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Section 2: Making Grey Literature Accessible

2.2 Issues of accessibility

Electronic creation and dissemination of grey literature raises a number of accessibility issues. The presumption has been made by the author that the preferred mode of delivery is via the Web, and that the necessary infrastructure will be maintained and developed indefinitely.

Much has been said about the inaccessibility of grey literature (see 1.7), and any exploration of means to reverse this trend must consider the issue of accessibility from a number of angles. In terms of archaeological grey literature, the following sections will examine a number of key themes: factors influencing the availability of grey literature; the accessibility of report content to users; interoperability; preservation and archiving; electronic document formats and access to the Internet. Inevitably, there is overlap and interrelation between themes.

2.3 Factors influencing the availability of archaeological grey literature

As has been discussed in Section 1.5 above, a number of factors shape the nature of archaeological reports, and many of these also influence their availability. The primary issue is the limited production and circulation of hard copy reports, but other considerations have a bearing upon the potential for making material more widely available electronically and the timescales within which this may be possible. These are discussed below.

2.3.1 Security and confidentiality

In striving towards the goal of increasing electronic accessibility, it would seem incongruous to consider restrictions that might be placed upon data. However, there are issues of security and confidentiality that must be identified and addressed. There are concerns that making available sensitive information, particularly about artefactual finds and site location, may render sites vulnerable to misuse and damage. This is especially the case when human remains have been discovered, or artefacts of high monetary value. Archaeological sites are often subject to vandalism, or raiding by unauthorised metal detection, and publicity is kept to a minimum to protect the remains until all the planning and development issues have been resolved and the remains have been dealt with appropriately.

To work around this problem, many agencies have taken the decision not to make detailed grid references available, including some online HER databases, the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the English Heritage Geophysical Survey Database (see 2.1.2). Restricting grid references to four figures, for example, locates a site only to the nearest kilometre square. However, it would be difficult to disguise the location or name of an archaeological site completely whilst still making a useful report available. English Heritage has considered two methods by which the Geophysical Survey Database may be made publicly available whilst addressing this issue: placing restrictions on access to it and/or limiting what information is available from it. At the present time, English Heritage has decided not to publish the hypertext reports of geophysical survey sites that are considered to be sensitive (Linford 1995). The survey website indicates that it is hoped to establish a password system, to enable archaeological professionals to have access to this restricted information; however, eight years on, such a system has yet to be implemented.

From a commercial perspective, a commissioning body may wish to restrict the public release date of a report, particularly if a landowner is concerned about trespass or unwanted attention. A common practice among HERs is for a report to be made publicly available after a six-month period, unless otherwise specified by the depositor. A client may, for example, commission a pre-planning application evaluation for a major infrastructure scheme at a time when a variety of route or site options are being considered. Archaeological results may not be scheduled for general circulation until details of the development have been made public knowledge. Alternatively, reports may be subject to embargo until the commissioning body decides that the information cannot be used for commercial gain by its competitors. For instance, a developer may authorise evaluation works to be undertaken prior to land purchase, at a time when other potential buyers have an option on the site. If this developer is ultimately unsuccessful in bidding for a site, or takes a decision not to proceed, the evaluation report may be seen as a valuable commodity from which the costs of the exercise may be recouped, as the resulting report may be sold on to another developer to avoid them having to repeat the evaluation exercise. This embargo may last for some time as years may pass between an evaluation taking place, planning permission being granted and the development commencing. Full planning permissions have a validity of up to five years, and may be renewed a number of times.

Under the terms of the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985, Local Planning Authorities are obliged to make available for public consultation all officer reports on applications and other reports tabled as background information on the agenda three full working days before, and on the day of, the Planning Committee meeting. Planning files are then made available for access for six years. In this way, archaeological reports may be accessed via the Local Planning Authority when submitted in support of a planning application.

2.3.2 Freedom of Information, Environmental Information Regulations and eGovernment

In terms of accessing grey literature reports held by HERs, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is relevant, as this concerns access to information held by public authorities and others, creates new rights for the public and new responsibilities for the holders of data. The Act became fully operational in January 2005 and requires that all public authorities adopted and maintained a publication scheme by February 2003 (Cuming 2002). There are exemptions to the supply of information, for example if disclosure of information is likely to lead to criminal damage. The new Environmental Information Regulations 2004 also came into force in January 2005 and have been introduced to allow the public the right to request access to environmental information held by public authorities. The Regulations require public and other authorities to disseminate environmental information proactively, through publication schemes, websites and other publications. Information should only be withheld where its release would adversely affect the environment to which it relates. Regulation 4 states that 'a public authority shall, in respect of environmental information that it holds, progressively make the information available to the public by electronic means which are easily accessible'. The use of electronic means is not required, however, in relation to information collected in non-electronic form before 01 January 2005. This is in line with Article 7 of EU Directive 2003/4/EC (Adobe .pdf file).

The Defra website provides further details about the new Regulations and the associated Code of Practice, and Guidance. Section 5.2 in Chapter Five of the Guidance to the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 relates to proactive dissemination and states that this 'is particularly encouraged by means of computer telecommunications and/or electronic technology'. However 'where information has already been collated and stored, public authorities will need to apply judgement as to what steps are reasonable taking into account the volume of the information stored and the interest the public have in accessing it'. These policies are part of the wider framework of eGovernment (The Prime Minister and the Minister for the Cabinet Office 1999; Cabinet Office 2000). The UK Government requires all public authorities to have implemented electronic government by 2005, in order to provide ways in which citizens will access public services in the future using new technologies. Technical documentation and schemata are available online from the Cabinet Office website and general information and guidance is available via the Cabinet Office's eGovernment Unit website.

2.3.3 Intellectual Property Rights and copyright

Electronically accessible materials, by virtue of their ease of dissemination, reuse and copying, present both the creators and users of these data with issues of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and copyright. These need to be considered when making content available online. Copyright, an intellectual property right exists automatically in all original works (Richards and Robinson 2000). This applies not only to text, but also to images, maps and drawings and other materials.

Whilst the presentation of online content aims to reach as many users as possible, there may be restrictions placed upon it, such as a delayed release date if commercially sensitive information in included, as discussed in 2.3.1 above. The ADS advises that contracts for archaeological work 'should explicitly address copyright issues, and make it clear in advance what information will be considered confidential when a project is complete' (Richards and Robinson 2000). In its Guidelines for Depositors, the ADS requests a non-exclusive license to distribute depositors' datasets (Kilbride 2004a). Accordingly, potential users are asked to agree to abide by the AHDS Common Access Agreement before being given access to the online ArchSearch Catalogue (Kilbride 2004b). The IFA suggests in Standards and Guidance documents that copyright clauses are included within specifications and/or project designs for work. The IFA also advises that the proposals for the distribution of the report must be made clear to all parties at the outset of the field project (IFA 2001a–e, Appendix 5 (Adobe .pdf file)).

2.3.4 The views of commercial archaeological organisations

As part of a prior study by Meckseper (2001) looking at the electronic publication of archaeological field reports, a questionnaire was sent to a number of archaeological units asking whether they felt they would benefit from publishing reports on the Web, and whether they would want to publish all grey literature in this way. This survey produced interesting results, with many respondents of the opinion that most reports only enter the public domain after a given period. In addition, reports are often seen as the personal property of those who commission them, and these clients often do not wish 'their information' to become publicly accessible. Some felt that the majority of grey literature was too dull to merit wider publication as it was written for development control purposes and would not be of interest to the public or academics, although others saw this as a means of bringing smaller projects to a wider audience. One contracting archaeologist saw it as the duty of the national or regional HER to publish field reports (Meckseper 2001).

Other benefits of electronic publication were seen to be that it is a good way to generate publicity for an organisation, that it might appear more quickly than conventional paper-based publication, and that it would aid the dissemination of information to the general public. Having reports on the Web was also seen as a valuable resource for archaeological organisations when undertaking desk-based assessments, or researching background information for other projects. Almost all, however, stressed that they would still continue to produce traditional hard-copy grey literature reports for the foreseeable future (Meckseper 2001). If some, but not all, contractors were to make all their reports available online, this could be seen as giving commercial advantage to those who did not, as they would have access to the research of others, without making their own data available in exchange (J.D. Richards, pers. comm. June 2004).

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