Belinda Reich

Technology Trends in Information Organizations

This post will identify two technology trends that will impact the Curatorial Sections within the Collection Branch at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA).

The Curatorial Sections are a section of the Collection Branch, and is joined by the Preservation and Technical Services Section, and the Collection Stewardship Section within this Branch. Within the Curatorial Sections are three areas of expertise: Film, Documents and Artefacts (FDA), Sound and Broadcast and Networked Media, and Indigenous Connections.

There are four main functions of the Curatorial Sections; developing the collections, managing the collections, interpretation of the collections, and building access to the collections. There is an acknowledgement that some of these functions are closely aligned to other sections and branches, and as such, an agency-wide approach to adopting new technologies and methods is needed.

The NFSA Draft Strategic Plan 2014-15 to 2016-17 [both publications have been removed from the web. The 2016-2020 publication is available] has provided forward guidance for the sections, branches, and the agency as a whole. Guiding the agency is five Key Principles of Engagement:

  • Principle 1 – A ‘Living’ Archive - For Everyone
  • Principle 2 – Leader in the Digital Environment
  • Principle 3 – The Creators’ Archive
  • Principle 4 – Indigenous Connections
  • Principle 5 – Sustainable Partnerships

For the Curatorial Sections to adhere to the Principles of Engagement, and the Collection Policy, the section must assess their position in relation to the rapid technology changes in the coming five years. The section understands the need to rapidly digitize its collection, whilst also monitoring where technology trends are heading, to enable effective delivery within budgetary and technological constraints.

Again, the Strategic Plan identifies key needs for “capacity-building” in:

  • Motion picture film digitisation
  • Collection systems (including Media Asset Management development)
  • Development of private-public partnerships for mass digitization
  • Systems development for making collections discoverable and re-usable
  • Advocacy for legislative reform and strategic business case development.

To achieve these goals and needs, the Curatorial Sections staff must also align their “appreciation of the makeup and content of the national audiovisual collection, be able to interpret and understand the collection strengths and weaknesses, apply well-informed and considered judgement to selection decisions, and manage a range of formats."

To address the needs of digitization, collections systems and discoverability, the NFSA has targets in place for accessioning into the media asset management program, Mediaflex. Additionally, the NFSA undertakes “metadata mapping to other established schemas such as Dublin Core, MODS and METS and is also able to make its catalogue records available via an extensible mark-up language (XML) export, or an application programming interface (API). Whilst technology renders the collection increasingly accessible, the quality of information in its catalogue records remains a key focus for the NFSA."

This report will identify two technology trends which will impact the Curatorial Sections, and provide recommendations for implementing activities as a result of the trends. First, the trend of Open Data will be discussed. Second, Web 2.0 tools.

Open Data

The first of the two technology trends affecting the NFSA going into the next five years is Open Data (written by Mia Ridge) and Linked Open Data (LOD). Open Data is multifaceted, but generally within the context of an audiovisual archive, it widely refers to being open to the public with the associated data of the archive’s collection (metadata.) LOD is then the conclusion of linking this Open Data.

For Open Data to be useful, Ridge states that the metadata must be “made available for use in a machine-readable format under an open licence." Essentially, there is a technical aspect that needs to be addressed, as well as a copyright aspect to Open Data.

Open Data can be released from an organisation via bulk datasets on a website, or, as is more popular with cultural institutions, via an Application Programming Interface (API), which allow the user to select portions of datasets.

As Keir Winesmith and Anna Carey explain, an API “is a set of instructions that specify how two software programs should communicate with each other." The purpose of an API is to allow access to an organisation's data for developers and researchers to create new knowledge, services and products.

The technical aspects of LOD include a five star deployment scheme formulated by Tim Berners Lee. The aim is to provide data with five stars:

  • 1 Star: Available on the web (whatever format) but with an open licence, to be Open Data
  • 2 Stars: Available as machine-readable structured data (e.g. excel instead of image scan of a table)
  • 3 Stars: As (2) plus non-proprietary format (e.g. CSV instead of excel)
  • 4 Stars: All the above plus, Use open standards from W3C (RDF and SPARQL) to identify things, so that people can point at your stuff
  • 5 Stars: All the above, plus: Link your data to other people’s data to provide context

LOD makes Open Data interoperable, which is the goal of the Semantic Web. Open Data and LOD are part of the greater trend of the Semantic Web, which organises LOD using Resource Description Frameworks (RDF) to achieve machine interoperability of datasets.

For Open Data to be truly open and usable - especially in the context of LOD and the Semantic Web - the data must be released with a clear rights statement. The ideal license states that the metadata is Public Domain and can be used by anyone for any purpose. Attributions licenses are the next best, although involve more action by the user. While these are still good options, it can create doubt around the legality of the license for a user.

Web 2.0

The second technology trend to note is the use of Web 2.0 tools. This includes social media and user-generated content, which assists in making the web a highly interactive multimedia space.

These tools make delivering archives and collections to an audience relatively simple - and dynamic. The use of networked web platforms is well understood by galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM), and many use multiple streams of media to reach their audience.

There can be a tendency for some organisations to not grasp the full potential of these tools. Engagement of an audience is a time consuming aspect of social engagement, and it is easy to fall into use of the tools in a more broadcast manner, than interactive. To fully grasp the potential of Web 2.0, it is important to understand the concept of participatory culture.

Participatory culture has its roots in the postmodern ideas of deconstructing grand narratives and the rejection of institutional authority. This has had a great impact on how GLAM organisations view their collections, themselves and their audience. Audiences increasingly engage with organisations via digital pathways, and expect to participate in the “making of meaning." This can be achieved purely by digitally means, or in the case of the ‘maker movement,’ physically. The construction of meaning tends toward elements of collaboration, interaction, networking and sharing.

The trend of Web 2.0 tools has been with us for over ten years now, and going forward, mastering these dynamics, which underpin the technology, will be key for driving their use within an organisation. The design aspects of Web 2.0 is another area for future consideration, and to be thought through with any participatory plans - most importantly User Experience (UX). UX is concerned with the design of online interactions, and how that design enables an effective and efficient experience for the end user. 


To continue fulfilling the NFSA’s Key Principles of Engagement, and for the Curatorial Section to deliver their remit of developing, managing, interpreting, and providing access to the archive collection, the Section has many tools to consider, albeit in a budgetary and technological constrained environment.

Within the Collections Branch, metadata mapping is underway to have the data available for use in an Application Programming Interface (API). While there is searchable catalogues on the NFSA website, the data cannot presently be accessed via an API. NSFA is also currently consolidating various catalogues into the MediaFlex system.

Capacity building is a key area of development in achieving many of the aspects of the two technology trends. Mass digitisation of the collection is needed, as is systems development for asset management and outward facing digital discoverability.

When speaking of digital discovery, it is important to remember that more than 90 percent of the NFSA archive is under copyright protection. While this does not apply to Open Data, the hindrance this has on possible plans for use of archival content with Web 2.0 tools is very large. This highlights how important Open Data can be for an organisation like the NFSA, by providing a unique access point to the collection where other access points are blocked.

The nature of the participatory culture that Web 2.0 tools has accelerated has implications for the role of curator within an archival organisation. ‘Archives 2.0’ has been described as a “fundamental shift in perspective, to a philosophy that privileges the user and promotes an ethos of sharing, collaboration, and openness." This is a challenge to the traditional manner in which curators have engaged their archives. It suggests that for curators to provide access and interpretation in the future, they must see themselves as a participant also. They must understand how to creatively engage their users, not audience. They must also understand how to use the digital tools at their disposal to promote participatory actions around their collection.


With data mapping and capacity-building already underway, the opportunities to implement Open Data, and making it Linked Open Data compliant, are well placed. It is recommended that an Application Programming Interface (API) - with a Public Domain license - be made available via the NFSA website.

While Open Data is traditionally not considered a part of how a curator develops, manages, interprets, and provides access to an archive collection, within the digital economy, data is a new building block, and as such, curators have an obligation to develop and provide access to it.

As an Australian governmental institution charged with administering parts of a nation's history and memory, the data contained within the collection should be made free and open to the Australian public. With the exponential growth in media content production - and digitization projects - it is impossible for a handful of curators to interpret it all. Providing developers, researchers and the public with access to an API to find new interpretations within the data is needed.

API’s can be found in some instances in Australian GLAM institutions, such as the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, and Trove, the National Library of Australia’s online database aggregator. It should be noted that the data is not available with a Public Domain license, and has restrictions on commercial use.

Examples of API’s made available which are truly Open, with Public Domain licenses are more commonly found in Europe and the USA. Europeana is a digital cultural heritage aggregator that upholds the tenets of Open Data.

The Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York City makes available an API that is licensed Public Domain. A user of the data has blogged about his experience of using the museums data, including the quality of the data. The amount of time and effort the blogger takes to improve the data is a good example of the stewardship users feel towards Public Domain data.  

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) holds workshop session, or ‘hackathons,’ to encourage creative use of their API, and to display final projects.

Possibilities to explore could include the NFSA organising ‘hackathons’ within computer science, and art and design departments at educational institutions. Organizing ‘hackathons’ can enhance discoverability and access to the API, and the archives as a whole, as well as provide new ‘living,’ shareable user generated content, whilst tapping into the ‘maker movement.’

There are also opportunities for Curatorial Sections staff to interpret the collection by setting challenges for ‘hackathon’ participants. metaLAB, a networked culture research unit at Harvard University, provides research into the creative possibilities of Open Data. Based on a workshop conducted in 2014, metaLAB have released a ‘field guide’ to working with Open Data in a creative capacity. The guide provides an excellent starting point for ideas on how to use Open Data, including the challenges of implementation.  

To create a ‘living’ and ‘creators’ archive and be a leader in the digital environment, as the NFSA’s Key Principles of Engagement states, the Curator Sections - in conjunction with the Collections Branch, and the Strategy and Engagement Branch - need to work towards providing enhanced online access and interaction.

It is well understood that the traditional broadcast, authoritative voice of cultural institutions is no longer the desired convention. User Experience (UX) and participatory action is now needed. The NFSA’s website is currently not customizable, nor are there any apps available for mobile or tablet devices. These are areas where the NFSA can look to innovative practices.

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is a Government of Canada agency, which has produced and distributed audiovisual content since 1939, and as such has a large archive. While different than the NFSA archive in that the NFB retains copyright of a large amount of content produced, their use of Web 2.0 tools is relevant to how the GLAM industry is moving with the technology trends, and where NFSA needs to catch-up.

The NFB website is customisable by offering a login, and renders the content sharable and embeddable. Login’s also allows an organisation access to more data to monitor how users are interacting with the content by anonymously aggregating the data. There are also mobile and streaming device apps available for flexible user viewing, and to interact with select content.

It is recommended that a move towards providing a customizable login website and app would be beneficial to providing better discoverability and access. Due to the nature of the NFSA archive containing very little copyright free content, a way forward may be to consider if the 10% that is copyright free would make an acceptable starting point. Over time, the hope is to make copyright material available online with a payment system in place, much like the NFB makes purchases online possible.

The possibilities for online services increases as more of the NFSA collection items are not in copyright. The Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands has an innovative online service to select items from their collection to either print, arrange digitally, or download the file to manipulate the image, with limitations on commercial use.

As the digital economy grows, NFSA must decide whether access is core to the organisation, or a peripheral element. For the Curatorial Sections, the trend of Open Data, Web 2.0 and a digital core may mean a transformation of their authoritative position and the role they play within the organisation.

Originally written as an academic report written for the Digital Environment course, a part of the Information Studies degree at Charles Sturt University.

Header Photo Credit: Wonderlane, licensed under CC by 2.0

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