Making an inventory of Flemish photographic collections

In 2019, we started researching what a digitisation process for photographic materials – which satisfies the most important needs and meets the main challenges in the sectors – could look like for meemoo. A significant first step here is to gain a good overview of the size and condition of Flemish photographic collections.

Analogue photo collection © Huis van Alijn

Challenge

Almost all cultural, media and government organisations have printed photos, slides or negatives in their archives. Unfortunately, however, these various types of media can perish and are furthermore harder to access in their analogue form.

Our role

Many of our content partners have photographic materials in their collections, but digitising these collections isn’t currently a service that we provide. We do however have lots of experience of mass digitisation processes which we might be able to take advantage of. At the request of our content partners, we’re investigating how we can help them in this respect.

Approach

We undertook the following steps to gain a clear picture of the size and condition of these collections:

  • Explore existing specialist networks, both nationally and internationally;

  • Define and identify materials, techniques and ‘representativeness’;

  • Make an inventory of the scope, condition and activities with regard to photographic collections in the cultural, media and government domains.

Making the inventory was the biggest task here. We therefore drew up a detailed questionnaire to gain a better understanding of the collections, practices, challenges, needs and wishes regarding the photographic materials in Flemish collections.

But because collection management isn’t a core task for all the organisations we surveyed, we decided to adapt the way in which we approached making an inventory for the various sectors. The group we surveyed ultimately consisted of some 295 organisations. Museums, (city) archives and heritage libraries were sent an extensive questionnaire, categorised per media type and with more in-depth questions about the condition of the analogue photographic materials as well as digitisation and other management activities as a whole.

Organisations in the arts, government and media sectors that don’t include collection management as one of their core tasks received a questionnaire which was limited in terms of the number of questions and level of detail. We hoped that this limited basic questionnaire, and so the less effort required on their part, would elicit a greater response.

Both lists had the same overall breakdown. We enquired about the current state of affairs with regard to:

  • Volumes, types and – to a limited extent – condition;

  • Activities, mainly focussing on digitisation;

  • Challenges, desires and needs.

Various preliminary discussions made it clear that local cultural heritage associations such as history societies, private individuals and other organisations (e.g. youth groups) also have photographic materials in their collections (which are historically interesting but also susceptible to damage). We prepared a separate questionnaire to chart the needs and wishes of cultural heritage bodies, which are almost all meemoo content partners.

We received 107 responses from the 295 organisations we wrote to, and 92 of these respondents have a photographic collection. We collated their answers in a detailed report, which you’re now reading the summary of here.

Partners

This project was supervised by a steering group consisting of representatives from our content partner groups and a number of experts in the field of photographic conservation and digitisation.

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Contact Loes Nijsmans