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Section 2: Making Grey Literature Accessible

2.8 How accessible really is online access?

There is an assumption that once on the Internet, material is readily available and accessible to all, but can this be substantiated? The following sections explore the use of computers and Internet access in the UK, and look at aspects of resource discovery and the Invisible Internet. There are also aspects of disability awareness and browser compatibility issues that need to be considered by those providing online content. The latter is discussed with regard to XML in Section 3.4.

2.8.1 Computer usage and Internet access in the UK

The numbers of, and access to, computers have rapidly increased in the United Kingdom in recent years (Office for National Statistics 2004). National statistics indicate that in the third quarter of 2004, 52 per cent of households in the UK, i.e. 12.9 million, could access the Internet from home. This is a dramatic increase compared with just 9 per cent, i.e. 2.3 million, for the same period in 1998, and an increase of a million on figures for the same quarter in 2003. The majority of users use the Internet for e-mail, to find information about and to buy goods or services, and to search for information about travel and accommodation (Office for National Statistics 2004). The Internet Domain Survey undertaken by the Internet Systems Consortium in July 2004 identified 285,139,107 Internet hosts worldwide. This is a staggering increase in the ten years since their first survey in January 1993 when the figure was 1,313,000, and a substantial increase since January 2004 when the figure was 171,638,297 (Internet Systems Consortium 2004).

Within the archaeological profession, a survey of access to computers as part of the Strategies for Digital Data project showed variation in 1999. Those with the least access were members of archaeological societies, teachers and museum professionals. The greatest access was for those within higher education and national bodies. Internet access was also analysed and this demonstrated that overall, the majority of archaeologists do have Internet access, with similar findings to that for computer access. Those within universities were best served because they had the use of permanently connected machines (Condron et al. 1999, fig. 5.5 and fig. 5.6).

Analysis in the growth of computer usage in British archaeology shows a great increase through the 1980s and 1990s (Condron et al. 1999, fig. 5.7). This graph indicated that by 2004, all archaeologists in Britain (estimated at a figure of 4,395) would be working with computers. A cautionary note is provided, however, in the observation that there are always likely to be those who do not feel the need to work with digital data, or who cannot afford to do so (Condron et al. 1999).

2.8.2 Resource discovery

Unless an Internet user knows the specific URL of a site they wish to view, some form of finding aid is required to access relevant material (Chippindale 1997). These are discussed by Richards (2000), who notes that we need to find means of representing information such that automated systems may deal with it directly. As Mason (nd) comments, 'certainly the Internet will revolutionise access to some kinds of grey literature, but it is so easily lost in the chaos that very few people can sift through'.

One of the main reasons for the under-use of archaeological grey literature, and indeed archives in general, is the difficulty in locating information about them, and where they are. Difficulties in searching for archaeological material on the Web are discussed by Gray and Walford (1999). 'The development of appropriate resource discovery tools is fundamentally important in helping potential users not only to find the material they require, enabling re-use of digital resources, but also to point them towards archive repositories containing the material of interest' (Richards and Robinson 2000, 3).

There is a need for specialised bibliographic services or other methods to facilitate the identification and retrieval of grey literature. Gelfand (1998) stresses that better training and exposure can reduce the obstacles in utilising it more widely. By concentrating on new modes of publishing and delivery, particularly via the Internet, grey literature is gaining a more prominent role in a range of information use, access and dissemination activities. The most popular means of finding data on the Web is through a search engine. However, whilst the data that these can access is vast, there is an equally vast amount of data that cannot be found in this way, often referred to as the 'invisible Web', estimated to be three or more times bigger than the visible Web (Barker 2004). The majority of the invisible Web is made up of the contents of specialist, searchable databases, the search results from which are dynamically generated in response to a specific query that must be typed in by the user. These pages cannot be searched or created by the search engine. This also applies to pages where a password or acceptance of conditions of use is required, such as the ADS online ArchSearch Catalogue (Kilbride 2004b; see 2.3.3).

In terms of resource discovery for archaeology, the 'invisible Web' presents an immediate problem for those wishing to find content within the online databases that are presently the main sources for identifying and accessing relevant information and reports about recent archaeological work. Users are encouraged, therefore, to locate relevant material through federated sources, including subject directories, specialist indices, gateways and portals, for example HEIRPORT, the CBA website, ADS website and HUMBUL. New developments in metadata harvesting, such as the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting, are making content stored in databases more easily discovered (Open Archives Initiative 2002). The use of metadata can significantly aid resource discovery, reuse and resource management (Richards and Robinson 2000). Wise and Miller (1997) discuss the importance of metadata, and suggest that archaeologists follow the Dublin Core format, as do Miller and Greenstein (1997). As an XML-based mechanism, RDF also provides a flexible and extensible means to represent metadata (Geser 2003, 34).

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