The Historic Environment Resource Network (HEIRNET) is a network of organizations that share a common vision of providing interoperable, accessible, and authoritative online information resources for the benefit of archaeology and the historic environment, and the communities who research and interact with archaeology and the historic environment. HEIRNET seeks to understand changing needs of the user, and provide technical advice and help to developing Historic Environment Information Resources (HEIRs).
In 1999, HEIRNET commissioned a mapping of the online Archaeological and Historic Environment community (Baker et al. 1999). That analysis showed a rapidly growing number of HEIRs that were developing in an uncoordinated way. Often they were built with only a specialized group of users in mind, or with no awareness of other HEIRs that might want to share cognate data or might duplicate efforts to create similar or parallel datasets. The report concluded that information systems should make interoperability a priority and that cultural and educational use of HEIRs was important to their future, but could be costly since they would need to be made more user-friendly for non-professional researchers.
Also in 1999, the Archaeology Data Service published a survey on the digital needs of the Archaeology and Historic Environment Community (Condron et al. 1999). The ADS wanted to find out what kinds of digital material existed, how it should be preserved and made accessible, as well as what kind of training might be needed to use digital archives successfully. They found that there was lots of information being produced, an eagerness for any kind of well-maintained resource for this information, and a great need for more training.
The publication of these reports coincided with a major investment by the higher education sector to turn information resources into educational resources for teaching and learning in post-16 education community. Consequently JISC invested in a collaborative educational project for archaeology on Publication and Teaching with Online Information Sources (Kilbride et al 2002). Another result of the 1999 HEIRNET report was the creation of HEIRPORT, an experimental portal for archaeology and the historic environment (Austin et al 2002), and the establishment of the HEIRNET Register (Fernie 2002).
In 2002 it was decided that another survey was needed to learn more about the audience for the diverse HEIRs represented by the HEIRNET community. A study was conducted by HEIRNET that attempted to pull together the various kinds of market research performed individually by the HEIRs on their user membership. This was a difficult task since this kind of data had not been collected consistently. The conclusions of this interim study largely confirmed and refined the conclusions of earlier research.
The 2002 study showed that technology risked moving faster than analysis
of user needs. The amalgamation of the market research that could be gathered
from the HEIRNET community proved that there were gaps in their understanding
of their audience. User patterns and needs remained poorly known as did end
use of the information retrieved from HEIRs. Despite the conclusions of the
1999 study HEIRs, had continued to develop without a framework of mediation
and interpretation. It was recommended that in the next survey, special attention
should be placed on finding out more about the online user community, the
role of HEIRs within the community, and to better understand the wants and
needs of their users in order to improve HEIR services and develop effective