The UCLA Institute of Archaeology has been engaged in a two-year project to develop standards for the digital publication of archaeological monographs. In consultation with the newly formed Working Group on Digital Publishing in Archaeology, the Institute has been researching the possible paths to take towards its goal of making archaeological publications available in easy-to-use, informative, innovative, and professional electronic formats. The goal is not only to use these standards in the Institute’s own publications, but also to encourage the implementation of these guidelines by the larger archaeological community.
Called the Digital Imprint and funded by the Ahmanson Foundation, the project focuses on initiating the development of standards for publishing primary archaeological data and research reports. The impetus for this project came from several concerns about the dissemination of archaeological data. The first is that all archaeological research necessarily disturbs the original context of the data collected. This suggests that archaeologists have the added responsibility of making primary data, including contextual materials, available to the larger archaeological community. These data have, however, been notoriously difficult and expensive to share.
The second impetus comes from a concern about the cost and timeliness of traditional publications. The most widely valued and anticipated projects can take years or even decades to be published. Even then, they rarely can include a comprehensive collection of visual materials (maps, drawings, photographs). In addition they are often expensive to produce and purchase.
A final impetus comes from a tradition in the UCLA Institute of Archaeology of making high-quality and professional archaeological information available to a wider, non-professional audience. The non-professional audience, from avocational archaeologists to elementary school children, needs access to materials that have not been so homogenized and popularized that they no longer reflect the archaeological reality. While the main focus of this current Digital Imprint project is publications standards, it is necessarily part of a larger set of activities in the Institute and will also contribute to these outreach efforts.
The Digital Imprint project is being carried out in the Institute’s Digital Archaeology Lab, a state-of-the-arts digital production facility staffed by both archaeologists and professionals in multimedia and computer-based production. The Digital Imprint project has four goals that integrate the production and distribution aspects of standards development:
As the primary goal, the development of digital publishing standards has been the focus of the first two years of the Digital Imprint project. Workable standards are agreed-upon rules, formats, and procedures that are designed to make shared information reliable, accessible, and consistent. Information standards are designed to protect the investment of time and money required for assembling and designing information storage and retrieval systems. Utilizing standards helps to ensure the long-term value of data which can be shared across systems, times, and even cultures, especially in the context of continually evolving technologies.
Technical, organizational, and design standards, which address different aspects of the construction of digital publications, will all be developed in the Digital Imprint project and utilized in its own productions. Technical standards guide the choice of file formats, operating systems, and multi-media players, most of which are defined by the computer industry but have to be selected by end-users like archaeologists. Organizational standards suggest how information needs to be authored, organized, updated, and verified in a publication. Design standards guide the development of interfaces and navigational tools for accessing data.
Any project for the development of standards that are meant for a larger community must make those standards easy to implement and adjust where necessary. The Digital Imprint project has chosen the strategy of freely distributing a production template as a means of disseminating the proposed standards. The template will be a ready-to-use computer program complete with graphics, programming, and sample database forms that all archaeologists can use to generate a report by inserting their own data.
The template will be flexible and modular with the goal of providing multiple routes of access to the data of the publication. Currently, the template enables direct access to the data of a project through five different routes: the text, databases, research themes, a tour, and M.A.P.S. (models, animations, panoramas and schematic maps). So, for example, a user can take a linear path through the text, jumping out to databases or illustrations as needed. Or a user can start with the databases and from there connect to other forms of data including the illustrations, research methods, or interpretive essays that relate to that database. Or a 3D model of the site can be navigated in order to find the particular region of interest. These capabilities are built into the distributed template.
These different types of standards not only provide consistency across publications, but also help novice producers avoid the pitfalls of digital production which can be expensive, time consuming, and frustrating if tackled without guidelines. In its first two years, the Digital Imprint project experimented with innumerable interface designs, technical components, software and hardware combinations, and visual and organizational metaphors. In a sense it was the project’s job to make all the mistakes so that other digital publishers, who might be less well funded or have less technical expertise, would not have to make all the same mistakes over and over again.
All of these experiments as well as the suggested paths are being documented in a production manual for archaeologists who want to produce digital publications. The manual will be available online as it is being produced in the Digital Archaeology Lab.
The monograph currently being produced through the Digital Imprint project presents the research of Dr. Karen Wise at a pre-ceramic site in coastal Peru; the site is called Kilometer 4. The publication consists of a "traditional" monograph with data, analyses, and interpretations contained in text with hyperlinks to all other assets in the program. These include several hundred field drawings, four thousand photographs, videotape of excavation methods, maps, three-dimensional reconstructions, interactive panoramas, and at least 40 databases, many with images.
Linked to a central text that presents the coherent argument and analysis of the author are multiple databases of textual, statistical, and visual materials that can be easily and immediately referenced from any point in the publication. In addition, alternative pathways through the data allow for an investigation of the important research themes (mortuary practices, subsistence, and housing forms in hunter-gatherer societies in transition to a sedentary life); provide visual access through site maps highlighting excavated areas; and direct access to the databases. All the data can be exported in the most common formats and re-analyzed by other archaeologists.
The development of standards is ideally a communal process that solicits ideas, opinions, and experiences from those who will both create and use the standards. In the computer industry, this can include software and hardware manufacturers, content producers, and service providers. In archaeology, the producers and users are often one and the same because archaeologists not only generate commercially published monographs and numerous other types of reports about their research, they are also the principal consumers of those monographs and reports.
In order to accommodate this unique range of archaeological publishing, the Digital Imprint project gathered a distinguished group representing research archaeologists, traditional and digital publishers, museums, libraries, and the major professional organizations to begin discussions about what kinds of standards are needed and can practically be implemented for the archaeological community. The first meeting of the Working Group on Digital Publishing in Archaeology took place in January, 1999, in Los Angeles.
In its discussions, this Working Group focused on:
The guidelines developed from these discussions will be tested and revised to reflect the needs of the archaeological community. These guidelines will cover the basic forms of compatibility that producers of digital publications need for quality production.
The discussions of the Working Group suggest that the standards being developed by the Digital Imprint project need to balance economy, timeliness, professionalism, accessibility, and ease-of-use. Some of the guidelines being developed will ensure that digital archaeology publications:
To meet these goals, the Digital Imprint project has been experimenting with off-the-shelf software and hardware combinations. After researching many possible alternatives ways to create such a publication, including designing its own proprietary systems, the project determined that publishing archaeological material in digital format can best be accomplished by combining commercially available, inexpensive, or free database and web browser programs. This results in publications that highlight the research questions important to archaeologists rather than focusing attention on the technology used to deliver that information.
Specifically, the project has concluded that using FileMaker® Pro and Internet Explorer 4.x is the best combination at the moment, with the web browser presenting the graphical interface and the database program presenting entire data sets that can be searched, downloaded, and analyzed. Since both the standards and the templates need to be somewhat dynamic in an ever-changing technology, these specifics will undoubtedly change in the future. But the basic concept of using off-the-shelf (or in this case off-the-Internet) software packages that are inexpensive or free, that run on any basic computer, and that seamlessly work together to create a flexible and interactive publication will stay the same.
The Digital Imprint project will be distributing its publication template and production manual by January, 2000, and will be continually revising them as other archaeologists attempt to implement the standards in their own publications. Details on the Working Group on Digital Publishing in Archaeology as well as the standards, production manual, and template will be available at: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/ioa/labs/digital/imprint/imprint.html.
To contact Louise Krasniewicz, director of the Digital Archaeology Lab, please see our email contacts page.
Director, Digital Archaeology Lab
For other Newsletter articles concerning electronic publishing or the use of electronic media in the humanities, consult the Subject index.
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