Digitisation projects accelerated following approval of recovery plan

21 May 2021

The Flemish Government has allocated a considerable sum to support restarting the cultural sector in these difficult times. A total of €5 million has been approved for the recovery plan for collection digitisation. Slightly more than half of this is earmarked for a new digitisation project coordinated by meemoo. And that’s good news for the sector: this one-off financial boost will speed up four specific initiatives.

The allocated funds, worth a combined total of €2.7 million, will be used to implement four project themes over the next two years. Together with various partners from the cultural field, we’re supporting the following projects:

Theme 1: newspapers

Flemish archives are home to a large number of newspapers at risk of becoming damaged. In partnership with Flanders Heritage Library and several other collection management organisations, we want to rescue these important (historical) sources of information. We’re doing this on a grand scale, planning the mass digitisation of at least 630,000 newspaper pages by the end of 2023.

These efforts won’t just help with the sustainable preservation of these resources, however; they will also improve accessibility for researchers and the general public alike. Optical character recognition (OCR) will also make it much easier to search the newspapers once they have been digitised.

Theme 2: photographic

Glass plates have huge historical significance and appear in large numbers in the archives of Flemish heritage institutions. These carriers urgently need to be digitised because they are so fragile and hard to access. We’re aiming to digitally safeguard around 170,000 glass plates for sustainable preservation, optimising accessibility to these collections and encouraging their re-use.

What else is on the agenda? The existing KnowYourCarrier tool is being expanded to also include photographic materials. This easy-to-use tool can help professional managers of photographic heritage collections and private individuals alike to correctly identify their photographic materials prior to digitisation. The platform also provides useful tips and advice about storing and digitising photographic collections.

Theme 3: masterpieces

It’s estimated that half the items on the Flemish Government’s List of Masterpieces don’t currently have any high-quality digital reproductions. We’re reducing this backlog and focusing on the creation of high-quality photographic reproductions of 2D content, 3D objects and manuscripts. A limited selection of the very best masterpieces is being created using gigapixel photography. The photos are then being made available via Art in Flanders and given public domain status where possible.

Theme 4: metadata

The lion’s share of content in meemoo’s archive is currently not adequately described. Expanding the use of metadata is essential to improve the searchability of this content and encourage its re-use. But adding metadata manually is a hugely time-consuming task, which is why we’re focusing on an automatic description process. We can make great strides forward to fill in these gaps using techniques such as speech recognition and face detection.

How we selected these four project themes

The four themes were determined with the following objectives and prerequisites in mind:

  • Broad impact: collaborating with partners from the wider cultural landscape to achieve results that have a positive impact on a broad group of organisations and users.

  • Coordinated approach: focusing on a limited number of project themes with central coordination guarantees quality and consistency.

  • Long-term impact: the recovery plan funds ensure a one-off acceleration, but results are aimed at the long term.

  • Feasibility: we’re monitoring the available budget and keeping efforts manageable by distributing them over time and various partners.

  • End-to-end vision: we do not see digitisation as a one-off or standalone action, but as part of a longer chain.

Part of a broader recovery plan

The entire recovery plan for digitising collections amounts to €5 million. In addition to the project described above, an extra call is being launched to deal with the backlog of digital collection registrations. You can read more about this here.