Digitising and unlocking the Belgian public service broadcaster’s sheet music collection

The Belgian public service broadcaster used to be responsible for all the music played during its programmes, and it collected the sheet music, which its own ensembles performed, from the 1930s onwards.

This practice was phased out during the 1980s, but its sheet music collection is still over 1.1 kilometre long, and accounts for around 65,000 physical items, from scores to orchestral materials. It is one of the most important Belgian musical collections of the 20th century.

Challenge

The Belgian public service broadcaster’s sheet music collection dates back to the 1930s. It built up this collection, which was used extensively by its own ensembles, over several decades. These ensembles were phased out from the 1980s onwards, until in 1998 there were none left still affiliated to the broadcaster, which resulted in the music collection receiving less attention.

Until 2019. This is when the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and Erasmus University College Brussels School of Arts, funded by the Flemish government, started a digitisation and unlocking project for this collection, with meemoo as a partner. The aim is to provide a sustainable solution for the collection, by digitally cataloguing it, digitising it, making it accessible online, adding the correct copyrights metadata, and having a master plan to safeguard its long-term future.

Excerpt from a digitised orchestral score by composer/arranger Willy Albimoor from the public broadcaster’s sheet music collection. In Copyright https://rightsstatements.org/page/InC/1.0/?language=en

Our role

As a member of the steering group, meemoo advises on the quality control for the digitised scores and is supervising the process for digitising the index cards catalogue. We are also developing a plan to document the copyrights that cover the items in the collection.

  • The first phase of this project ran from 1 March 2019 until 29 February 2020.

  • The second phase running from 1 March 2020 until 28 February 2021.

  • The third phase is scheduled from 1 March 2021 until 28 February 2022.

What are we doing, exactly?

Digitising index cards

One of the project’s main objectives is to build an online catalogue of the entire collection, starting with a large box of index cards which dates back to the 1930s and was maintained until the early 2000s. Volunteers first made digital scans of the index cards and then combined them in PDF files, with 600 to 1,000 scans in each one. We proposed converting the contents of these digitised index cards into a MARCXML format and loading them into KOHA – the open source integrated library system that the public service broadcaster is using for its sheet music collection.

Meemoo analysed the index cards and planned an assignment which could be used as the basis for outsourcing the conversion into XML. The assignment was awarded to Heron Information Management, which has specific expertise in data cleaning, OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and musicology. They developed a customised toolchain to split the merged PDFs into JPEG files, which enables them to homogenise the quality of the images and scan specific areas of the index cards (i.e. titles, authors and inventory numbers) before entering the results in a database. Finally, they prepared an export from this database in MARCXML, which was checked and loaded into the public service broadcaster’s library system by the KOHA supplier. This resulted in a collection which is fully searchable for administrators and soon also for the general public.

Digitisation

Meemoo has an advisory role for the actual digitisation process, which is being carried out internally by the Royal Conservatory of Brussels. We’re developing a procedure to ensure the sheet music scans satisfy the Metamorfoze Light norm. In addition to raising awareness about the importance of quality management and control, we’re also clarifying which aspects quality control relates to, including image quality, TIFF file conformity, file name structure and embedded metadata.

We're also advising on:

  • tools that can be used for quality control (software, targets);

  • where these tools can be found;

  • how the various quality control stages can be organised and integrated in the digitisation workflow;

  • optimising the digitisation workflow – including by performing certain aspects (semi-) automatically rather than manually – to ensure it can take place faster so there is more time for quality control.

Copyrights

Finally, the public service broadcaster also faces a major challenge in making its sheet music collection as accessible as possible online. In particular, the complex copyrights that the sheet music is subject to need to be taken into account here. Before the Conservatory Library can make the digitised materials available online, all the necessary rights metadata needs to be added.

Meemoo is analysing the list of authors to ascertain when their work becomes available in the public domain. We are also drawing up a plan to determine the rights status for each item. This part of the process is being carried out within the ‘Tools for dealing with copyrights and usage restrictions on cultural content’ project, in which this work for the public service broadcaster's sheet music collection is one of the pilot projects. The upload has already been tested and approved, and is now being executed.

Partners

The partners are Royal Conservatory of Brussels, CEMPER (Centre for Music and Performing Arts Heritage), Kunstenpunt (Flanders Arts Institute) and the VRT (Belgian public service broadcaster) Audio Library.

Do you have a question?
Contact Bert Lemmens
Expertise Officer