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Internet Resources for Cultural Resource Management (CRM) Professionals

allen lutins


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The past few years have witnessed a profound rush to gain Internet access on the part of businesses and individuals for both commercial and entertainment purposes. Although a long-time and frequent user of the Internet, I am reluctant to extol its value as a tool for CRM professionals. The Internet serves best as a medium of communication, and as a source of entertainment its interactive nature perhaps renders it a preferable alternative to television. But for business purposes it is not the indispensable tool that some imagine it to be, and, more often than not, it is vastly inferior to readily available written materials. This is not to say that the Internet is worthless to CRM professionals, and in this article I will endeavor to enumerate those Internet resources of most value to CRM professionals, after first making clear certain limitations inherent in the medium.

What's Not out There?

The primary shortcomings of online resources are the ephemeral nature of the Internet and the labor required for digitizing and making available information in electronic form. New computers are constantly brought online and old ones retired; computers that contain archives of information sometimes change hands. These and other circumstances cause electronic addresses of computers to change, often without any indication of whether or where the information was transferred. This renders the Internet relatively less reliable than traditional, more permanent information repositories such as libraries, government offices, etc.

The labor required for digitizing books, data files, and images is also an impediment to making comprehensive resources available online. Whole pages of text cannot be simply "scanned in"; the resulting graphic images often lack sufficient clarity and are quite large, generating obstacles to the storage and timely transfer of their content. Therefore, most information must be entered by hand, although this is sometimes accomplished with the assistance of text-recognition software.

The Internet's Best-Known Resource: The World Wide Web

The most visible aspect of the Internet today is the World Wide Web. Web pages can reside on any computer in the world with a permanent connection to the Internet and can be created by anyone with a bit of technical knowledge and online access, the result being that there are hundreds of millions of such pages. Because of the ephemeral nature of the net and the addition of hundreds of new pages daily, no single individual or group can ever maintain a comprehensive, completely up-to-date index of such resources. However, a number of sites do maintain excellent indexes. Two examples are Yahoo (www.yahoo.com), a site with both a hierarchical index and word-search capabilities, and Internet Search Engines (cuiwww.unige.ch/meta-index.html), which provides easy access to a number of search engines online, which in turn provide key word searches on millions of web pages.

An increasing number of publications are available in part or in whole online. One example is the National Park Service journal, CRM (www.cr.nps.gov/crm). The National Trust for Historic Preservation (www.nationaltrust.org), in addition to other information, also maintains online journals, such as Preservation Magazine. One can anticipate that many more journals will be available online in the next few years; it is best to consult one of the previously mentioned search engines to check on the availability of particular journals.

In addition to the National Park Service and National Trust for Historic Preservation, numerous other federal agencies have set up web sites. One example is the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation at www.achp.com. A suggested method for locating additional online agencies is to enter the key words "historic preservation" while using one of the search engines.

Federal and state legislation is being made increasingly available online. Archaeology-specific legislation for western states is available at www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/3207/archlaw.html. In general though, one must resort to general collections of laws (and thus must have exact citations to the laws in which one is interested).

More and more companies involved in CRM (for example, those providing lithic and soil analyses and, of course, CRM firms themselves) are instituting web pages. Again, it is best to consult search engines to locate these pages, because no single index to such resources exists.

Unfortunately, there are relatively few other web resources of direct significance to CRM professionals. For example, most states do not provide lists of contracts online, apparently because of the labor and resources involved but perhaps also because they are loathe to provide for free resources for which they currently charge. One auspicious exception is govcon (www.govcon.com), which contains a full listing of U.S. government contracts. After registering online (free), go back to the home page and select "CBD" (Commerce Business Daily). The two categories of interest to CRM professionals are "B- Special Studies and Analyses--Not R&D" and "C- Architect and Engineering Services--Construction." Another example of an excellent site of interest to CRM professionals is the National Archaeological Database (www.cast.uark.edu/products/NADB), an excellent source of information on public archaeology that includes a bibliographic inventory of contract archaeology reports, nationwide maps of site densities, and up-to-date information on Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

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Staying in Touch: Discussion Groups

The allure of web sites, with their dazzling multimedia capabilities, has drawn attention away from other--potentially more practical--resources, such as email and discussion groups. Discussion groups are categorized according to particular (and most often concise) topics and are useful for obtaining and promulgating information relevant to the discussion group topic. There are two basic types of discussion groups: those that send messages directly through email and those that are accessed online via web browsers or other software. It is strongly recommended that one follow the "posts," or messages sent to a discussion group, for a couple of weeks before posting oneself, in order to get a feel for the format of postings and to avoid asking questions that are repeatedly sent by individuals who fail to heed this advice (thus annoying discussion group readers with additional chaff to wade through).

Email discussion groups, or "lists," are maintained by automatic online programs commonly referred to as "list servers." Internet lists are akin to magazines, the contents of which consist of messages sent by individuals to (and redistributed by) the list server. To "subscribe" to a particular list, a message is sent in the form "subscribe list-name your-name" to the list server. The server then sends you an instruction sheet on how to post entries to the list, how to unsubscribe from the list, and list options that may be invoked by sending additional commands to the list server. One useful option available on most lists is to have the list come in "digest" format once a day, instead of having each message sent trickle in as an individual email message. This is particularly useful for groups that tend to generate large volumes of messages. An extensive compendium of such lists is available at www.tile.net/listerv. One extremely popular Internet discussion group is ARCH-L, which was established for the general discussion of archaeology. One subscribes to this list by sending the message (in the body or text of the email, not in the "topic" line) "subscribe arch-l your-first-name your-last-name" to listserv@tamvm1.tamu.edu. This list, encompassing a topic of a rather general nature, elicits a large number of "posts," so make sure to send another message thereafter to listserv@tamvm1.tamu.edu with the text "set arch-l digest" to receive all the posts at once every day, instead of having a large number of individual posts flood your emailbox.

Other online discussion groups occur either in "real time" or at bulletin board-like sites where users post messages and then check back periodically to see what new responses have been generated. An example of real-time posting familiar to America Online users is AOL "chat" rooms, the vast majority of which tend toward puerile or otherwise entertainment value only. One set of bulletin board-like discussion groups, antedating the World Wide Web, is the Usenet. Usenet discussion groups are accessed either with Usenet (also referred to as "News") software provided with your online package or through modern web browsers (which, in addition to web pages, can access email and Usenet news as well). Usenet groups are categorized under a variety of "domains," such as computer issues (comp), social issues (soc), recreation (rec), science (sci), etc. The Usenet equivalent of ARCH-L would be sci.archaeology. There is also a sci.archeology.moderated, which receives fewer public posts, eliminating the need for wading through the perennial discussions on Egyptian pyramids and the like. Refer to your software documentation or play around with the menu items at the top of your Usenet software for instructions on getting lists of and subscribing to Usenet groups.

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Email Revisited

Although most Internet users are fairly familiar with email, one of its advanced capabilities deserves mention here. The ubiquity and speed of email served as the original impetus for the Internet's explosive growth, but until recently it was limited (for the majority of users who were not highly technically proficient) to simple, unformatted (i.e., without boldface, italics, underlining, etc.) text messages only. Now, however, there is a popular standard in place (called "mime" format) by which any type of file may be conveyed from one email account to another. This allows for sharing formatted text produced by word processors as well as graphic images, programs, and any other file imaginable. Such files are considered "attachments" to the simple text contained in the "body" of the email message. The use of attachments is available to users of all modern email software; check your documentation (or search through the menu items at the top of your screen) to find out how to use this powerful tool. Bear in mind that if you send a file generated by a particular software package (e.g., Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, or a particular type of graphic image), your recipient will necessarily have to own the same (or compatible) software to make use of your file.

Software on the Net

A few software packages are available online for free, that are of interest to CRM professionals. Much software of direct utility to archaeologists is located at ArchNet (www.lib.uconn.edu/ArchNet). To obtain software from this site, select "Subjects," and then select either "Mapping and GIS" or "Software." There are also large archives of general-purpose software available for free or as "shareware" (whereby you may download and evaluate the software for free, but if you decide to keep it you are obliged to register it, usually for a reasonable fee). An excellent list of online software repositories is maintained by Yahoo (www.yahoo.com/text/Computers_and_Internet/Software/Archives).

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Where Else to Look

The optimistic flip side to my lamentations on the paucity of resources currently available is the great potential yet to be realized by the use of the Internet. Although the task of digitizing government records is formidable, digitization of CRM reports is already primarily accomplished. Just about every report written over the past decade was done on a computer and thus can be disseminated electronically with ease. All that is necessary to accomplish this is to export reports into standard text format--all modern word processors offer this capability--and to provide a place for them on the Internet. In light of the fact that no central or regional repositories have yet attained supremacy, for the time being it would be best for individual firms and agencies to set up web sites for just this purpose or else to make reports available through the web pages that many firms and agencies have already established. Dissemination of reports in this way is easy, inexpensive, and an excellent remedy to the oft-cited problem of locating information in such ³gray literature² sources. Once the ball is rolling, there is no doubt that some institution will see the wisdom of consolidating such resources. Perhaps you are in a position to initiate such a project at your institution?!

Until this is accomplished, search engines and discussion groups will be the primary tools for locating Internet resources. In addition to those resources already mentioned, the following web pages serve as excellent indexes to information of interest to CRM professionals: (1) Anthropology Resources on the Internet (www.nitehawk.com/alleycat/anth-faq.html) is the most comprehensive list of anthropology resources, including discussion groups, online software, and World Wide Web pages grouped into more than a dozen different categories; (2) ACRA Links (www.mindspring.com/~wheaton/links.html) is maintained by the American Cultural Resources Association (home page: www.mindspring.com/~wheaton/ACRA.html) and contains six categories of links of interest to CRM professionals; and (3) the Yahoo list of Historic Preservation Organizations (www.yahoo.com/Arts/Humanities/History/Preservation/Organization) is a continually growing list, including links to SHPO offices (regrettably few of which are currently online).

allen lutins alleycat@ptd.net is laboratory directory and a senior archaeologist at Ecoscience, Inc. in Moscow, Penn. He has traveled the ³information superhighway² since it was a dirt cowpath and maintains the web site, Anthropology Resources on the Internet (www.nitehawk.com/alleycat/anth-faq.html).

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