|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||10. Nr.||August 2002|
In recent years, interest in international cooperation has found its expression in the spread of cultural networks. As stated by Simon Mundy in the report, "The Context and the Structure of European Cultural Networks," today networks dominate the way cultural professionals operate, bringing together people pursuing common interests, which require them to deal with a wider array of institutions and officials than ever before. Networks vary in form, from technical networks such as the Internet to different forms of associations of professionals, but very often these two unite to form different virtual networks. The impact that new information technologies and Internet have made on all aspects of our society as well as on the cultural field has been remarkable. It has changed the way people work and get information they need. The Internet, as a convenient medium for networking, has been used by many cultural networks and virtual platforms for national culture. The integration of the Internet with information management tools such as databases is presently well developed, enabling better dissemination of information to the intended users.
I would like to introduce you to the efforts that the Culturelink Network is making in developing a network-based information system for supporting international cultural cooperation.
It is possible to claim that in any database development business getting new and updating existing data is the biggest issue that will mark the success or failure of any attempt to establish such a tool. Although the chosen model and structure of data and the chosen tool for its implementation will determine the possibilities for managing data, it is of crucial importance to build a system that offers an easy and efficient way of acquiring new data and provides users with the capability of updating. In this respect the Internet has opened up some new possibilities.
The scope of the data represents an important element in determining the accessibility of information and the possibility of updating. If the database keeps track of any subjects that are connected in real life with the database organizer (such as networks with their members), it will be somewhat easier to get the information from them. Still it is very important to provide target users with a tool for easy management of the information system.
The Culturelink Network was established in 1989 with the idea of enhancing the information flow and cooperation among the existing cultural networks.(1) Being an international network with a wide range of interests, it was crucial for Culturelink to organize its information support in a way that would provide efficient support for its networking activities and that would provide the Culturelink team with the mechanism for easy updating of the system. Presently Culturelink has about 1000 members (networks, institutions and individual members) from all continents. The members are encouraged to actively participate in networking activities and exchange of information by providing information about their activities and projects. Culturelink activities are quite diverse, and they include publishing of the Culturelink review, management of the web site, database development, organization of conferences, research, etc. All of these activities result in some form of information that needs to be communicated to our members. The Culturelink web page (www.culturelink.org) is the central place, where all gathered information is communicated or linked. It is crucial that users have the possibility of submitting their information in some simple way and also that all information resources accessible through the web can be searchable by different criteria and accessed from different access points. This is especially important if we want to allow our users to contribute their information into particular on-line information resources.
In order to channel existing information in an efficient way, the Culturelink Network has set up several information services for its members and cooperation partners, the most important ones being the Culturelink review, the Cultural Development Database and the Cultural Policy Database. All of the above-mentioned information resources were first developed as local systems and later transferred to the Web as Culturelink's response to the constant growth of the network's membership and the evident need for quicker and more reliable communication between Culturelink members and the network's focal point.
The Cultural Development Database has been developed to fulfill the need for an efficient tool for collecting, organizing and disseminating information about cultural organizations from around the world.(2) It allows searching by various criteria, facilitating printouts of selected data to be published in the form of a Directory, as well as experimental access through the Culturelink Web pages. The database was first set up as a local database, maintained and updated by the Culturelink team. However, as the amount of information flowing into the Culturelink Network has grown continuously, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain it. At the same time, with the growth of the Internet, the need arose for a reliable source of information in the field of cultural development and policy that would help users find information on the Internet quickly and efficiently.
The Cultural Policy Database is a textual database developed as an integral part of the long-term IMO project entitled Current State and Trends in Cultural Policy and Life in UNESCO Member States. This includes bibliographical and referral data on the direction of cultural policies, administrative and institutional structures, financing and legislation, cultural industries, etc.
These databases and the Culturelink review serve as the core of Culturelink's information system. Both databases have been developed at the request of UNESCO, and they reflect both Culturelink's and UNESCO's needs.
As Culturelink works in the area of cultural development (which, if taken in the broad sense of the word is a rather wide area), the main issue in constructing the database dealing with the field of culture was the complexity and diversity of the area and consequently of the database model and the classifications used. Unlike business information systems, which usually have defined set of parameters that are the same for all subjects described in database, the databases in the cultural field have to describe subjects that have many particularities that should be recorded in the system. In the case of the Cultural Development Database, after analyzing the area and designing the model, we had over 90 different entity types, half of which were the fundamental ones. This is quite a complex structure, and in order to maintain it, it was necessary to be familiar with the system model and the classifications. For that reason the updating and management of the database were done by the Culturelink team.
Another type of modeling might prove to be more suitable for databases in the field of culture, namely meta-models that do not have very rigid structure but rather allow a more flexible way of recording information in the database. We have been considering redesigning the system, based on a meta-structure that would allow having different structures for different types of subjects described in the database. Finally, we have decided against it, and instead we have restricted the scope of the database to the parts that were most frequently consulted, as we felt that ultimately such efforts would not be justified. In addition, we have been considering merging the two existing databases into one integrated system and making it interactive.
The static and dynamic content of the Culturelink WWW offers access to information and news about the Culturelink Network, its current and past research activities, the Culturelink database system, the Network's various publications and announcements of current international events, meetings and conferences worldwide. An issue that remains to be further improved in the future is interconnecting the mentioned database(s) with the related information available through the Culturelink website. The Culturelink review (and its on-line version) brings announcements of upcoming events, while the database describes more permanent profiles of the mentioned institutions.
Up to now the mentioned databases have been entirely dependent on the Culturelink staff for their maintenance and updating. Further plans for the development of these two information systems call for their integration into one system called CULTURELINK Database on Cultural Development and Policy. The new system would not start from scratch but would rather be built on the already existing Cultural Development and Cultural Policy databases, benefiting from their existing rich information base and their established reputation on the Internet. The idea is to develop an interactive database that would allow on-line updating by the users themselves.
The aim of the planned CULTURELINK Database on Cultural Development and Policy is to enhance communication and cooperation among professionals working in different sectors of the arts and culture on an international level, by providing them with information about possible cooperation partners. The system will provide a mechanism for seeking as well as offering information needed for the establishment of cultural cooperation. This on-line interactive database seeks to give equal opportunity of promotion to cultural organizations regardless of their country of origin. At the same time, it also aims to analyze and make available the cultural policies of the UNESCO member states, to observe the changes taking place, and to point out the tendencies of cultural life and cultural development. Its goal is to provide a solution to the need for access to relevant cultural policy and development information by 'mapping' the field and linking the institutions and agencies whose activities are of significance to the cultural field.
The vision of this project is to build a reliable on-line, interactive source of high quality information, which would be of benefit to the cultural policy makers, administrators and other professionals in the field of culture - a unique place, where it will be possible to find cooperation partners, as well as to gain insights into the cultural resources of different countries and their cultural policy.
The planned integrated Culturelink on-line information system has the following objectives:
To achieve these aims, it is necessary to restructure the existing Cultural Development and Cultural Policy databases, transferring them to new technology, which can allow the building of an on-line interactive database. We plan to build this new system in several steps, ensuring the rapid attainment of first results, while at the same time maintaining the consistency of the overall information system.
This database is aimed at cultural professionals, who, by providing data about their organizations, will indirectly provide the content for the cultural policy makers and administrators who will be using the database as a source of information for assessing, analyzing and developing different cultural policies.
The described example of the Culturelink information system is fully integrated into the Culturelink's web services and demonstrates the benefits that the Internet has brought to a field of culture. Via the Internet, news about the work conducted by the Culturelink Network itself and its members as well as announcements of other events in the field of cultural development are freely accessible from around the world at any given moment. The Network benefits from modern technology, which facilitates communication between its members and speeds up the flow of relevant information on cultural development and cultural policies. Through its Internet activities, the Culturelink Network hopes to strengthen research networks and capacities by sharing the available data more equitably worldwide, forging new tools, innovative approaches and alternative alliances at local, national, regional and international levels.
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(1) More information about the Culturelink Network can be found at www.culturelink.org
(2) For more information about the structure, scope and development of the Cultural Development Database please see: A. Uzelac: Culturelink: A New Medium for Cultural Information, published in: Dynamics of Communication and Cultural Change: The Role of Networks (proceedings from the First World Culturelink Conference), (ed.) Biserka Cvjeticanin, Zagreb, IMO, 1996.