A new future for Flemish heritage databases
If your organisation has its own heritage collection, there’s a good chance you’re already using the Erfgoedplus or Erfgoedinzicht (links in Dutch) registration and collection management systems. The Flemish Government’s Department for Culture, Youth and Media has been managing these originally provincial heritage databases since 2018, with the aim of integrating them with other existing systems. Read here what’s already happened and what’s still on the agenda.
The heritage databases were originally set up by the provinces as a tool for registering and managing heritage collections. Erfgoedplus was a collaboration between the provinces of Limburg and Flemish Brabant and the city of Leuven, and Erfgoedinzicht was in the hands of the provinces of East and West Flanders. Ownership of these heritage databases was transferred to Flemish Government’s Department for Culture, Youth and Media in 2018, with the aim of integrating them with other existing systems.
The use of Erfgoedplus and Erfgoedinzicht is still widespread among Flemish heritage institutions. But Donnet, a third heritage database established by the province of Antwerp, has no longer been in the picture since 2019. To safeguard the continuity of registrations, all the data from Antwerp’s church administrations was transferred to Erfgoedplus, with data from the church administrations in Erfgoedinzicht also migrating there.
How can we integrate these two exiting heritage databases to provide a better service? Meemoo is aiming to formulate an answer to this question – in close collaboration with the Flemish government’s Department of Culture, Youth and Media (link in Dutch), FARO (link in Dutch) and the Flemish Art Collection – in this project. This mission is closely aligned with the Flemish Government’s ambition to encourage the digital transformation of the cultural sector and set up a broader ecosystem in which digital cultural content is optimally usable, findable and visible – for both the cultural sector and elsewhere.
Delaware started with a preliminary study and field survey upon request from the Flemish government in 2019. This resulted in a framework with a number of strategic recommendations for integrating the heritage databases. You can read the report here (link in Dutch).
The Department of Culture, Youth and Media then set up the Digital Collection Registration Taskforce, which meemoo is a part of. We’ve been putting our heads together with representatives from the Department of Culture, Youth and Media, FARO, the Flemish Art Collection, heritage bodies and museums to shape the future possibilities for the heritage databases.
Preliminary research (2019-2020)
We mapped out the specific requirements, available options and sticking points in three phases during the preliminary research:
In phase 1, we worked on a field survey (link in Dutch) to obtain a picture of the sector’s needs and expectations, quizzing five focus groups with representatives from the broad cultural heritage sector.
In phase 2, we performed an analysis of the existing technical infrastructure (link in Dutch) of Erfgoedplus and Erfgoedinzicht, also investigating how we could keep these systems operational in the short and medium term.
Phase 3 consisted of developing a business model (link in Dutch) customised for the sector, based on the results from phases 1 and 2.
The preliminary research was carried out upon request from the Department of Culture, Youth end Media in close consultation with the heritage sector. The three phases resulted in three final reports, which you can find here (link in Dutch).
The preliminary research findings led to a specific project proposal which stipulated that the current heritage databases should be replaced by two different systems:
an inflexible system with fixed entry fields and limited functionalities. This module focuses on registration practice and is mainly aimed at organisations that own collections and non-professional users.
a flexible system aimed at collection management processes, with collection management institutions and professional users as the target audience. In addition to a basic model, a more flexible version that can be extended and offers the possibility of further development will also be made available.
The systems will support generic registration and management workflows that are applicable for the majority of organisations. They will also offer functionalities that are relevant for most users. Additional services aimed at specific user needs and expectations are also possible, but require separate business models.
The price tag
We’re aiming for a reasonable and feasible payment model, taking the financial capacity of users into account. Everyone will make a financial contribution to the basic services, with anyone who wants to use additional services or add further developments paying an additional fee.
The content on Erfgoedplus and Erfgoedinzicht is currently accessed through their own web portals. We’re investigating whether access via a shared window is possible for the new modules – by first looking to see if existing initiatives such as Het Archief and erfgoedkaart.be (links in Dutch) can offer a solution.
We’re fully committed to enabling exchangeability, and one way we can do this is by providing access APIs and making it possible for other people to pull the data into their own information systems. This enables users to work with the data themselves, for example on their own website or via local heritage websites.
What about the existing systems?
Erfgoedplus and Erfgoedinzicht will remain operational for as long as the new modules are under development. Only when the new systems become operational and all the data has been migrated will the existing databases and their web portals be switched off. This is expected to take place at the end of 2024.
The project proposal was approved by the Flemish Government as part of its ‘Resilience Recovery Plan’ – with a budget of €2m being allocated for the integration of heritage databases, allowing us to get on with implementing this project.
We’re doing this initially by putting a project team together, which will then run the project in three phases in close collaboration with users of the existing systems.
Analysis and outsourcing phase (2021-2022)
In this phase, we’ll be working on a sector-specific analysis to determine the functionalities for both the collection registration and management systems, and the (first) additional services.
Development, configuration and test phase (2022-2023)
We’ll then embark on the development of the collection registration module and the collection management system.
Roll out and migration phase (2023-2024)
We’ll roll out the collection registration module first before the collection management module and additional components. We’re aiming to conform with the OSLO standard for cultural heritage (link in Dutch) for both modules.
At the same time, users will be asked to sign the Service Level Agreement (SLA) and we’ll start training and education.
We’re aiming to always coordinate closely with the heritage organisations that the heritage databases are intended for throughout the course of the project.