4. Europäisches Bielefeld Kolloquium - Bibliotheken und Verlage als Träger der Infomationsgesellschaft

New Services for the End-User: the Scottish SCRAN Project

Bruce Royan

With the rise of the Internet as one of the dominant means of information gathering in the late '90s, Libraries, Museums and other cultural institutions need to develop networked services aimed at the End-user if they are to retain their relevance in the new millennium.

The replacement of the online intermediary by the end-user is part of a trend that has produced supermarket shopping, hole-in-the-wall banking, and student-centred learning; the intention of each is a felicitous combination of increased throughput, consumer empowerment and lower unit costs.

The design of any end-user information service has to take into account what the end-user wants from their information: they want it easy, they want it one-stop and they want it now.

A supermarket that needed a User Manual would soon go out of business. The availability of information service functions must be obvious, and their use must be intuitive, otherwise they will not be used at all.

Similarly, the end-user is not particularly concerned at the accidents of fate that led to the information they seek residing in public library 'a' rather than university library 'b' or perhaps museum 'c ' or archive 'd'. Ideally, information services must be able to support searching between institutions and access domains.

Finally, our end-user is generally seeking information per se, not a physical location where such information may reside. The market is increasingly for services providing on-demand access to digitised images and machine-readable text.


One such service is the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network. SCRAN is building an end-user multimedia resource base of library, archive and museum material, for the teaching and celebration of human history and material culture in Scotland. Although founded by major Scottish cultural institutions, their representation on the SCRAN Board is balanced by an equal number of representatives from the education and training sectors, in an effort to ensure that the development of SCRAN is user-needs-driven, and not provider-led.

SCRAN has funding until 2001 of some 15 million pounds sterling, half of it from the UK Millennium Commission and half from Contributors, largely in the form of intellectual property rights. In essence, SCRAN is in a position to fund the digitisation and captioning of images and other multimedia assets, in exchange for a non-exclusive licence to make them available for educational use. In this way, SCRAN expects to build a resource base of 1.5 million text records and 100,000 multimedia resources.

SCRAN and Metadata

SCRAN is providing access to the resources of libraries, archives, museums, art galleries, archaeological corpora etc, each with their own vocabularies and cataloguing conventions. It would be fatuous to try to change these domain standards, but in order to support end user cross-domain access, we have adopted the Dublin Core set of metadata elements, to provide a unified interface to all the different sorts of objects SCRAN is concerned with. SCRAN is therefore acting as a metadata repository, holding pointers to its own digitised resources of built heritage and museum objects in the material world, to detailed, domain-specific records in other databases, to appropriate web pages, and to other subject gateways.

This metadata is held in what are known as SCRAN Basic Records. SCRAN Full Datasets consist of a SCRAN Basic Record (perhaps enriched with further indexing), plus a multimedia resource (flat or 3D image, movie or sound clip, animation, PDF, Virtual Reality object or whatever), plus up to 3 paragraphs of Caption material. Captions give a brief introduction to a topic, a description of the object represented in the multimedia, and some background information if necessary; all written to be understood by the intelligent, non-specialist, reader.

SCRAN on the Web

All SCRAN material is held in a searchable database format, and the results are converted into HTML on-the-fly, so that every SCRAN resource is in essence available on the World Wide Web. It is recognised that unrestricted WWW access effectively releases material into the Public Domain, but this is acceptable because supporting unstructured private study is considered part of SCRAN's educational remit. The IPR of the original rights holders is protected since only thumbnail versions of multimedia material are made available in this way.

End-users in Educational institutions in membership of SCRAN have, in addition, the capability of downloading larger, higher definition images suitable for use in the current generation of multimedia systems. In fact, SCRAN insist that all scanning must be done at a much higher definition still (equivalent to 16 times the size of a current generation screen). This protects SCRAN's investment, since it will be possible to upgrade the specification of educational images in future, without the need to re-scan. It also creates for the original rights-holder a high-quality resource which can be exploited commercially if desired.

What sort of end-user?

As already discussed, SCRAN has a strong educational mission. We are targeting end-users in Primary, Secondary, Further and Higher Education, as well as Lifelong Learners, and so our delivery points include not only educational institutions, but also Libraries, Museums, Community Centres, Tourist Information Centres and the home.

Since its launch in July 1996, the SCRAN Website has registered 100,000 hits from all over the world, and there is a tremendous interest in things Scottish from the Scottish Diaspora: there are up to 60 million people world wide who claim some form of link with Scotland. SCRAN can be seen to have a role in promoting a world-wide awareness of Scottish landscapes and heritage. There must be a point at which educational end-usage would be better described as virtual tourism: but from a SCRAN point of view this does not matter.

Libraries and Museums in the Information Society

As natural delivery points for end-user services such as SCRAN, Libraries and Museums may in future come to be regarded less as storehouses of particular collections of recorded knowledge and material culture, than as gateways to networks of such resources world-wide.

The end-user is being given the capability to assemble for themselves collections of such resources, tailored for their current need into a Virtual Library, a Virtual Museum.

The question to be asked is, if the Information Society is going to be built on virtual collections, will there be a future role for the real information professional? And of course, the answer is that none of this will be possible without the acquisition, conservation, description, organisation and presentation skills of the information professional. It may be true that End-Users will be the Main Players in the Information Society. But it will be information professionals that direct the play, fabricate the scenery - and lift the curtain!