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The Magazine of Digital Library Research

D-Lib Magazine

July/August 2016
Volume 22, Number 7/8
Table of Contents


Participatory Culture in Memory Institutions: of Diversity, Ethics and Trust?

Chern Li Liew
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Ferne Cheetham
KPMG Wellington

Point of Contact: Chern Li Liew (

DOI: 10.1045/july2016-liew


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Memory institutions have been using social technologies for participatory activities aimed at creating and enhancing collective memories. This study involves an analysis and synthesis of relevant discourses, with the aim of identifying concepts that contribute to a discussion on what meaningful participatory construction of collective memories should entail. A literature review was undertaken across various disciplinary fields. Policies and guidelines from a number of New Zealand-based memory institutions were also examined to distil the current focus of such policies and to ascertain if (and in what form) they reflect the issues identified. A number of themes emerged, namely those around democracy and inclusivity, ethical responsibilities and the concept of trust. The analysis of the policies reveals largely a legal focus. While these policies can be related to some of the issues identified, there does not appear to be concerted drive to ensure inclusivity and diversity in participation, equality in contribution and representation, and transparency and trustworthiness.


1 Introduction

Berners-Lee (2014, p. 87) states:

"The web is now a public resource on which people, business, communities and governments depend. It is vital to democracy and now more critical to free expression than any other medium. It stores and allows us to share our ideas, music, images and culture. It is an incredibly intimate reflection of our interests, priorities, disagreements and values. That makes the web worth protecting."

Certainly, the Web has become an integral part of a lot of people's lives but to what extent are the democratic ideals of the Web a reality? How democratic really is the Web as a public resource? Who is sharing? Who gets to share their ideas and culture freely? Whose voices and values are reflected and preserved?

Memory institutions such as archives, libraries and museum have been curating collections to promote cultural knowledge. The use of social technologies and the social Web in recent years has resulted in increased participatory activities for creating and adding value to these collections (Ridge, 2014). Memory institutions are expected to hold high standards of intellectual integrity while representing the cultures and communities within which they operate. This has given rise to many unique challenges. One of these is managing the representativeness, accuracy, trustworthiness and value of user-contributed contents (UCC) (Liew, 2014; Fleurbaay & Everleigh, 2012; De Laurentis, 2006).

Amongst memory institutions, there are several motives that might be at work. For instance, to capture specialist knowledge through participation of expert communities, an enthusiasm for exploring new technologies or a desire to be seen at the leading edge of technological development, a perceived need to meet expectations of or to win favour from senior executives or external funders, or an attempt to compensate for staff shortages within the institution by harnessing unpaid labour. In the current research, the emphasis of examination of participatory culture is on memory building and identity construction. How do memory institutions solicit and manage UCC? How democratic and inclusive is the invitation and participation? To what extent is attention and effort paid to solicit and represent minority voices? Could memory institutions be trusted with curating, preserving and representing the relevant diverse values and cultures? In this study, relevant literature is reviewed to seek an understanding of the associated issues. The aim is to analyse and synthesize the relevant discourses, and to identify concepts that contribute to a discussion on what meaningful participatory construction of collective memories should entail.

In the next section, participatory culture in the context of memory institutions and the current challenges is discussed. This is followed by a discussion of UCC and social metadata in the context of memory institutions, and the issues which arise from these. Findings from a content analysis of policies and guidelines in a number of New Zealand-based digital cultural heritage projects are then discussed before areas identified for future research are outlined.


1 Participatory Culture

The rise of social technologies has resulted in the proliferation of participatory culture and crowdsourcing. Jenkins et al. (2009) provide the widely-used definition of participatory culture, being "a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civil engagement, strong support for sharing one's creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices" (p. xi). Jenkins et al. state that activities facilitated by the social Web are illustrations of participatory culture — once an individual has access to a computer, an Internet connection and a social Web application, they are free to actively participate in the online community concerned.

Van Dijck (2009) argues however that 'participation' is not a binary concept separating passive recipients from active participants, but that user agency involves different 'levels' of participation "from 'creators' to 'spectators' and 'inactives'". Huvila (2015) agrees with this line of argument and emphasises that participation can refer to varying degrees of involvement. Research conducted in this area would therefore need to be careful to define the particular kind or form of participation. Deodata (2014) is critical of definitions of participatory culture in a similar way, stating that they are limited by a lack of answers to questions such as who is participating, and how and why are they doing so? Van Dijck (2009) also argues that focusing on the participant in the interaction neglects "the substantial role a site's interface plays in manoeuvring individual users and communities" (p. 41), pointing to the importance of examining the organisation or moderator side of participatory culture.

Jeff Howe's definition of crowdsourcing is that it "represents the act of a company or an institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call" (2006, p. 1). One of the major issues that have arisen in relation to crowdsourcing is that of fair labour. Schmidt (2013) argues that crowdsourcing has the potential to undermine the standard of fair labour in that it can be carried on largely unregulated. In this way, crowdsourcing can amount to a form of exploitation. On the other side of the argument, Brabham (2008) argues that being a part of the crowd and participating to something larger may be a way for individuals to contribute to or generate something worthwhile. At the least, it may be an "outlet for creative energy". In the context of memory institutions, there are a range of functions which are being crowdsourced, or which are being opened up to broader public participation but important questions about who is participating and how they are doing so need to be addressed.


2.1 The Role of Memory Institutions

Memory institutions are regarded as the "collective memory of a nation of community, repositories of knowledge and resources for learning" (De Laurentis, 2006) and there is a responsibility attributed to memory institutions as the preservers of our cultural heritage. Mancini and Carreras (2010) identify the major differences between memory institutions and Web 2.0. These differences give rise to many of the specific challenges faced by memory institutions in the social and participatory Web sphere.

Memory institutions generally privilege 'expert authority' in curating and contextualising collections while the social Web emphasises the "power in the hands of the user" (Mancini and Carreras, 2010). Huvila (2008), in discussing the concept of a participatory archive, acknowledges that while user participation may result in questionable reliability of tags and descriptions, the advantage is that these represent a wider variety of interpretations and viewpoints than those of traditional documentary practices.

McShane (2011) warns however that there is a tension between allowing participation and maintaining the high intellectual standards of memory institutions. In not managing this tension successfully, memory institutions run the risk of being "institutions of cultural hegemony" (Deodata, 2014). Deodata argues that if and when subjective judgments are made when organising knowledge and information, this can impact how material is interpreted by users. If memory institutions represent a collective heritage and there is a desire that legitimate voices are represented in the archiving and curating process, the question then arises as to how open and democratic the process is, and how memory institutions can encourage representative participation while maintaining integrity. There may also be legal and ethical considerations. Altering, omitting or deleting contributions could leave host institutions vulnerable to claims of censorship or elitism. Issues around content ownership and control can also emerge if participation is being carried out on a third-party social Web platform.

There is clearly a challenge ahead for memory institutions in the participatory social Web sphere. Palmer (2009) reminds us of the risks of having a Web 2.0 platform built without a true understanding of whether people will participate, and if so, who will participate; and Liew (2014) questions, if people do participate, how will memory institutions respond? Organisations may set out with goals, but are often surprised by the resulting reality. Given the assumption that there is "value placed on meaningful participation and contributions by the public" (Ridge, 2014), it is possible that librarians, archivists and museologists may downplay the risk that people may not be willing or able to participate fully.

This dialogue forms part of a greater shift in the understanding of knowledge and how it is organised. Historically, the principles of "universal truth and objectivity" were long-held and "guided [the] arrangement and description" of information (Gorzalski, 2013, p. 5). There has been however, a shift away from the notion that objectivity is desirable or even achievable. As Cook (2001) argues "there is not one narrative in a series or collection of records, but many narratives, many stories, serving many purposes for many audiences across space and time". This recognises that memory institutions serve many people, and many groups of people, with many different purposes. Representing people and providing for their range of purposes is perhaps one of the greatest challenges for memory institutions, but aims which may be achieved through participation and user contribution via the social Web.


2.2 Memory Institutions and the Participatory Social Web

There is no one standardised definition of user-contributed (also commonly referred to user-generated) content. Krumm, Davies and Narayanaswami (2008) suggest that it is content created by voluntary Internet users who "contribute data, information, or media". The OECD defines UCC as having three core characteristics being that the work is published, there is a "certain amount of creative effort [put into] creating the work or adapting existing works to construct a new one", and that the content is normally "outside of professional routines or practices". Östman (2012) identifies two similar core concepts. First, it involves "amateur or petty production of original content" or alteration of existing content and second there is an element of "sharing" the content with other users.

The particular form of UCC of interest in the context of this study is social metadata. Before the advent of the social Web, metadata at memory institutions was generated by the staff of those institutions. Social metadata on the other hand, is metadata which is contributed by users of the resources of memory institutions. Social metadata is "a way to both augment and recontextualise the content and metadata" previously created by employees (Smith-Yoshimura and Shein, 2011). Through online interactions, individuals may create tags, comments and contextual information to add to pre-existing sources. As Marselis (2011) suggests, allowing for social metadata in memory institutions signals a shift away from an understanding of museum staff as having interpretative authority towards a position where each item in a collection may have many interpretations and meanings. Marselis argues that metadata can be improved with user-contributed description, resulting in better archives, libraries and museums.

Nevertheless, UCC particularly in the form of social metadata lead to several issues, including how memory institutions go about facilitating the collection of UCC, ensuring that participation is fair and democratic, that contributions are representative (including that of minority communities), and how to ensure that contributions are also accurate, trustworthy and are of value to preserve. All of these questions cut right to the heart of the role of the memory institution in the era of participatory Web.


As Deodato (2014) states memory institutions "do not just organise knowledge but construct it" (p. 739). They provide the additional contextual information which surrounds the original resources. In opening up the contribution of metadata to users, memory institutions would want to receive social metadata which is accurate, trustworthy and valuable. The way they facilitate and encourage contribution can have a large impact on the metadata that is received. Gorzalski (2013) proposes that Web 2.0 allows archivists to enter "environments where the public exchanges information rather than expecting users to come to them" (p. 2). This changing approach has resulted in a need among memory institutions to modify the way they facilitate not only their core services, but also greater participation and contribution.


Representation is particularly important in relation to democratic principles, arising as a result of the particular role of memory institutions. If they are the collective memory or repository of cultural history, it is important to consider if and how the histories and values of relevant minority communities are preserved. Where users may contribute social metadata, that metadata can be "affected by the culture and customs of those whose materials are the subject" of the collection (Gorzalski, 2013, p. 8). Shilton and Srinivasan (2007) warn of a risk that memory institutions, particularly large, mainstream ones will have "collecting gaps" where society's "diversity of racial and ethnic communities" is not represented, and that even if minority histories are represented, it is likely they will be archives "about rather than of" those communities. This is particularly relevant in multicultural contexts. As Deodato argues, there needs to be awareness on the part of memory institutions that where social metadata is only contributed by a dominant culture or social group, the "values, biases and worldviews" (p. 739) of that culture is reflected and reinforced in the metadata.


For social metadata to be integrated as part of a memory institution's repository, it must be recognised that there are risks "inherent in more genuinely sharing content, which necessarily means letting go of some authority" (Kidd, 2011, p. 73). This raises the risk of "unintended consequences such as misinformation and conflicting metadata" (Gorzalski, 2013, p. 2). This poses a risk to a memory institution as a whole as there may be a loss of trust in the intellectual integrity of the information provided.

One way a memory institution can mitigate that risk to some extent is through moderation of UCC and the social metadata contributed and the moderation could be in different forms. These can include reviewing user contributions before they are published, removing spam, and "responding to users who abuse a site by trying to add inappropriate content" (Smith-Yoshimura et al., 2011, p. 2). It may be that contributions are "wrong" or "abusive" or "unhelpful". Each criterion requires a judgment call on the part of the moderator given that most contributions represent a subjective analysis. As such, similar problems as those highlighted above in the context of moderation may flow through — the subjective perspective of the moderator determines what is "right" and what is "wrong" in the context of social metadata.

Smith-Yoshimura and Shein (2011) suggest that an alternative method for moderation could be assigning staff member to either approve or reject the contribution. This however, is more useful when tags are rejected because they are "too personal" or "likely to relate to a particular edition or item" (p. 22). This is because although users may disagree on the use of a particular tag in relation to a particular item, it could be argued that "tags are never "wrong"" (p. 22). As Yeo (2014) discusses, contextual representations are not objective and therefore a range of participating voices may be conflicting, but equally valid. Different criteria for moderation, alteration and deletion are therefore required. A form of moderation is to limit the creation of tags to a controlled vocabulary (Smith-Yoshimura et al., 2011, p. 20). These vocabularies may be made up either of existing taxonomies or subject headings like the Library of Congress Subject Headings, a locally-developed thesaurus, or using the Dewey Decimal Classification as the vocabulary base for social metadata (Golub, Lykke and Tudhope, 2014). It is argued that this would enable greater consistency and making it easier for social metadata to be focused.

Alternatively, codes of conduct, terms and conditions or other guidelines and principles may provide a framework within which moderation, both at the participant- and organisation-level can occur. In constructing such guidelines, the organisation may examine the relationships it maintains "with the various internal and external stakeholders, in order to identify the common good" the organisation is trying to achieve, as well as the rights its stakeholders may have (Argandoña, 1998, p. 1095). Making moderation criteria or expectations available can increase transparency of the policies and processes, the trust participants have in the memory institution, and also indicate that there is consent to the policies and guidelines. This can link inherently to the reliability and trustworthiness of the records of an institution itself (Pereira et al., 2014).

The operations of information systems and Web platforms such as the social Web are clearly dependent on the actions of the institution, technology and the people involved. People and institutions make adoption and use decisions based on their level of trust, which is in turn affected by their perception of the reliability of the sociotechnical structures of an information system (Moss, Endicott-Popovsky and Dupuis, 2015). The current lack of trust is often expressed in the disparate languages of potential privacy, security and liability litigation concerns. These issues could create 'wastelands' in the system landscapes (Moss, Endicott-Popovsky and Dupuis, 2015, p. 109) — aspects that cannot be developed to their maximum potential because of the shadows cast by ambiguous issues and unresolved concerns.

The technological elements of sociotechnical systems can often be rendered reliable by conformity to standard specifications, with conformity demonstrated by the presentation of metrics of relevant performance criteria measured against the relevant variables set forth in those specifications. The people and institutional elements by contrast, are supposedly rendered by conformity to agreed rules and laws, with their own set of metrics of conformity. As such, information systems become trustworthy by the application of hybrid technology tools and relevant policies, and legal rules documented in some sort of ethical and reliability framework. In this study, we are interested in exploring concepts that could potentially be important elements of such framework in the context of participatory construction of collective memories.


2.3 Key Concepts

Through the analysis and synthesis of the relevant discourses, a number of key concepts emerge.

Democracy and Inclusivity

'Democracy' has cross-disciplinary implications. Democratic principles include inclusivity, representation and fair participation, which are relevant in the context of this study. The social Web is often associated with having a great power to serve democracy (Best and Wade, 2009; Dahlberg, 2001). This is typically categorised in several different ways; as an enhancer of community, as "assisting the expression of individual interests" and as "the means for expansion of the public sphere of rational-critical citizen discourse" (Dahlberg, 2001, p. 616). In this way, the Internet is perceived as non-discriminatory as there are no limits to contribution. As Deodato (2014) points out, Web 2.0 has had the effect of allowing "greater numbers of people to create and share their own intellectual and creative expressions" (p. 734) with greater numbers of people.

Brabham (2008) argues however, that this "democratising" power of the Internet is often overstated. It "cannot be assured [there is] a diversity of opinion in the crowd" (p. 85). In a participatory culture where users are contributing social metadata to memory institutions, representation and the source of cultural contextual information raise their own issues. These will be discussed below in terms of access inequalities, participation inequalities and through the particular lens of minority cultures.

Lack of Access

Lack of access is one key reason for a lack of diversity in participation online. As Robinson (2009) highlights, Web 2.0 is typically presented by way of a 'utopian discourse' which fails to acknowledge that the benefits are not necessarily diffused to all equally. Access inequalities reflect socioeconomic inequalities in that people from lower socioeconomic classes are less likely to have access to the hardware necessary, let alone access also to the Internet on a regular basis and at a sufficient level. Another group which is likely to be excluded from online participation as a result of lack of access by way of lack of skills such as in the case of the elderly who may lack the requisite skills given that social Web technology has only been developed in the latter years of their lives.

Lack of Participation

Alongside access inequalities, there are participation inequalities. Schradie (2011) discusses that users may be divided in terms of the quality of the content they produce, a flow-on effect from other social inequalities. As such, a class-based divide may develop online, reflecting inequalities in reality. This is an issue for memory institutions as they are meant to provide highly trustworthy intellectual information to all who could benefit from them. The reality however is that some users may be excluded from full participation through lack of access to technology, or as a result of coming from a less educated background. Dahlberg (2001) argues that those who are socially powerful offline dominate online participation both quantitatively and qualitatively. These arguments would all tend to suggest that the social Web is not so much a perfect democratising platform as it often has been championed as but rather, reflects the social inequalities present in the offline arena to some extent.

Baehler (2007) argues that at the core of New Zealand's social tradition is a willingness to "review and adjust basic economic and social arrangements continually" in order to maintain equality and social harmony" (p. 28). The egalitarian ideal is a foundational principle of New Zealand's society and so ensuring there is equality in participation and contribution of UCC is a central challenge for the memory institutions in this country, particularly in light of the socioeconomic statistical realities. An example of where a memory institution reached out to the community to solicit data and stories is the RECOLLECT project at the Upper Hutt City Library (UHCL) (Perkins, 2013). The goal of the project was to make the "Heritage Collections more accessible and appealing for our local community" (p. 2). RECOLLECT is an "interactive online database" which is "user-centric" rather than "collection-centric" and allows users to "add their own information or stories about items held in [the] collection" (p. 2). UHCL found however that a significant proportion of those who they sought to target as participants, the elderly, were unable to participate in the ways it was originally hoped they would (p. 7). This highlights the issues of lack of access and participation discussed above.

Ethnical-cultural Context

A flow on effect of the above analysis is that if there are particular cultural, social or ethnic groups who are overrepresented statistically in lower socioeconomic groups, or have proportionately lower education, the likelihood that they will also be overrepresented in terms of lack of access and participation is increased. For memory institutions in multicultural societies, it has become important to involve "source communities" being groups "in the past when artefacts were collected, as well as their descendants today" (Marselis, 2011, p. 5). Such source communities are able to contribute their own contextual metadata and "perspectives on their own culture" which a curator, librarian or archivist may not be able to provide. There is a risk that due to inequality of access and participation and failure to purposefully engage people from minority groups and cultures, the input from them may be obscured by the contribution of dominant groups and cultures.

Ethical Responsibilities

The concepts of 'ethics' and 'ethical conduct' relate in some way to most areas of practice and research. This section will discuss a high-level understanding of ethics before examining the way the concept is approached in a number of specific areas.

'Ethics' is an area complicated by a dichotomy between broad base philosophical discussions and the need for specific ways of promoting ethical conduct or minimum standards in practice. The question of ethical practice invokes issues of morality, philosophy and theology. The approach of specific areas of practice has been to adopt or promote ethical codes of conduct which provide guidelines. It is presumed that if followed, an ethical outcome will be achieved. In this way, 'ethics' has become a creature of rules and sanction. If a practitioner breaches their particular code of conduct, they risk malpractice claims against them. The classic example of such a code of conduct in the medical field is the taking of the Hippocratic Oath by physicians. While physicians still take the Oath, it exists alongside medical codes of ethics which may include specific principles to uphold, professional responsibilities, responsibilities to the patient, research and teaching obligations and obligations in relation to the commercial exploitation of the role of medical professional.

On a more theoretical level, Beauchamp and Childress developed an approach to biomedical ethics in the late 1970s founded on four key principles. These principles are respect for autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence and justice (Beauchamp and Childress, 2007, p. 4). Similarly, codes of conduct exist for the purposes of memory institutions. An example of this is the Code of Ethics of the International Council of Museums. This "sets minimum standards of professional practice and performance for museums and their staff" which all those who are members of the organisation must uphold (ICOM Code of Ethics). Similarly, there exists a Code of Ethics for the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).

For the purposes of this study, the scope of ethical considerations will be focused on those obligations owed by memory institutions generally and to participants. Memory institutions have a general obligation to "preserve the memory of the institutions they serve and attend to their target users' needs" (Pereira et al., 2014). This includes considerations of accountability, transparency, credibility, respect for identities and human agency. These 'ethical practice' and standards are obligations owed by memory institutions in long-held professional conducts and in traditional documentary practices but can become complicated when considered in a social Web context. Issues arise around how memory institutions can act within those ethical standards in managing online conversations and participation.

In the context of participatory construction of collective memories, the respectful, ethical stewardship of indigenous cultural property, where relevant, is of particular importance. This responsibility depends on the forging and sustaining of relationships between memory institutions and the communities concerned. Use of social technologies may have a role in this process (e.g. by providing a space for dialogue and negotiation involving stakeholders from different communities in the revitalisation of heritage) but this must be understood in the context of shifting practices and the power dynamics and partnerships between the communities and memory institutions. This requires an approach to the design of social technologies and participatory activities that focus on sustaining both the continuity and diversity of intangible heritage practices, while taking into account the entanglement of online and offline tools in producing and reproducing embodied heritage knowledge.

Trust and Reliability

'Trust' is a complicated concept and as a human value difficult to define. Kramer (1999) identifies formulations of trust as falling along a spectrum from social and ethical aspects of trust, to strategic and calculative facets. Ultimately, he argues, most theorists agree that trust is a psychological state. This means that trust is comprised of a series of cognitive processes. To expand on this, he refers to Rothstein's definition of trust as a person's "expectations, assumptions or beliefs about the likelihood that another's future actions will be beneficial, favourable, or at least not detrimental to one's interests" (1999, p. 142). Kini and Choobineh (1998) discuss trust as a multidimensional concept. They identify trust as "assum[ing] the existence of some kind of relationship between two parties, and an expectation of one person about the other person's behaviour" (p. 53).

As well as being a difficult concept to define, trust is relational and in participatory cultures, there are a series of different relationships, all of which need an element of trust. Issues of trust arise in terms of the trust the institution has in those who participate, the trust between participants, and the trust participants have in the institution (Liew, 2014; 2015). This study is primarily interested in the trust participants have in the memory institution. In this context, there will need to be trust that the institution is preserving the integrity of data and contributions. Bigley and Pearce (1998) suggest that inherent in the notion of trust is vulnerability on the part of at least one party. In the context of memory institutions this is apparent. The users of memory institution resources are assumed to be intellectually vulnerable relative to the memory institution itself. Yeo (2013) suggests that transparency is more important than objectivity when it comes to trust participants have in memory institutions as content regulators. In the context of memory institutions, transparency in terms of the processes of content regulation may help alleviate feelings of relative vulnerability on the part of participants and users.

Kramer (1999) discusses the foundations for different forms of trust in such organisations. Of particular relevance to this study is the idea of "category-based trust" where trust is predicated "on information regarding a trustee's membership in a social or organisational category" (p. 577). This is a kind of presumptive trust which "bypasses the need for personal knowledge and the costs of negotiating reciprocity". In this way, there may be a presumptive trust of individuals in memory institutions by virtue of the fact that they belong to that category of organisation, rather than as a result of experience or special knowledge. Yeo (2013) argues that while historically there was a lot of trust in archives, this has been waning however, as is trust in experts and other memory institutions (p. 217).

As well as the body of literature aimed at defining trust and the different classes of organisational trust, there is discussion of barriers to trust, or distrust. Distrust is defined by Grovier (1994) as a "lack of confidence in the other" (p. 154). Trust may never have existed between parties or it may be lost where an individual's expectations have been violated, and when they recognise situational cues or contextual information that suggests another may have ulterior motives (Fein and Hilton, 1994). The reasons for such a decline in trust in institutions may come from a range of factors but is relatively unclear.

Schrier (2011) discusses the potential for social media and participatory platforms to be used to develop greater trust with memory institutions. He argues that a library does not "prove its authoritativeness solely through the quality of its holdings". Rather, it is also proven through "the quality of the librarians' interactions with users". Schrier highlights the importance of high quality online interaction in showing that "the curators of [the] collection are knowledgeable and capable of providing dependable information to their users". This places a different focus on the issue of trust in the context of memory institutions, in that there needs to be trust not only in the quality and unbiased nature of information and records, and the institution as benevolent, but also in the individual staff members and their abilities to communicate in a professional and ethical manner.


3 Analysis of Policies and Guidelines

As discussed above, memory institutions may regulate UCC through the implementation of guidelines or terms of use aimed at participants. These can include limiting the liability of the memory institution, informing participants about acceptable use, codes of conduct, the kinds and expected quality of contributions (Liew, 2013), any moderation that may occur and a statement reserving the institution's right to remove or modify any UCC.

As part of this study, policies and guidelines from a number of major New Zealand-based digital cultural heritage projects were examined to distil the current focus of such policies and to ascertain if (and in what form) they reflect the issues discussed above. It is understandable that this approach has its limit. Some of the information sought might be documented elsewhere (e.g. in internal records) and that much relevant information is likely to be tacit and not documented in writing at all. At the time of this study, the following projects had policies and guidelines publicly available and hence, formed the study sample:

The majority of the available documentation was presented as 'Terms and Conditions' or 'Terms of Use' for participating users. Their contents can be broadly divided into four categories; disclaimers, rules around contributing content, moderation, and how users signal acceptance of the terms. The main findings are synthesised and discussed in the following section, while the Appendix outlines examples from each sample.


Many of the sites had disclaimers which may be broadly divided into two categories. There were disclaimers which absolve the institution of liability for the opinions and ideas expressed by third parties, and those which absolve the institution of liability for loss or damage suffered as a result of using the site and its content. The purpose of absolving institutions of liability for the opinions and ideas of others relates to the principle of trust. Without such disclaimers, content which is contributed and seen to be 'incorrect' or 'biased' may pose a threat to the overall integrity of the memory institution's content and as a result, lower the trust users have in the institution's content. Integrity and trust are, as discussed above, foundational to the memory institution's profession and form part of the professional standards of the institutions.

The other aspect of disclaimers which absolves the institution of liability for loss or damage appears to be a purely legal aspect which does not relate to the principles discussed above.

Contributing Content

Some institutions provided guidelines in terms of how and what kind of content should be contributed. Of those analysed, most placed a high obligation on the user, and responsibility for the content rests with the user. Users, in contributing content, are representing that they have legal rights to the material and that providing it is not in breach of any other person's intellectual property rights. Users, in contributing, are also agreeing not to contribute content which is defamatory; obscene; vulgar or indecent; harassing, threatening, abusive or hateful; otherwise degrading or intimidating for an individual or group on the basis of religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age or disability; Illegal; personal data, whether of the user or another person; Invasive of privacy; political campaigning, commercial solicitation, chain mail or spam; malware, viruses, worms or other harmful or destructive software or code.

These policies clearly place the responsibility on the user. There is an implicit theme in most of the policies that where a user contributes content which is in breach of these condition, they risk being barred from participation, and will likely have their contributions removed. This is further discussed below in relation to moderation. In asserting that certain kinds of participation and content should not be contributed by users, the memory institution may be able to increase trust. Users will trust that they will not be exposed to discriminatory, abusive or obscene content, and trust the institution to manage such content.


Exact policies in terms of how content would be moderated were not available. Instead, moderation falls into two distinct categories and is typically framed as a "reserve of rights" clause. The first is the reservation of the right to suspend or to delete a member's account. The second is the reservation of the right to review, edit or delete the comments and content contributed. There is little beyond this reservation of rights to give any substantive indication as to how content is moderated. It is probably implicit that content which is contributed in breach of the above conditions would be removed. However, 'editing' is more difficult to understand. It is not clear whether this would be limited to correcting grammar and spelling, or whether it would go further and possibly risk changing the nature of what was originally said. Interestingly, the site with arguably the highest level of participation — the UHCL RECOLLECT, does not have explicit statements with regard to content contribution, moderation and user agreement.

As indicated above, the way in which content is moderated can have an impact on which 'voices' are heard and represented. Where content is edited, the moderator's interpretation is applied to the original intention. From the available policies (Note: there may be internal documents which were not available publicly), it seems that there is little in the way of objective standards or criteria for the moderation of content. Instead, it is likely that a person taking on the moderating role would apply their subjective judgement to remove, review and modify the content contributed by participants. The lack of certainty or clarity of decisions made in moderation could risk the trust participants have in an institution and may raise questions about how democratic participation is, and the institution's upholding of its ethical responsibilities. As such, it would be beneficial for memory institutions to develop clearer guidelines or standards for moderators and these must also be made transparent to potential participants and contributors.

User Agreement

The final category related to when and how the various policies and guidelines would become binding on a person using and participating on the site. Generally, use or registration as an account holder would signify acceptance of the terms and conditions of the various sites. Once again, currently, such provisions appear to have more of a legal application rather than being posed as an attempt to resolve the issues discussed above.


4 Conclusion and Areas for Future Research

The analysis of the content of the policies and guidelines in the study sample reveals largely a legal focus — absolving the institution of liability, placing responsibility on users not to contribute content which they do not have the legal rights to, and reserving the right to remove content or users where the terms are breached. While these policies can be related to some of the issues discussed above, there does not appear to be concerted drive to ensure inclusivity and diversity in participation, equality in contribution and representation, and transparency and trustworthiness.

This may be a reflection of the common belief held about the social Web in that people use and participate as they wish, and that once a person becomes a user or participant, they become bound by the terms and policies of the institution concerned. This is not a criticism or denunciation of the need for 'Terms of Use' type policies and guidelines. Many of the legalities and other points discussed are relevant and necessary. However, memory institutions, in focusing on the legalities of responsibility and liability may fail to address broader issues concerning inclusivity and diversity in participation, professional and ethical responsibilities in pursuing and facilitating equality in contribution and representation, and transparency and trustworthiness of the systems supporting participatory activities in memory institutions.

Nancy Proctor, the former Head of Mobile Strategy and Initiatives for the Smithsonian Institution, highlights the effort required for memory institutions to fully embrace a participatory culture (as documented in Stein, 2012). She warns against seeking 'quick-hit' payoffs by adopting modern technological fads rather than investing in the "much harder, less sexy, but ultimately more sustainable task of radically restructuring our museums and practices" (Stein, 2012).

Indeed, this investment should involve memory institutions developing authentic and lasting relationships with the public and the communities concerned, and an investment that requires a meaningful integration of a participatory culture into the strategic directions and daily operations of the institutions. In some cases, a review of ethical responsibilities, internal restructuring and a realignment of documentation (and organisational) practices and professional cultures may be necessary to support these efforts.

It is important to remember that the social Web is not simply a collection of technological media. Rather it is imbued with sociocultural elements. Their use must be considered in light of the affordances of these platforms (Leonardi, 2011) as well as the sociomateriality of these platforms (Orlikowski and Scott, 2008). There are specific issues and challenges which arise in the particular context of memory institutions. Some questions remain and worth considering by memory institutions who wish to make further progress with participatory activities that involve construction of collective memories and shared heritage:

In multicultural, multi-ethnicity contexts, there is also room for research that focus on the inclusion of the 'voices' of the minorities, the way contributions by various ethnic, sociocultural, socioeconomic groups are encouraged and fairly represented. For instance, are the voices and the perspectives of indigenous communities heard and respectfully represented? Issues around ownership and control of contents and platforms, immaterial rights also need to be better understood.



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Appendix — Examples of Terms and Conditions/Terms of Use for Participants and Contributors to New Zealand-based Digital Cultural Heritage Projects

  Disclaimer Contributing Content Moderation User Agreement
National Library of New Zealand "The Library is not responsible for any content contributed by users. This material may or may not be factual, and you should try to verify its authenticity before relying on it."

"To the fullest extent permitted by law, the Library excludes all responsibility and liability in relation to the website and the Library will not be responsible for errors, omissions or misstatements or be liable for any loss or damage however caused."
"Contributed content must not include material that infringes intellectual property or privacy rights, breaches suppression orders or any other laws, or is purposefully inflammatory." "The Library has the right to remove any contributed content as it sees fit, and will do so if content violates these Terms and Conditions."

"The Library has the right to modify or remove user-contribution features at its discretion, including removing contributed content if deemed necessary. Wherever possible we will notify you of any changes by posting messages on this website."
"By continuing to use this website, you agree to be bound by the amended terms and conditions."
DigitalNZ   "You must not contribute metadata that: (a) contains or installs any virus, worm, malware, Trojan horse or other harmful or destructive software or code; (b) is obscene or defamatory; (c) violates the privacy or other rights of any third party; or (d) is otherwise unlawful." "We do not moderate metadata contributed to DigitalNZ. We reserve the right to suspend or remove access to the whole or any part of your metadata if we consider that you have breached these terms or if the metadata is otherwise unsuitable for DigitalNZ." "Persons and organisations providing metadata to DigitalNZ are required to agree to these metadata contribution terms. Your contribution of metadata to DigitalNZ will be deemed to constitute your acceptance of these terms, forming a binding agreement with DIA (Department of Internal Affairs)."
Te Ara Te Ara can "accept no liability for any loss or damage incurred through or subsequent to the use of this website or its contents"

"Materials posted by users do not necessarily reflect the views of Te Ara". "Manatu Taonga expressly disclaims any responsibility or liability for any material communicated by third parties through this website".
"By posting materials on this site, you represent that you have all necessary rights in and to such materials and that such materials will not infringe any personal or proprietary rights of any third parties, nor will such materials be defamatory, unlawful, threatening, obscene or otherwise objectionable." "Te Ara reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to review, edit or delete any material posted by users."  
NZ Museums

Note: VSL is Vernon Systems Ltd. eHive is a Web-based collection management system designed for memory institutes. It is hosted by VSL.
"VSL does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information on eHive."

"VSL does not have any liability whatsoever, including in negligence, for any damage to your computer systems or corruption and loss of data resulting from use of eHive™, including but not limited to any bugs, viruses or Trojan programmes, and including any consequential loss or damages flowing from any such damage whether or not foreseeable by VSL."
"You may only publish content which you hold the right to publish electronically. By publishing any content on this Site you confirm you hold the relevant copyright and have the right to use any trademarks used in connection with it."

"You will not harass, abuse, threaten, defame, intimidate or impersonate any eHive™ user. You will not use eHive™ for any unauthorised or illegal activity — including impersonating any other individual or organisation.

You will not use your account in any way which is unlawful, abusive, obscene, harmful, defamatory or invasive of another's privacy. You will not do anything that may inhibit other users' ability to use the Site, including (but not limited to) transmitting worms or viruses to the Site.

You will not do anything which interferes or disrupts the service or servers/networks connected with eHive™."
"VSL may close your account in any of the following circumstances: (a) you do not comply with these terms and conditions; (b) you do not comply with the Intellectual Property rights provisions as outlined in this document." "VSL may update these terms and conditions of use at any time and will put a notice on the Site to that effect. If you continue to use the Site after such a notice has been posted, you do so subject to the updated terms and conditions."
Upper Hutt City Library Heritage Collections — RECOLLECT Neither we nor any third parties provide any warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness or suitability of the information and materials found or offered on this website for any particular purpose. You acknowledge that such information and materials may contain inaccuracies or errors and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law.

Your use of any information or materials on this website is entirely at your own risk, for which we shall not be liable. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this website meet your specific requirements.
Your use of this website and any dispute arising out of such use of the website is subject to the laws of New Zealand.    
NZ On Screen "You agree that NZ On Screen is not responsible for any of the opinions expressed in any Comments posted on this website. NZ On Screen takes no responsibility and assumes no liability for any Comments posted by you or any third party."

"You agree that, to the maximum extent permitted by law, any and all liability and responsibility of NZ On Screen to you or any other person under or in connection with these Terms and Conditions, or in connection with this website, or your use of or inability to use this website is excluded in respect of any and all loss or damage, whether direct or indirect, or however caused, whether arising in contract, tort, equity or otherwise."
"NZ On Screen permits you to post comments, reviews, stories and other material (together referred to as "Comments") in relation to perspectives and programmes on this website." Represent and warrant that your Comments are not illegal, obscene, offensive, threatening, defamatory, invasive of privacy, infringing of intellectual property rights, injurious to third parties, and do not otherwise infringe any law; Represent and warrant that your Comments do not consist of or contain political campaigning, commercial solicitation, chain letters, mass mailings, or any other form of spam; Agree to take full legal responsibility and liability for your Comments; Represent and warrant that your Comments are your own original work and are owned by you; are accurate; and that use of the your Comments do not violate these Terms and Conditions and will not cause injury to any person or entity; and that you will indemnify NZ On Screen for all claims resulting from the Comments that you supply;   "By registering, you accept these terms and conditions".
Kete Horowhenua "We reserve the right to suspend, restrict or terminate your access to the Site at any time at our discretion where we believe that you may be in breach of these Terms of Use or where required to do so by law or regulatory body or our licensors."

"We have no responsibility or control over the contents of any Shared Content nor communications made by or between Registered Users and cannot be held liable for any contents of or consequences of such material. You must be aware that any Shared Content information provided by another Registered User may be incorrect or misleading and it is your responsibility to take precautions and use common sense when using the Site and any Shared Content or providing any information to others via the Site. Unfortunately, there may be occasions when you may find other Registered Users' use of the Site or posted Shared Content offensive, harmful or deceptive."

"To the fullest extent permissible by law, we disclaim any and all warranties of any kind (whether express or implied) in relation to the Site and any items accessed by you via the Site or a third party provider including any Shared Content. Your statutory rights as a consumer (including your right to receive a reasonable standard of service) are not affected.

Our liability in tort, contract, negligence, pre-contract or other representations or otherwise arising out of or in connection with and/or these Terms of Use shall be limited in aggregate to $500 in respect of any one claim or series of connected claims.

We do not accept any liability for damage to your computer system or loss of data that results from your use of the Site and we cannot guarantee that any files that you download are free from viruses, contamination or destructive features."
"You agree that, in using the Site, you will not: email, transmit or otherwise disseminate any content (including, text, image, video or audio files) which is defamatory, obscene, in breach of copyright, vulgar or indecent or may have the effect of being harassing, threatening, abusive or hateful or that otherwise degrades or intimidates an individual or group of individuals on the basis of religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age or disability, or that is illegal; transmit on the Site, personal data regarding another Registered User or other person including, without limitation, their email, address or other contact details that would enable another Registered User or other person to identify or contact them without their express consent; use the Site in any way that may lead to the encouragement, procurement or carrying out of any criminal activity including canvassing, prostitution or soliciting; use the Site for any purpose other than for non-commercial use; use the Site to impersonate any person or entity (including, but not limited to, any of Our employees or representatives) nor falsely state or otherwise misrepresent your affiliation with a person or entity; cause any part of the Site to be interrupted, damaged or otherwise impaired;" "We reserve the right to terminate or suspend your registration where we have reason to believe or suspect that you are acting in breach of these Terms and Conditions or House Rules, or where required to do so by law, regulatory body or our licensors; at any time on not less than 24 hours notice to you." "If you do not agree to these Terms and Conditions then you must not register." "You can read and use the Site without registering but if you would like to contribute and amend material to the Site then you will need to register and agree to these Terms and Conditions."

About the Authors

Chern Li Liew is a Senior Lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand). She holds a PhD in Information Studies from Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) and an MSc from Loughborough University (UK). Her research interests center on digital information services as socio-technical environment. She has published in the areas of digital cultural heritage, participatory enrichment of cultural knowledge, and the social sustainability of digital information services: She is on the editorial advisory boards of "International Journal of Digital Library Systems" and "Online Information Review". She is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Consortium of iSchools Asia-Pacific.


Ferne Cheetham completed her study at Victoria University of Wellington in 2015, gaining a LLB/BCom majoring in International Business. Throughout her studies, she held several research assistant positions in the areas of social housing, social enterprise, memory institutions and social metadata. She is currently working at KPMG Wellington, specialising in taxation.