GIVE newspaper project Primeur

There are lots of newspapers in Flemish archives and libraries that are at risk of becoming damaged and lost forever. This fragile heritage is extremely valuable as a source of (historical) information, and as such is frequently consulted by researchers and the general public. With Primeur – the newspaper project that is part of GIVE (Coordinated Initiative for Flemish Heritage Digitisation) – we’re aiming to rescue some of this valuable heritage together with Flanders Heritage Library (link in Dutch). We’re doing this by digitising the newspapers on a large scale, and making them accessible and digitally searchable.

The GIVE newspaper project Primeur has been made possible thanks to support from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and is part of the Flemish Government’s 'Resilience Recovery Plan' (links in Dutch).

Challenge

Meemoo exists to support and promote the use of digital archives. Our core task has always been to safeguard audiovisual heritage, but now we’re also taking steps – with the GIVE newspaper project, Primeur – to ensure paper heritage is preserved sustainably and made digitally accessible. We’ve already built up experience with newspaper digitisation in the News from the Great War, Abraham 2020 (link in Dutch) and New Tidings projects together with Flanders Heritage Library.

What makes Primeur so urgent?

A study by Flanders Heritage Library (link in Dutch) clearly highlighted the importance of large-scale newspaper digitisation: newspapers are among the most consulted digitised sources of heritage on existing heritage platforms. A broad public consisting of researchers, teachers, but also students and historians, make use of these source materials.

A combination of frequent consultation and the poor paper quality on which many publications have been printed in the past has put Flemish newspaper heritage under serious threat. The paper used for newspapers can also suffer from acidification, which makes it brittle and more susceptible to damage. Digitisation has therefore become an essential part of this picture, which is why we’ve set up a mass digitisation project with content from eight of our partners: we’ll be digitising more than 600,000 newspaper pages by the end of 2023.

Our role

Meemoo has a coordinating role in all GIVE projects. For Primeur, we’re doing this together with Flanders Heritage Library – each contributing from our own areas of expertise. With its experience in library heritage and newspaper digitisation, Flanders Heritage Library is taking care of the inventory phase and organising registrations, which includes all the physical handling of the fragile carriers, from selection to packaging.

Photo: 'Woman in black reading the newspaper' by Rik Wouters, KMSKA collection, www.artinflanders.be, photographer Dominique Provoost, CC0

Photo: 'Woman in black reading the newspaper' by Rik Wouters, KMSKA collection, www.artinflanders.be, photographer Dominique Provoost, CC0

We ourselves are starting from our long-term vision to sustainably preserve the digitised newspapers and make them accessible. We’re therefore responsible for setting up the registration, which will then be taken care of by our content partners and organised further by Flanders Heritage Library. We’re also running a tendering procedure, supervising the digitisation, adding metadata and processing, quality controlling and ensuring the accessibility of the newspaper heritage. We’ll be drawing on our experience from the New Tidings project and the Digitisation of Periodicals Peer Group (link in Dutch) for this.

Approach

We're working together with eight content partners in the Primeur project - digitising and providing access to content fro:

  • ADVN (Archive for National Movements)

  • Amsab-ISG (Institute for Social History)

  • Hasselt Limburg Library

  • Heritage Library Hendrik Conscience

  • KU Leuven Libraries

  • KADOC Documentation and Research Centre on Religion, Culture and Society (from KU Leuven)

  • Bruges Public Library

  • Ghent University Library

The project is focusing on vulnerable newspapers in urgent need of digitisation. The newspaper digitisation will follow a selection phase, which we are not running ourselves. The most suitable digitisation partner will be selected in a tender procedure. Once the digitised newspapers have been quality controlled, they will be fed straight into the meemoo archive system where the digital copies will be stored sustainably.

What happens after digitisation and sustainable preservation?

The digitised newspapers will then be made accessible on meemoo’s interaction platforms and also on our content partners’ platforms if desired. We’re aiming for easy consultation of the newspapers and enabling searchability through the use of OCR (Optical Character Recognition – link in Dutch). The ultimate objective? A digital copy that matches the newspaper pages as closely as possible, to eventually replace the analogue original.

More GIVE projects?

Primeur is one of the four threads within GIVE, the umbrella name for four digitisation projects. In addition to newspapers, the digitisation of glass plates and Flemish masterpieces is also on the agenda. And we’ll be focusing on metadata enrichment, too.

We’ll also be contributing further to other elements of this plan – in particular for Flemish heritage databases, supervising cultural organisations in their digital collection registration projects and the digital leap in education.

Partners

Do you have a question?
Contact Astrid Theerens
Project Leader Digitisation
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