Cinemedia's Digital Environment
Building on Firm Foundations

Dec 1997 - updated 20th May 1998

Available [on-line]
[voice] 61 3 96511510 [Email]

(CC) reserved Simon Pockley

Seven Pillars of Infrastructure Development

  1. Digital Collection Policy
  2. Good Practice - Guides
  3. Metadata: Documentation of Digital Resources
  4. Digital Preservation Strategies
  5. Disaster plans
  6. Use of Digital Resources
  7. Training and Research


The rush to adopt nascent technologies has often been at the expense of comprehensive policy development. The digital revolution has been characterised by technological obsolescence and ephemeral standards leaving little firm ground on which to build the infrastructure necessary for the effective management and preservation of digital resources.

In the current environment, the term digital resource not only refers to the digital content commissioned for display in the Cinemedia On-line Screen Gallery but to the stream of digital material generated and captured every day by Cinemedia's various business units. Effective management requires an understanding that, with digital objects, there is little or no difference between a location survey, a multimedia artwork and a plumbing or cable location map. All these resources require the development of an infrastructure capable of supporting different levels of access at different times and for different purposes.

It is important to recognise the competing perspectives of decisions which will support the long-term access necessary for preservation against the short-term interests of a range of individuals, partnerships and organisations who will make decisions about digital resources during the various and inter-dependent stages of creation, use, preservation and management.

This paper identifies seven key areas of policy framework which will lead to the creation of an effective infrastructure. These policies must be simple enough to accommodate Cinemedia's diverse on-line ambitions and flexible enough to change with the continuing evolution of both the technology and its management.

  1. Digital Collection Policy.
  2. 1.1 Evaluation

    Digital resources have a variety of sources. They may be commissioned, created in-house, accessioned from outside or made accessible from remote locations to particular audiences. Curatorial rigour depends on a clear collection policy. Such a policy needs to evaluate these resources according to the following:

    • Content, scope, relevance to a defined user community, purpose or curatorial vision.
    • Technical architecture and how this bears the resource's fitness for use by an intended community or other purpose, and upon its long-term access.
    • Documentation (whether this is sufficient for its intended use and long-term maintenance).
    • Legal issues: contractual and intellectual property rights residing in both the resource and the software supplied with it. Terms and conditions which attach to access management and use.
    • Commercial issues: such works may be subject to sudden and abrupt changes in location, ownership and rights. They may also have limited life-cycles out of step with Cinemedia's curatorial ambitions.

    1.2 Integration

    The Cinemedia Access Collection contains an important body of non-digital resources some of which are (or have been) migrated into a digital format. These activities and existing collection and cataloguing policies need to be integrated into an overall Digital Collection Policy, so that they can accommodate the growth of the digital collection. It is important to draw on the existing and extensive professional experience in the development of this policy.

  3. Good Practice - Simple Guide
  4. The foundation of effective management of a digital resource occurs at the point of creation. How a digital resource is created and the form and format it is created in, will determine how it can be managed, used, preserved and re-used at some future date. Authors, migrators and creators of all digital resources need to be aware of their importance to the life span or term of access of a digital resource.

    A clear set of standards and good practices needs to be developed in order to reduce the costs associated with maintaining viable long-term access to a resource. Costs of emulation or migration will increase if resources are generated in proprietary or platform dependent formats.

    These guidelines need to be easily understood and promoted as a minimum requirement in order to:

    • ensure that digital material can be migrated across platforms with minimum content loss (e.g. standard file formats, compression and encoding).

    • ensure that digital resources can be transferred between individuals, business units and partnerships. (e.g. filing naming protocols, access to MFOs location library).

    • ensure that digital resources suit the purposes for which they are created. (e.g. access by schools)

    • ensure that digital resources can be re-used or re-purposed to suit Cinemedia programs. (e.g. survey exhibitions)

    • ensure that appropriate copyright control and access conditions are maintained.

  5. Metadata: Documentation of Digital Resources
  6. Information about context, structure and even value, is implicit in traditional media. Digital information cannot be understood unless the technical data required for its interpretation is carried with it. Minimum standards of metadata (documentation carried by the digital resource) are essential for the exchange of digital resources between individuals, business units and partnerships. If possible the following areas of minimal metadata need to be generated at the point of creation:

    • Information about a resource's provenance, contents, structure, and about the terms and conditions attached to its subsequent management and use (e.g. source, description, rights)

    • Information which will facilitate resource discovery (e.g. title, URL, keywords)

    • Information which will permit access to, or ordering of, the resource (e.g. terms and conditions - restrictions)

    • Information concerning resource management (e.g. format, last update)

    • Information about the relationship of digital resources to other resources when they form part of, or are intended to form part of , larger collections. (e.g. index, related interest, PAVE material)

    • Information which facilitates communication between creators and managers.(e.g. emails and contact names)

  7. Digital Preservation Strategies
  8. 4.1 Migration

    As an evolving medium for the distribution of digital work, the World Wide Web may prove flexible enough to carry digital content into the future. A migration strategy pushes the problem of hardware obsolescence to a single point at the server level where backward compatibility and incremental upgrade is the norm. For this reason the strategy of keeping digital material on-line is proving to be an effective preservation strategy for digital resources. The management of these resources relies on their platform independence and the quality of metadata.

    Migration policy will need to be reviewed in the event of a major change in technology or encoding development. Good practice should recognise that simplicity and platform independence is the most appropriate strategy in order to protect against backward incompatibility (See section 2).

    4.4 Remote resources

    Collections may be created, extended or enhanced by licensing, copying or mirroring existing digital resources created by others. Responsibility for management of these resources needs to be clearly defined.

    Evolving or dynamic works may require a different set of agreements which involve rights over periodic captures of the resource or `remotely managed' according to an agreed set of guidelines.

    Internally generated and remote evolving or dynamic works will require some form of FTP access in order to update files. A set of Protocols for the granting of access, needs to be developed in order to ensure that other material is not vulnerable to accidental corruption or deletion (See section 5).

    4.3 Proprietary Products

    Migration is a costly or inappropriate strategy for the following kinds of resources:

    • Those for which the hardware/platform contributes makes an essential contribution to the resource's meaning and/or to the experience of its use (e.g. video games, game boys);

    • Those where data are stored in un-documented proprietary formats or proprietary information systems which store data in undocumented binary formats (e.g. proprietary data bases - VR products, Lotus Notes).

    • Those where data are stored in un-documented formats and bundled with access software which is also undocumented (e.g. commercial CD-ROM products).

    These kinds of resources will require the development of a policy which will address the need:

    • To maintain working examples of technically obsolete machines in order to run these resources (e.g. play stations, DOS computers).

    • To maintain working copies of fully licensed third party software with the work (and hardware to run it) (e.g. Microsoft `Word').

    4.4 Digital storage and archive architecture

    There will need to be several levels of storage architecture. Most digital resources will be accessed through the servers. However, some resources, such as high-quality master copies of films or video may need to be kept separate from lower quality distribution resources which take up less bandwidth.

    Remote digital resources may require management agreements which involve a program of regular capture or cache. Remote dynamic resources will also require an agreement concerning minimum standards for data encoding and delivery (see section 2).

  9. Disaster plans
  10. Long-term access and preservation are now inseparable. However, an infrastructure that supports long-term access and accommodates the continuous evolution of the technology as well as a continuous stream of digital content opens Cinemedia's digital environment to the vulnerabilities inherent in server accessibility or failure.

    Back up snapshots of Cinemedia's digital environment on contemporary storage media have a role to play but should not be seen as providing a disaster proof strategy or durable means of preservation.

    A disaster strategy needs to be developed which will protect Cinemedia from minimal data loss by offering:

    • Protection against server failure through a regular back up and archiving program.

    • Protection against any natural or man-made disaster on-site by a regular back up and archiving program off-site (e.g. fire, flood).

    • Protection against unauthorised invasion and corruption of data through malice. (e.g. hackers)

    • Protection against unauthorised intrusion and corruption of data through accident. (e.g. secure layers of access to the server)

    • Protection against technological obsolescence through a regular program of reviews and integrity checking of archived media.

    • Those business units which are more dependent on storage media should investigate whether the data preservation functions they require may be most cost effectively out sourced to a specialist computing service, data bank, or other organisation. (e.g. Cinemedia Access Collection).

  11. Using Digital Resources
  12. The use of a digital resource will depend on decisions made at the point of creation. High-quality digital collections require robust and enforceable user and developer agreements, combined with user registration, authentication, and other access controls. Many of these issues can be managed using appropriate metadata (e.g. rights statements). The Cinemedia On-line Gallery needs to address the integration of existing agreements to a set of guidelines. In particular, policy needs to be developed:

    • relating to the general licencing terms of digital resources.

    • relating to the access and display of culturally sensitive or culturally restricted material (e.g. Aboriginal protocols).

    • relating to the access and display of pornographic or other material generally regarded as unsuitable for children (e.g. use of filtering architectures such as PICS).

    • relating to the re-use and re-purposing of digital resources (e.g. thematic exhibitions).

    • relating to the electronic payment for access to digital resources.

    • relating to digital resources which are live or built on the fly. Such resources may contain copyright protected content.

  13. Training and Research
  14. Cinemedia is in a unique position to develop an effective infrastructure for the Screen Arts which will have applications in other Arts based organisations, Museums and Galleries. This should be seen as a process rather than an outcome. Efforts should be made to integrate this infrastructure with other organisations (e.g. National Library of Australia).

    The integration, development and implementation of these policies will require that all staff at Cinemedia are web literate to the minimum level that they can follow `good practice' at the point of creation of digital material. A staff training policy and program will need to be developed which systematically identifies:

    • the need to recognise what digtial resources are and what their responsibilies are in relation to these resources.

    • the on-going training needs of each Business Unit.

    • opportunities which exist for internal workshops and exchange of ideas.

    • opportunities which exist for the support of research which might assist in the integration of Cinemedia's Access Collection with its On-line Screen Gallery.

    • opportunities which exist for the support of research which might assist in the display and accessibilities of screen based digital resources.

Areas of Concern

This document attempts to offer pragmatic paths towards the realisation of the visions described by Danny Stefanic and Tim Ryan. The policy directions I have described may reveal that I believe the former to be to limited in its scope and the latter too technically complex to be cost effectively managed.

`Screen culture' by definition has a familiarity and maturity which may have evolved from technical wizardry but which should not be confused with it. What seems to be missing from all the documents I have seen is a sense of a serious curatorial vision. The kind of vision that asks, what is an important screen based work? and, how can it be made accessible? Such a vision would move the Screen Gallery beyond the status of an entertainment centre towards being a centre of national, even global, significance.

See: Pockley (1998) Killing the Duck to Keep the Quack Available [On-line]

See: Neil Beagrie and Daniel Greenstein (1998) Digital Collections: A strategic policy framework for creating and preserving digital resources Available [On-line]