Archives & Museum Informatics








last updated:
October 7, 2014 2:55 PM

Unifying our cultural memory: Could electronic environments bridge the historical accidents that fragment cultural collections?

in Information Landscapes for a Learning Society, Networking and the Future of Libraries 3, 1998. and presentation at UK Office of Library Networking Conference, July 1998.

David Bearman and Jennifer Trant, Partners, Archives & Museum Informatics, USA

(Section 2)

Intellectual Barriers

Actors in the Discovery and Retrieval Process

In a December 1994 seminar at the Getty Art History Information Program (subsequently renamed the Getty Information Institute) involving staff, consultants and members of the CIMI project, a structural model of the research process was developed, and articulated by Bearman, which represents the universe of information discovery, retrieval and use as consisting of three agents: 1) users, 2) repositories, and 3) reference resources.1

Click for full sized image

The information discovery and retrieval process is a dialogue between these actors. Users formulate queries in their own terms, at their own level of granularity and with the preconceptions, capabilities and limitations of their own uses in mind. They put their queries to repositories aggregators of material, which have assembled collections of varying degrees of thematic or intellectual coherence, and where holdings are catalogued in a manner that best supports the mission and administrative requirements of each institution. Often, repositories operate with a different frame of reference, that does not conform in terminology, granularity or functionality to the requirements of the user.

Reference Resources, including secondary and tertiary literature provide one a way to bridge the different historical and administrative perspectives of holding institutions. If the end-user receives a less than adequate response from the repository and is serious enough to continue researching, he is likely to turn to the secondary and tertiary literature in order to find other facts, concepts or terms, possibly at different levels of granularity, that might better match the cataloguing practices of the repositories. Thesauri, indexes, citations and bibliographic tools, biographies, gazetteers, and other contextualizing resources contain additional terminology and references that can be employed in a follow-up query.

Armed with the most complete set of relevant terminology and context, the user may still find query results less than satisfactory. Often, the correspondences between the user's mental model of the structures of the data, and the data structures implemented in each repository are imperfect. Ideally, repositories could map their view of the world to a common data model, through which the user's query would be translated to the repository and the response translated to the user. However, models may not map well: specific information available from the sources may not be known to the user. And, those aspects of the sought for evidence which are relevant to the user may not have been described in the repository as a consequence of its cataloging practices. Each may be impeded by different missing data.

NEXT: Purposes of the Actors and their Consequences

PREVIOUS: Unifying our cultural memory

Informatics: The interdisciplinary study of information content, representation, technology and applications,
and the methods and strategies by which information is used in organizations, networks, cultures and societies.