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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 039-109-E
Division Number: VI.
Professional Group: Information Technology
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 109.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

Cross-domain access to digitised cultural resources: the SCRAN project

Bruce Royan
Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK


The convergence of the technologies of storage, delivery and presentation of text, data, image and sound have led to a demand for end-user access to digitised cultural resources. End-users tend not to be interested in the historical and political reasons why particular resources have ended up being housed in different domains (libraries, archives, museums, etc.,) and so a number of networked services are beginning to provide cross-domain access to digitised cultural resources.

This paper describes SCRAN, the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network. SCRAN is a Millennium project, spending 15 million pounds sterling to build a networked multimedia resource base for the teaching and celebration of human history and material culture in Scotland.

Although it is based on the museums, archives, libraries and built heritage of Scotland, SCRAN's prime concern is not with conservation, nor with documentation, but with educational access.

SCRAN is a rights clearance project, grant-aiding the digitisation of assets in exchange for a non-exclusive licence for their educational use.

It is also a resource disclosure and delivery project: SCRAN acts as a Metadata repository, pointing to individual digitised assets in its own resource base and to objects in the real world, as well as acting as a gateway to other electronic collections.

In this regard, SCRAN has experience to share as an early implementer, both of the Z39-50 Search and Retrieve Protocol and the Dublin Core Metadata Element set for cross domain access.


On Scotland

One of the countries of the United Kingdom, Scotland has a land mass twice that of The Netherlands (31,510 square miles) but at 5 million less than one-third of its population.

Scotland is renowned as a tourist attraction with glorious scenery and a long and colourful history but it is also a centre for innovation, its 13 Universities linked by a state-of-the-art ATM network, and a world leader in such disparate fields as System-on-Chip technology and Movie production.

Famous Scottish characters have included Romantic failures like Mary, Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie, but also giants of invention in many fields, including Architecture (Robert Adam), Economics (Adam Smith), Medicine (Alexander Fleming), Engineering (James Watt), and Communications (Alexander Graham Bell and John Logie Baird). Scots have explored every part of the world, and left their mark on many countries.

In many ways, therefore, Scotland is a fitting home for a project which aims to capture and interpret human history, through the technology of the future.


We have used SCRAN, the old Scots word for "collecting" or "food", as the basis of an acronym for the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network, which is gathering together digitised resources to provide food for thought. In fact, SCRAN has funding of some 15 million sterling to build a networked multimedia digital library for the teaching and celebration of human history and material culture in Scotland.

SCRAN was founded by the National Museums of Scotland, the Scottish Museums Council (representing some 400 local museums) and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, and contributing members include the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh City Libraries and St Andrews University Library. Its work consists of digitising selections from the museums, archives, libraries and built heritage of Scotland, yet SCRAN's prime concern is not with conservation nor with documentation, but with educational access.

The National Grid for Learning

SCRAN was already positioning itself as a creator of educational resources when it was set up late in 1996. Since then, the UK has elected a new Government whose declared priorities are "education, education and education" . How Information and Communications Technology (ICT) can improve the delivery of education is articulated in the Green Paper on The National Grid for Learning (1). The analogy is with an electricity supply system, and great emphasis is placed on wiring up every school in the country, but there is also full recognition that, just as an electricity distribution grid would be useless without power stations, it will only be worth investing in an educational network if it includes appropriate providers of educational content.

This demand for digital content is also reinforced in the report of the Library and Information Commission The Peoples Network (2), and the UK Government have now responded by providing a further 50 million sterling to begin to satisfy it (3).

Content and Copyright

By the year 2001, SCRAN expects to have digitised more than 100,000 multimedia objects and made them available on its networked server for educational re-use. SCRAN multimedia assets may be flat or 3D images, movie or sound clips, virtual reality or other as yet undefined objects, and each will be accompanied by an explanatory caption, aimed at the intelligent non-specialist.

It is our observation that until now, the creation, distribution and re-use of multimedia resources has been fraught with difficulties and uncertainties. Teachers have been discouraged from the use of digital content by doubts about their right to use it, or lack of time to request permission from the rights holder and money to pay for it. Owners of content have been discouraged from distributing or in some cases even digitising it, for fear of being ripped off in some way. Within the areas which it can influence, the SCRAN project has been attempting to simplify the situation, and has developed a Licensing Model which appears to be working well and which other projects may wish to emulate.

In essence, SCRAN is in a position to grant-aid the digitisation of a contributor's assets, in exchange for a perpetual non-exclusive licence for their educational use. The contributor retains all rights in the original material asset and gains full commercial rights in the new digital asset, but SCRAN members are licensed to use that digital asset in any way for non-profit educational purposes, with no further payment to the rights holder.

As SCRAN believes that unstructured lifelong learning is a legitimate educational purpose, SCRAN makes all its assets available for free access on the World Wide Web. However, the multimedia aspect of each asset is represented by an extract or surrogate of the digitised original, for example, a thumbnail image no greater than 150 pixels wide.

Members of educational institutions licensed by SCRAN, can, by clicking on these surrogates, download a much larger image (larger than the typical PC or Mac screen), for use in any way they wish. This image, at 256 colours and 72 dpi, is perfectly acceptable for use in current technology personal computer and projection systems. It is far short, however, of the specification demanded by commercial users, and this provides some confidence to the contributor that SCRAN licensees would find it difficult to break their contracts and sell the images on. In addition, the image itself is encoded with a watermark, which, though invisible to the human eye, can be decoded to prove piracy, should the need ever arise.

As described above, educational licensees are served with images at a resolution suitable for use on today's technology, and no more. But the images themselves are digitised at a much higher resolution. This is because the future will be longer than the past; technology will change over the years, and we wish it to be possible to upgrade the educational assets without needing to re-digitise the original objects.

Resource Disclosure and Delivery

SCRAN, then, is a dealer in surrogates. The master image is a surrogate for a real object in the material world, the educational image is a networked surrogate of the archival master, and the web thumbnail is a surrogate for the educational image.

Disclosure of the existence and content of these images, itself uses textual surrogates, known as "Metadata". SCRAN acts as a metadata repository, providing pointers to digitised assets in its own resource base, but also to millions of undigitised objects in museums and libraries, and to digital records in other electronic collections.

The metadata SCRAN uses must not be constrained by the terminology or conventions of any one of the many domains SCRAN materials have been derived from, whether libraries, museums, archives or archaeological corpora. It must be at a significantly general level of definition to be helpful to the non-specialist user, and hospitable for searching across domains. Fortunately, SCRAN's development coincides with the emergence of the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set (4), a standard set of data elements specifically designed for this purpose. SCRAN is an early implementer of the Dublin Core.

SCRAN is also an early implementer, in a non-library context, of the Z39-50 Search and Retrieve Protocol (5). Originally designed to allow cross-searching of library catalogues implemented on different computing platforms, this protocol is proving sufficiently robust to serve similar requirements in other domains, and Z39-50 profiles have already been developed for museums, archives and digital collections. SCRAN has implemented the gateway software to act as a Z39-50 "Target" and is already being searched in parallel with other Z39-50 targets by some users.

SCRAN in the 21st Century

SCRAN has made tremendous progress since the project was launched in November 1996, but after all it is, in a sense "a project in a hurry". SCRAN was funded by the UK Millennium Commission to build a Millennium Monument. The funding will cease in 2001, whether the project is finished or not. But the SCRAN Resource Base would be a strange sort of Monument if it ceased to be available beyond the Millennium.

Therefore, every aspect of SCRAN is designed for sustainability. Its educational focus should ensure a continuing demand for its services. Its licensing structure is designed to bring in a viable income stream. In so far as it is possible, SCRAN is also technologically future proof; the assets are being digitised to archival standards and held in an open and platform-independent form, and the access arrangements are developing according to the dominant standards as they emerge. In this, of course, there can be no room for complacency; there is nothing so difficult as prediction, especially about the future!


  1. United Kingdom. Department for Education and Employment. Learning Society: The National Grid for Learning. London, Stationery Office, 1997. http://www.open.gov.uk/dfee/grid/index.htm

  2. United Kingdom. The Library and Information Commission. New Library: The People's Network. London, LIC, 1997

  3. United Kingdom. Department for Culture, Media and Sport. New Library: The People's Network - The Government's Response. London, Stationary Office, 1998.

  4. The Dublin Core Metadata Element Set

  5. Z39-50 Profile for Access to Digital Library Objects

Note: some of this material has previously been presented at the Digital Libraries Asia 98 Conference, 18 March 1998