GIVE: Coordinated Initiative for Flemish Heritage Digitisation

GIVE, the Coordinated Initiative for Flemish Heritage Digitisation, is the umbrella name for four digitisation projects that are being implemented before the end of 2023. Together with many other partners in the cultural field, meemoo is committed to digitising newspapers, glass plates and Flemish masterpieces, and working hard to enrich more metadata. The GIVE projects are taking place with support from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the Flemish Government’s ‘Resilience Recovery Plan’.

Challenge

Over recent years, we’ve made huge efforts to digitise our content partners’ audiovisual content – surpassing the historical milestone of half a million digitised carriers, which accounts for 80% of everything we’re aware of, at the end of 2020.

But there are still plenty of (non-audiovisual) Flemish heritage collections without any digital representation. This is often because carriers are vulnerable to damage or hard to access, such as newspapers and glass plates. There are also many Flemish Masterpieces (link in Dutch) still without any high-quality digital equivalent, even though these items clearly deserve showcasing. Furthermore, there are still many hurdles to overcome in terms of providing metadata for digitised and born-digital content.

Our role

The recovery budget that the Flemish Government has made available will now allow us to make great strides in digitising Flanders’ documentary heritage. Together with various partners from the cultural field, we want to digitise this heritage and make it accessible to researchers and the general public.

Meemoo has a coordinating role in these projects, and we’ll greatly benefit from our vast experience of (bulk) digitisation and outcomes from various preparatory processes here. Read more about our research into digitising photographic collections, New Tidings newspaper project and metadata pilot projects.

Approach

As part of GIVE, we’re focusing our efforts on four projects:

Project 1: GIVE newspaper project Primeur

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

As well as helping with the long-term preservation of these resources, these efforts will also greatly improve accessibility for researchers and the general public. Optical character recognition (OCR) will furthermore make it much easier to search the newspapers once they have been digitised.

Project 2: GIVE glass plates project

Glass plates have huge historical significance, with a great many appearing in the archives of Flemish heritage institutions. These carriers urgently need digitising because they are so fragile and hard to access. We’re aiming to digitally safeguard and sustainably preserve around 170,000 glass plates in this project, optimising access to these collections and encouraging their re-use.

This project also includes the further development of an existing web tool – KnowYourCarrier – which helps to identify images and audio in archives, and is now being expanded to add photographic materials. This easy-to-use tool helps 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.

Project 3: GIVE Flemish Masterpieces project

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 representations of 2D content, 3D objects and manuscripts. A limited selection of the very best masterpieces is being created using gigapixel photography, with these photos then being made available via Art in Flanders and given public domain status where possible.

Project 4: GIVE metadata project

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 an extremely time-consuming task, which is why we’re focusing on an automatic description process. We can use techniques such as speech recognition and face detection to make great strides forward in filling these gaps.

Partners

We’re joining forces with our content partners and other Flemish heritage managers in these four projects. For the Primeur newspaper project in particular, we’re collaborating closely with Flanders Heritage Library (link in Dutch).

The GIVE projects are being made possible thanks to support from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF, link in Dutch) as part of the Flemish Government’s ‘Resilience Recovery Plan’ (link in Dutch).

Meemoo also has a role in other elements of this plan, especially for Flemish heritage databases and supervising cultural organisations in their digital collection registration projects.

Do you have a question?
Contact Brecht Declercq
Manager Digitisation & Acquisition