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Section 2: Making Grey Literature Accessible

2.4 Accessibility of grey literature report content to users

Another aspect of accessibility is the degree to which grey literature reports are meaningful and intelligible to the user. Section 4.1.2 provides an overview of users and user needs; in this section, the issue considered is one of fitness for purpose and whether reports are written with a non-specialist audience in mind.

As identified above (see 1.5), the purpose of most archaeological projects is to fulfil a client's responsibilities within the planning process. The potential readership of reports currently, therefore, is largely a non-specialist one: the client, the planning officer and potentially the general HER visitor. The archaeological curator and contractors are but a part of the potential audience; once online, the potential range of users can be expected to increase dramatically. Report authors should be mindful of this if concerned to ensure as wide a readership as possible. Content needs to be mediated and presented accordingly, particularly in the production of non-technical report summaries and conclusions and illustrations. This theme is developed in the case study discussed in Section 4.

There is potential contradiction in the need to describe data with reference to agreed technical terminologies, such as those included on the Inscription List of Wordlists, and the need to mediate content so that it is accessible and meaningful to a general audience. However, is it possible, or even desirable, for one report to fulfil the needs of all? For instance, is material aimed at academics and those in higher education suitable to provide content intelligible to teachers for use in primary education? There needs to be agreement at the outset of the production of a report regarding the target audience, and preferably this should be stated in the document.

In addition, whilst there are standards and guidance for the content and structure of grey literature reports which should be adhered to wherever possible (IFA 2001a-e), there is no strict template for report production, nor is this seen as desirable (Miles 2004). There is, however, a minimum data requirement, for example for the completion of an OASIS Project record, or an HER event or source record. In the author's experience, it is common for reports to omit even basic information such as the date(s) on which work was carried out, the grid reference for the site, and the report author. This is echoed by Champion et al. (1995; see 1.5.4). In this respect, the concept of whether a report alone is a means of preservation 'by record' can be questioned.

2.5 Interoperability

There are many organisations holding archaeological grey literature, which may in due course facilitate online access to these reports. Faced with a scenario of a variety of online report providers, the ability for users to search mutiple, distributed resources with single queries will be desirable (Richards 2000). As Huggett and Ross (2004) observe, greater emphasis on enabling interoperability between archaeological information resources is needed. This has implications for the way archaeological data are described in reports (see 2.4). The importance of a common vocabulary for describing archaeological material is perhaps more familiar to those used to working with databases, and not so evident among those writing free text. However, if the future availability of electronic reports is to facilitate repurposing of data and contribute towards a reduction in the duplication of effort currently apparent among a number of local and national initiatives in the recording of archaeological events and sources (see 2.1.2), there needs to be tighter description in archaeological reports, and referencing of nationally agreed thesauri and terminologies (Chitty et al. 2000). The development of the Data Validation Tool as part of the FISH Interoperability Toolkit could be a useful device in this respect.

In a computer science context the term interoperability is used to refer to the ability of software and hardware on multiple machines from multiple sources to communicate with one another. In the context of electronic access to grey literature, it is envisaged that if reports are to be mounted on the Web, they may not be collected in one single location, but be held in different places and managed by different organisations. In this instance, tools for the searching and retrieval of distributed datasets would need to be developed to aid resource discovery. This is discussed by Richards (2000). Traditionally, Z39.50 technology has been used for this; however, XML-based Web services are currently being developed within the heritage sector, such as the FISH Interoperability Toolkit referred to above. Commonality and consistency of archaeological description within reports is vital in facilitating any future system of search and retrieval.

Richards and Robinson (2000, 18) stress that it is important to ensure that information about the content and location of project archives is nationally signposted in digital format in order to enable the smooth flow of electronic information from data creator to archive repository and on to information user. It will also save archive curators' time in having to re-key information, and could decrease data entry backlogs. The Open Archives Initiative is aimed at developing and promoting interoperability standards to facilitate the efficient dissemination of content and provides guidance online (Nelson 2001). Some of the examples of literature dissemination cited in section 2.1.1 make use of the OAI protocols for metadata harvesting, made possible by OAI compliance.

2.6 Aspects of short and long-term accessibility: preservation and archiving

The archiving of digital, and indeed other, materials from archaeological fieldwork is an essential part of any project (Richards 2002). National standards and guidance endorse the deposition of an archive with a suitable repository, usually a local registered museum (IFA 2001a-e). However, surveys among the profession have shown that limited digital data is being transferred to museums and, furthermore, that most museums do not have appropriate technology to store, access and curate these resources in the long term (Swain 1998). The Strategies for Digital Data survey found that most archaeologists either hold onto their digital materials, or transfer it to Local Government organisations, such as the HERs (Condron et al. 1999, 29-32).

For the majority of larger archaeological projects, the digital, word-processed report is part of a wider assessment or research level archive. Almost always for desk-based assessments, and for some smaller-scale projects, such as watching briefs and evaluations where limited evidence is found, the grey literature report in itself may constitute the bulk of the project archive, known as an index level archive (Richards and Robinson 2000). The word-processing of a report is generally seen as a means to an end, a by-product of the process of creating a hard copy, printed report. If an organisation has no digital archiving policy or backup strategy, the digital document may languish for months, if not years, on floppy disc or hard drive, only to be sought out when additional printed copies are required. In a worst-case scenario, these digital versions of reports will be lost if no adequate provision is made for their future storage and curation (Richards 2002).

As a condition of a project specification or design, some HERs are now requesting that a digital copy of a report is submitted along with the printed version. Section 14.6.14 of the Lincolnshire Archaeological Handbook requires that this digital copy must be 'in Word Perfect, Word or a format previously discussed and agreed with the SMR before deposition' (Lincolnshire County Council 2004). Worcestershire Archaeological Service's Digital Strategy states that, from 2004, briefs for planning-led fieldwork will require that reports are compiled digitally in PDF format via Adobe Acrobat Writer (Atkin 2002). Effective archive deposition and curation of electronic grey literature reports needs to be promoted within the profession. This applies not only to new reports created in future, but especially to existing, older, reports which may still be available in digital format.

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