensive, demonstrating the subject’s importance for both the memory institutions themselves and society at large. In general, the attitude in the LAM convergence literature is positive, although a number of researchers are very critical of convergence, emphasising the fact that its proponents are mostly politicians and cultural organisers, not so much the institutions themselves. In this article, I focus on how digital technologies have changed the role of libraries, archives, and museums in the social information system and determine the factors promoting and hindering convergence. I highlight the broader societal processes Associated with convergence. These are aspects that have been overshadowed in most of the work published so far.
Two developments are discernible in the development of information organisation in information institutions. Firstly, there is regulation, standardisation, and rationalisation of information organisation. The other development is the increasing diversification and general democratisation of information organisation, and the ever-wider involvement of people. Both of these developments are largely driven by the development of digital technologies. The first tendency is primarily related to practical and internal developments in technology, since digital technology also defines certain workflows and organisational structures and culture. However, the second developmental direction is related to change in the wider social and political environment, which in fact is also directly related to digital technologies, for example the facilitation of information exchange and overall networking due to their influence.
Information institutions have for some time no longer been focused only on collections. In the last couple of decades, the main focus has already been on users. Of course, such development has not been easy or smooth. The purposeful political development of information society has been an ongoing process since at least 1998 in Estonia. In that year, the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament) adopted the first basic document of the country’s information policy, ‘Principles of Estonian Information Policy’. This Document stipulated the principles from which the state should proceed when making political decisions regarding the development of information society. Among other things, the document set the goal that the country’s information policy must help preserve and develop the Estonian language and culture. The Council of Preservation of Cultural Heritage (KSN), which acted as an advisory body to the Ministry of Culture, was involved in the preservation of cultural heritage, including digital cultural heritage, in memory institution LAMs. They based their activities on Estonian national cultural heritage as a whole, regardless of its affiliation or form of ownership.
The Council’s emphasis was on the convergence of LAM memory institutions and the societal and cultural aspects of information use. As issues related to digital cultural heritage became more and more important, in 2003, the Ministry of Culture prepared the ‘National Strategy for the Digital Preservation of Estonian Cultural Heritage 2004–2007’. In 2004, the Digital Preservation Council was established at the Ministry. Subsequent development plans related to digital cultural heritage (Digital Cultural Heritage 2007–2010, 2011–2016, 2015–2020) increasingly focused on digitisation and reuse of heritage, and new services. The convergence themes emphasised by the Council of Preservation of Cultural Heritage were also not developed further. However, it is definitely worth pointing out that in the field of digitisation, good cooperation and coordination of activities between memory institution LAMs were achieved. Current activities in the field of digital culture are clearly aimed only at digitisation, and a real turn to user-centeredness is still being planned.
The use of digital technologies alone does not necessarily make LAM institutions more similar and cannot be the only and main reason for their convergence. On the other hand, the networking and cooperation of various information institutions have also become an important value in the altered social conditions. One of the most important drivers of convergence is definitely the turn to user-centricity, along with the desire to increase the number of visitors. Certainly, in the case of convergence, the local context, and in memory institutions the history of the institutions and the established organisational culture must be considered. There is certainly no single convergence model suitable for all institutions. It must be considered that each specific situation is unique. Standardisation gives rise to the danger that the uniqueness of each organisation may possibly be overlooked – it is described on some general level, but that which is peculiar, unique, and does not fit in with the norm is pushed aside. On the one hand, standardisation is beneficial because it makes collections easier to manage and use, but on the other hand, diversity is again reduced.
In the case of convergence, functions should be considered separately from institutions and, if necessary, ways should be found to reconcile and organise them according to the requirements of the new digital environment.