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4. The power of the user

The management of the data contained in the NMRs is a major and ongoing task. The shift in emphasis away from publication towards the NMRs has been a gradual one, but with it comes the high expectation of users that the information found in the NMRs should be reliable and authoritative. The analysis required by users is also more complex and the data are not always structured in a way that will answer every question. Improvements are definitely required to the facilities available for self-help.

The needs of the user are now much more influential in determining the structure and content and means of dissemination of the record. Although some pointers have been gained from user surveys such as that conducted by the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) (Condron et al. 1999), much more consumer research is required regarding what users want from the national records whether visiting in person or on line.

The fact is that the bulk of the computerised records in all the NMRs are derived from indexes and catalogues that are only part of the picture. The content of these indexes was never designed for public use. They were designed for the curator to access the material for the user with whatever level of mediation was judged necessary at the time. They are therefore full of jargon, technical conventions and codes and individual methodologies. Putting the NMRS database online through CANMORE has exposed and highlighted the inconsistencies which, although of little handicap to experienced and trained users that can follow up their research, lack the mediation required for the majority of users.

Visitor numbers and personal enquiries (letters, phone calls etc.) in NMRS have climbed steadily from 11,000 in 1990 to 15,000 today. Since going online with CANMORE in 1998, the self-help enquiries to the database have reached 50,000 with little or no promotion, and this does not include queries that come via links to SCRAN or ADS. Of the CANMORE enquiries in 1998-9, 15% were identified as educational, 25% professional and 60% general, compared with visitors in the same period of which 45% were identified as educational, 25% professional and 30% general. As the figures for CANMORE are based on email addresses they may not reflect the true picture; however, there are clear strategies for promoting the NMRS information that can increase the use being made of the data.

There are also safeguards that have to be put in place to ensure protection of the data. The first of these is to protect copyright in the data and images and maps and the second is to prevent misuse. Information is incorporated in the database on the copyright of the images and maps and watermarking is being considered. CANMORE is deliberately set up to allow access to only a limited selection of data at a time to prevent users downloading the whole database.

Protection of archaeological sites and buildings themselves cannot be achieved by withholding information. They are protected by local and national heritage management strategies.

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Last updated: Fri Jan 30 2004

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