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Cultural Objects in Networked Environments - COINE

By Peter Brophy - July 2002

Peter Brophy reports on the COINE Project which is designed to encourage and enable ordinary citizens to tell and share their stories in networked spaces. Based firmly on emerging standards like OAI and Dublin Core, the project aims to demonstrate ways in which citizens can become contributors to as well as consumers of digital objects and can thus record, share and preserve their own personal and community cultures.

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The Armitt Museum and Library in Ambleside, Cumbria, England has a history going back over a hundred years, being founded by the Armitt sisters, who lived in Ambleside and had connections with many of the leading British literary figures of the time (Ruskin, Rawnsley, less directly with Wordsworth, Coleridge et al.). They collected material relating to the literary scene of the day as well as that pertaining to the English Lake District - Ambleside is in the heart of this area, one of the most beautiful and most visited parts of England. Over time the Armitt added to its original collections, as it still does. Particularly notable are original watercolours by Beatrix Potter, better known for her Peter Rabbit and other children's stories, and the archive of the Charlotte Mason teacher training college and its relationship to the Parents National Education Union (PNEU). Part of the English Fell and Rock Club's collection is on permanent loan from nearby Lancaster University. Recently the Armitt has started to develop its collections relating to the work of Kurt Schwitters, the internationally-renowned artist who lived and worked in Ambleside for many years.

The Armitt occupies purpose-built accommodation near the centre of Ambleside, easily accessible to all residents and visitors. On the ground floor are the main museum display areas as well as a reception area and small shop. On the upper floor there is the main library collection, a reading room and an office.

Within the COINE project, the Armitt will be helping its local citizens to tell their stories using networked information tools developed within the project. What follows is a short scenario which illustrates the kind of activity that might occur:

Alice has lived in Ambleside for the past five years. Now retired, she bought her traditional Lakeland cottage from an old couple who had lived there for many years. In redecorating she has come across many old features, and she has started to research the history of her cottage and the people who have lived there.

She has discovered some old photographs of the street which show it over 100 years ago as well as more recent ones dating from the 1950's to the 1990's. She has found the names of former owners from the title deeds and has started to read documents in the Armitt and other local collections which suggest the occupations of some of these people. One was a prominent local artist. Having joined the oral history group, she has also discovered that some of the recorded memories of older residents have considerable relevance. By accessing genealogical sites she has found the birth and marriage certificates of the local artist and discovered that her parents came to England from Poland after the First World War.

Now she is going to use the COINE system to write and record the story of her cottage. In searching the networked COINE archives she finds that someone in Poland, where another COINE domain is being run, has written the story of the artist's family. This will be a useful resource for her to link into.

COINE: the concept

Local cultures exist in every part of Europe. They have many forms and expressions and there are many, sometimes unexpected, linkages between even widely dispersed cultures. Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) offer the possibility of enabling individuals and local communities to capture, display, share and preserve their cultures in new ways, thus personalising both the publication and the use of information objects and exploring new inter-community linkages. In essence, ICTs offer the potential to turn citizens-as-customers into citizens-as-participants, actively contributing their own histories, knowledge, understandings and experiences.

Current evidence suggests, however, that where local communities are exploiting the web in an attempt to publicise and share their cultural interests, the implementations lack coherence, structure and interoperability. Neither are many of these solutions scalable or sustainable. Where generic standards are in use (for digitisation, resource description, search & retrieve and so on) the services tend to operate at national or major institution level. Where local and even sub-regional services and systems are implemented, it is more common to find simple web sites supported by lists of URLs or, at best, a locally-specified relational database. Furthermore, it is clear that the level of technical competence and skill needed to implement and maintain many of the IT-based systems available (such as museum or library systems utilising SPECTRUM, MARC, AACR, LCSH and the like) is far above that available to local communities. As a result citizens tend to be treated as relatively passive 'customers' rather than active 'participants'.

Robust, scalable and easy to use solutions are needed to encourage and enable individuals and small communities to actively exploit the opportunities of ICTs in worldwide networked environments. This is the issue which COINE is designed to address [1].

The following is a brief summary of some of the major challenges which work in this area has to engage with:

The COINE Consortium

The consortium consists of the following partners:

The COINE Architecture

Technical Architecture

The COINE technical architecture is designed to solve two specific problems:

  1. Seamless access to very highly distributed resources - this covers issues such as:
  2. Provision of a highly distributed metadata and data publishing platform - this covers issues such as:

In addition to the technical infrastructure issues, COINE addresses content personalisation from two angles:

COINE Resource Access Platform

Figure 1 shows a diagrammatic representation of the architecture used to provide highly distributed search platform for COINE. The architecture is an enhancement of the search platform developed within the EU FPIII DALI project [5], which was further exploited and enhanced within the FPIV UNIverse project [6].

diagram (9KB): Highly 
Distributed Search Platform
Figure 1: Highly Distributed Search Platform

The different layers of this model can be described in the following way:

The search platform relies on two distributed data stores for its knowledge of underlying data stores and its user population:

  1. Repository Directory - the collection directory provides a distributed data store describing the various databases and collections within the COINE network. This can include issues such as:
  2. User Directory -a distributed data store holding user profile information covering:

COINE Publishing Platform

The COINE publishing platform provides facilities for:

diagram (9KB):'My Repository' 
Distributed Publishing Platform
Figure 2: 'My Repository' Distributed Publishing Platform

The different layers can be described as follows:

Quality control and structure are essential to success in this field. The chaotic lack of control of Web content has created many problems for those seeking to retrieve objects, since the authority of so much content is unknown. Quality control does not mean heavy-handed censorship, but implies that the provenance and quality characteristics of objects held in a COINE domain are known and displayed to users and that users have the tools to create meaningful descriptions. These functions may be exercised through the owner of a COINE domain (e.g. a local public library, art gallery, museum, school, college, university or consortium - or even a local group of people with a shared interest), which may in turn operate through appointed local agents or through individuals. The COINE domain also imposes standards, including metadata content standards, to ensure that objects can be identified across any number of such domains. As a result objects within a COINE domain are representative of the chosen local culture and are controlled locally - but are surfaced within a global networked space. In effect, COINE domains act as local art galleries, local archives, local museums, local history centres, and so on.

COINE: Demonstration sites

COINE demonstrators will be undertaken in a carefully-chosen, Europe-wide series of relevant and challenging implementations. Partners have already identified a wide range of application scenarios, as illustrated by the following list:

Demonstration partners were selected not just for the innovative case studies which they can provide, but for their close links with regional and national policy makers in the cultural industries. Thus COINE is designed to build on existing digitisation and 'culture surfacing' initiatives at regional and national levels, and to help build value-added linkages between these as well as the base-level local communities.


The COINE project enables the exploration of new concepts in 'information inclusion' by encouraging the ordinary citizen to become involved in network-based sharing of experience and heritage. It does so within a firmly standards-based framework, thus working towards widespread interoperability and long-term sustainability. Together with other projects in the 'Heritage for All' cluster, it will provide a baseline for major advancement in Europe in this exciting area.


  1. COINE Project site,
    URL: <> Link to external resource
  2. Open Archives Initiative,
    URL: <> Link to external resource
  3. Z39.50 International Standard Maintenance Agency,
    URL: <> Link to external resource
  4. Zthes: a Z39.50 Profile for Thesaurus Navigation,
    URL: <> Link to external resource
  5. Telematics for Libraries - Project Dali ,
    URL: <> Link to external resource
  6. UNIverse Project WWW site ,
    URL: <> Link to external resource

Author Details

Picture of Peter BrophyPeter Brophy
Centre for Research in Library & Information Management
Department of Information & Communications
The Manchester Metropolitan University
Geoffrey Manton Building
Rosamond Street West
Manchester M15 6LL

URL: < Link to external resource
Email: Link to an email address

Phone: +44 161 247 6153
Fax: +44 161 247 6351

Peter Brophy has been Director of CERLIM since its foundation at the University of Central Lancashire in 1993. At that time Peter was also University Librarian, and he subsequently also took on responsibilty for the University's academic computing services. In 1998, he and the CERLIM team relocated to the Department of Information and Communications at the Manchester Metropolitan University. Recent publications include "The Library in the Twenty-First Century" (Facet publishing, 2001).

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For citation purposes:
Brophy,P. "Cultural Objects in Networked Environments - COINE", Cultivate Interactive, issue 7, 11 July 2002
URL: <>

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