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Reviewed by:
  • Cultural Heritage Information: Access and Management ed. by Ian Ruthven, G. G. Chowdhury
  • Matthew Ducmanas
Cultural Heritage Information: Access and Management, ed. Ian Ruthven and G. G. Chowdhury. Chicago: ALA Neal-Schuman, 2015. 253pages. $110.00 (ISBN 978-0-8389-1347-5)

Libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions have been rapidly digitizing their collections, significantly impacting the ways we preserve and access our cultural memory. Though facilitating access to cultural heritage materials through the creation of digital surrogates is not a new endeavor, the constant advances in information and communication technologies require continual reassessment of these efforts. Cultural Heritage Information: Access and Management effectively explores the multifaceted challenges institutions face in creating, maintaining, and providing access to our digital cultural heritage.

Editors Ian Ruthven and Gobinda Chowdhury have made substantial contributions to this field. Their comprehensive grasp of the complexity of digital heritage collections is reflected in the careful selection of material for this volume, which contextualizes the creation of these resources while exploring current and future research trends. Comprised of 11 chapters by 18 authors, the collection benefits from a holistic approach to the topic by offering selections that extend beyond the technical aspects of the digitization process to include chapters on the organization, access, sustainability, and use of our digital cultural heritage. The range of topics includes digitization practices, use of the collections in the digital humanities, metadata standards and controlled vocabularies, information system architecture design, usability and user engagement, and the sustainability of these practices.

Ruthven and Chowdhury’s collection provides a number of compelling case studies examining the range of theoretical issues under consideration and indicating the trajectory of contemporary research. For example, a chapter on the role of metadata in digital collections by Shigeo Sugimoto, Mitsuharu Nagamori, Tetsuya Mihara, and Tsunagu Honma argues for the importance of metadata interoperability to enable the wider accessibility and long-term sustainability of our digitized resources. The argument for interoperability, the ability of a system to work with other systems without special effort on the part of the user, is supported by a description of their research into exploiting existing metadata schemas to produce a schema hybrid for the description of Japanese manga. The case study provides [End Page 650] a framework and practical example of the potential of linked data within a cultural heritage context.

Another strength of this collection is its focus on social and sustainability issues, which are less frequently examined within the literature on digital cultural heritage information. Gobinda Chowdhury’s chapter on the policies and procedures of digitization projects calls attention to a number of social aspects requiring consideration when choosing what to digitize and how to provide access to the collections. These include concerns regarding overly restrictive intellectual property rights, uneven access to digitized materials resulting from the digital divide and gaps in information literacy, and the complexities of dealing with indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage materials. Chowdhury’s final chapter examines the issue of economic, social, and environmental sustainability within this context. He presents a compelling argument that the long-term viability of these projects requires sustainable practices that ensure continued funding and an ongoing focus on user needs, as well as accounting for and reducing the environmental impact of digital collections. These issues also surface throughout several other chapters and are refreshing to see in a general introduction to the field.

The theoretical context and practical grounding this volume provides are a valuable addition to the literature of the field and should benefit its intended audience of researchers, practitioners, and students. While not shying away from technical language, Cultural Heritage Information remains accessible to those without extensive background knowledge on the subject and manages to provide useful insights for those already working closely with digital collections. By thoughtfully juxtaposing issues often treated separately, Cultural Heritage Information successfully reveals crucial relationships between the content, organization, access, and sustainability of our digitized cultural heritage.

Matthew Ducmanas
Special Collections Cataloging Librarian
Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 650-651
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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