BOOK AND SOFTWARE REVIEWS
Ronchi, Alfredo M. eCulture: cultural content in the digital age.. Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Springer, 2009. xxx, 456 p. ISBN 978-3-540-75273-8 £76.95.
Management of digitised and digital cultural content is a theme of an increasing relevance for institutions producing, safeguarding and providing access to these materials. In many cases, there are no universal recipes or well-established practices in this relatively new area; therefore, publications collating experiences, reflections and case studies in the field are important.
In this book an ambitious objective to provide a comprehensive vision of a very relevant sector of the digital landscape: electronic content, or more precisely, cultural content (p. ix) is pursued. The author has been involved in taking decisions relating to diverse management issues of the cultural content, actively participated in the activities of MEDICI Framework, an organisation concerned with the issues of applying information technologies in the cultural sector. This book is mainly based on the vast experience of the author.
As pointed out by the author, the book is intended for the audiences that face the issues of managing digital cultural content in practice. These target groups include publishers, representatives of memory institutions, and those responsible for developing and managing digital cultural collections. The book consists of three major parts that aim to provide an overview of main issues and opportunities arising when cultural content migrates to the digital space, discussing the major technological solutions and applications relevant for the cultural sector and finally, discussing digital cultural applications and services.
In the first part, Cultural content and the information society, the author gives an overview of digital cultural landscape and changes brought by introduction of digital communication means. Having discussed the state-of-the-art of technology adoption, the author concludes that due to the lack of critical mass of digital content, new ways of communication, which would differ from those of print communication, are not fully implemented and exploited. The first impression of reading is of a chaotic and over-structured text overwhelmed with various concepts that are not always defined, multiple links to strategic documents, reports and even reporting the content of events relating to the topic. For instance, several semantically close concepts – e-society, information society and knowledge society – are used in the first part but it is difficult to trace their possible relationships. Parts of the chapter are often very short – about one or two pages. It makes the author return to discussion of the same issue several times as in the case of the concept of digital communication.
The second part, The general technological framework provides an overview of information and communication technologies; devices, applications, formats, standards, etc. It gives an outlook of the invention and evolution of particular technologies and their application in diverse sectors. Often it seems that this part is more interesting to the author himself: the chapters become longer, less sketchy, supplemented by multiple examples and interesting facts. Such technologies and emergent genres as virtual reality and computer games, robotics and theme parks are presented, including the issues emerging in managing digital content, such as usability and digital preservation.
The third part, Exploitation, application and services, aims to discuss the possible ways of applying technologies in the cultural sector. It starts with the discussion of the processes of managing digital information and emerging issues which is followed by the presentation of possible service domains (e.g., cultural tourism, education) and types of services (e.g., games and edutainment, theme parks). The discussion is supplemented with multiple case studies of the cultural initiatives which include the European Union research projects, initiatives of individual institutions or their consortia (often Italian examples). Mainly, memory institutions and other holders or producers of digital cultural content face the same issues as all other sectors working with digital content. For this reason, some of the issues are the same as those discussed in the second chapter (e.g., intellectual property rights, digital preservations). Interesting types of services (that are still not widely discussed) in the domain of tourism, entertainment and education are described; business models and examples of collaboration with private sector are presented. However, often these services are commercial but possible ethical limitations and issues that arise from the non-profit status of, for instance, memory institutions (one of the book audiences) are not sufficiently discussed. Most examples and cases reflect museum practices, but not those of libraries and archives.
In general the aim to collate such wide topics as digital communication and its outcomes, themes relevant to various sectors related to culture, comprehensive overview of technologies that are applied in the sector produces the issues discussed in the review. However, the book has a lot of advantages for readers wishing to get a general impression about the wide spectrum of technologies and their possible application for developing cultural services and managing digital collections. Examples and illustrations enhance the comprehension of presented material. The concepts are highlighted on page margins to improve reading experience. To conclude: the experience of the author and multiple examples probably are the most valuable elements of the book.