4.2 Information policies and practices

Our case study shows that information policies have a stronger influence on DL archaeology than museum work. The DL archaeology setting, as a form of (quasi-)commercial activity within an explicit economic frame, seems to stimulate the emergence of regulations in general and also information policy specifications. However, we can also see how the process from documentation to preservation is unevenly covered by policy. Creation has a relatively central role in current policy documents while the policies on the transfer of documentation to institutions taking care of preservation and long-term dissemination are less clearly expressed. Reports seem to have a stronger standing than survey documentation, even though survey documentation may be indispensable for further research (cf. Löwenborg 2014). This state of information policy can be linked with the historically weak connections between producers of archaeological information and its preservers in several other countries, too (Demoule 2012; Vander Linden and Webley 2012). The internet has been portrayed as something of a solution to this problem (Vander Linden and Webley 2012), but the policies directing human decisions on how to use the internet as a resource still need to be more explicitly expressed in order to function properly. The UK is an example of a country that had a questionable management of archaeological information but, through policy development and the work of the ADS, has turned this situation around. Another example comes from the Netherlands, where DANS has stepped in and improved the state of preservation and dissemination of primary archaeological data. A notable characteristic of both ADS and DANS is how these institutions are continuously engaged as experts, consultants, and facilitators in archaeology for information policy development in parallel with their work as preservation institutions.

The museum sector is less affected by formal information policies, but it is still influenced by a significant number of documents e.g. digital agendas, and engaged in collaborations and projects that all shape how metadata and collections are managed. As we see in the Swedish example, the surge of national digital strategies and related policies emerged only after a considerable amount of practical work on the digitisation of collections had already been done. We see how the ideology and enterprise of the digitisation of archaeology that developed in course of practice is now confronting new expectations regarding target groups, accessibility, and usability laid out in the information policies. These demands push the museum sector in the direction of quality (articulated in a particular manner) instead of quantity in digitisation that is also clearly visible, for example, in the changing priorities of the Europeana project (Europeana 2014). A remaining question is how these quality efforts can be audited in a functioning way by those charged with the responsibility for conducting evaluations, like the Swedish DIGISAM.

A closer look at the aims in information policies analysed in this study shows that the formulation of the aims of creating, organising, disseminating, and preserving information tend to be vague. All policies refer to 'stakeholders', 'others', and 'target groups' (e.g. in the Guidelines for Implementation of the Heritage Conservation Act) that consist (explicitly or implicitly) of heritage administrators, 'research', and the interested general public. In spite of the relative ambiguity of the formulations, they are in line with how archaeology professionals explain their work to an audience (e.g. Huvila 2006). The administrative needs and requirements are the most formal, and their scope tends to be rather limited and most clearly set out in the policy texts. Research is often referred to as a general category, providing the ultimate rationale for archaeological work. The interested general public is another similarly vague, often in practice non-existent, category of presumptive users providing societal relevance for archaeological work and a rationale for documentation. Further, the interested general public is a useful target group from the transparency point of view as a group of 'users' that would exploit and benefit from the openness. Interestingly, in the case of DL archaeology and museum digitisation projects, the target groups at which the documentation and digitised collections are aimed are still assumed to be Swedish-speaking. Although digitisation theoretically provides opportunities to de-emphasise national and language boundaries, as is attempted by Europeana, the Swedish part of the Norwegian-Swedish collaboration Digitalt Museum, for example, is very much focused on Swedish and Swedish-speaking audiences.

As is particularly clear in the museum sector but perhaps present also in other fields of archaeology, the influence of information policies is uneven. Large government-run museums that must implement national digitisation imperatives have significantly stronger incentives and pressure to proceed toward assuming digital information practices. At the other end of the spectrum, we have institutions with equally notable collections and pedagogical activities, but within which digitisation is much more the prerogative of the individual museum professionals and their inclination to allocate resources to, and apply for grants for, these activities. This new divided layout of the information landscape where some materials are digitally accessible and can easily be found, and others are available only in non-digital form (and, compared to the digital material, nearly impossible to find) poses a challenge for consistent knowledge production in archaeology, just as it does in other disciplines. The challenge has a range of methodological and ethical dimensions, but its main fault line can be summarised as a tension between the disparity between the easily accessible materials and those actually necessary for answering a research question and carrying out scholarly pursuits.