Collaborative Spaces and Dissemination Tools (Art History)

It is clear that researchers now have more ways than ever before of reaching out to their respective communities and receiving feedback. Wider adoption of voice over IP telephony systems such as Skype, Instant Messenger and iChat clearly create new possibilities for collaborative work whilst the increasing prevalence of wiki and blog based initiatives for projects will undoubtedly help researchers to formulate new modes of working. The model of collaboration that has always been a hallmark of scientific research, with teams of staff working towards a shared goal, may now have more applicability to arts and humanities researchers in the context of resources and collections of articles being amassed in shared spaces, with overall authorship being difficult to ascertain. Whether this is more or less significant for art historians than for researchers working in other fields is arguable but it will have significance if the discipline is to retain technological credibility in comparison with other subject areas.

Art historians are widely reported to rely on ad hoc methods of acquiring images, most commonly by using Google Image search but also by means of their own scanner and camera equipment. Whilst this is undoubtedly convenient for the scholar in the short term, it has lead to a situation where a vast number of images are sitting on hard drives and file servers with almost no visible metadata attached to them. Even where organisations have managed to collate their resources into collections, there can still be problems with ensuring that those archives are cross-searchable and compatible with other complementary sources of information. The recent Community-Led Image Collections report (www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/CLIC_Report.pdf) recommends using RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and RDF (Resource Description Framework) methods as practical interim measures in situations where the use of more comprehensive systems of cataloguing are deemed too onerous to implement. The principle of RSS feeds and of RDF data, require data to be entered in XML format and as such, will ensure that owners of information will at least be giving their data a minimum standard of integrity and compatibility in relation to other more rigorous systems of classification and data entry.

Practically speaking, it is of course difficult to make any kind of metadata entry a high priority for academics whose principle task is to exploit the resources they have discovered rather than simply describe them, probably for the benefit of others rather than themselves. The promotion of less formally strategic tools, such as IP telephony, and the use of blogs and wikis may be a way of changing this mindset however. The point of a collaborative community and the ‘gift economy’ principle that underpins that cohesion may increase pressure upon individuals to more actively offer up information about the resources they have acquired. As with all sharing networks, the aims are not ultimately altruistic or selfish; one expects to get back as much as one puts in.

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