Flanders Heritage Library and meemoo are together running the three-year project New Tidings: National programme for preserving Flemish newspaper heritage (‘Nieuwe Tijdingen. Landelijk programma voor het behoud van het Vlaamse krantenerfgoed’), which is now getting out of the starting blocks. The aim is to work towards a programme of mass digitisation of historical newspapers in Flemish heritage collections that are at risk of becoming lost. We’re collaborating with 45 heritage preservation organisations for this, together outlining the route to a large-scale rescue operation.

Flanders has a wealth of archive collections that mustn’t be lost. By making use of digitisation and then sustainable preservation and management, we want to safeguard this heritage for the future. We have already worked with Flanders Heritage Library in the past on the News of the Great War and Abraham 2020 (article in Dutch) projects.

Challenge

Digitising our newspaper heritage is crucial. No matter how carefully you store a newspaper collection, paper degradation is an unavoidable and irreversible process that will eventually overcome every single sheet. Newspapers are a rich source of history, but many will simply acidify and fall apart over time. Digitisation is therefore the only way to rescue the contents of this valuable heritage.

© Vlaamse Erfgoedbibliotheken / Metamorfoze - Photo: Yvo Wennekes

© Vlaamse Erfgoedbibliotheken / Metamorfoze - Photo: Yvo Wennekes

Our role

New Tidings stems from Abraham 2020. New life for old news, (‘Nieuw leven voor oud nieuws’) – a project run by Flanders Heritage Library in which we were one of the partners, to develop and expand Abraham, the catalogue of Belgian newspapers. A catalogue of Flemish newspaper heritage is after all essential for starting a mass digitisation project. We investigated the feasibility of a coordinated approach for digitising this Flemish newspaper heritage with Flemish Heritage Library, and New Tidings was the first outcome. This project will therefore serve as the preliminary process.

As the main partner for New Tidings, meemoo is jointly responsible for the overall project management. We’re also taking care of the intake and sustainable preservation of digitised newspapers together with our existing content partners. They are being stored in our meemoo archive system. We will ultimately make it possible to consult these digitised Flemish newspapers from diverse collection administrators on our retrieval platform, The Archive (in Dutch).

Approach

First phaze - 2021

In the first year of the process, we are focusing on developing a practical blueprint for the national programme. The following three issues are central to this first phase:

  • the national programme schedule;

  • the interface and copyright aspects;

  • the inclusion of previously digitised newspapers.

We are using a selection list to gain a clear picture of the scope and volume of newspapers, which will enable us to estimate how much time and money we’re going to need for the rescue programme, and also help us decide which collaborations to enter into.

A second important cornerstone is to develop and implement a disclosure interface. We want the digitised newspapers to appear online in a usable format so that they can be consulted, and are therefore researching what the digital newspaper archive interface needs to look like, and analysing copyright options to also include more recent newspapers. We will start building this interface within our retrieval platform, The Archive, in a subsequent phase. The launch of this user environment is scheduled for 2023.

We’re also adding newspapers from Flemish heritage institutions that have already been digitised to the meemoo archive system. This step ensures they will be preserved sustainably and can be made available for online consultation – together with the newly digitised newspapers – at a later date. Finally, we are also exploring how we can use new techniques to improve searchability, for example by converting scans to machine-readable text using Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

Looking ahead to second and third phases - 2022-2023

In three years’ time, we’ll be working on three processes: digitisation, online access and sustainable archiving. The first phase of the project (2021) involves us drawing up a detailed blueprint for the programme. In the two subsequent phases, we’ll:

  • develop the necessary basic infrastructure (2022);

  • put a properly functioning process for mass digitisation into operation on a small scale (2023).

The rescue programme will then be able to move forward at full speed from 2024.

Partners

  • Flanders Heritage Library (coordinator)

  • meemoo (main partner)

  • 45 partner organisations:

    Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin / Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Metamorfoze, Histories vzw, Ghent Centre for Digital Humanities (History Department, Ghent University), KBR - Royal Library of Belgium, Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library, University of Antwerp Library, Bruges Public Library (Openbare Bibliotheek Brugge), Hasselt Limburg Library (Bibliotheek Hasselt Limburg), KU Leuven Libraries - Special Collections, Ghent University Library - Book Tower, Archiepiscopal Archive in Mechelen (Aartsbisschoppelijk Archief te Mechelen), ADVN - Archive for National Movements, Amsab-Instituut for Social History, AMVB - Archive and Museum for the Flemish Living in Brussels, Archives of the Collegiate Church of Our Lady in Aarschot (Archief van de Collegiale O.-L.-Vrouwekerk Aarschot), Ascania Royal Historical Society (Koninklijke Heemkring Ascania vzw), den AST Museum in Halle, DIVA (Museum for Diamonds, Jewellery and Silver), Triverius Brakel Documentation Centre, KADOC Documentation and Research Centre on Religion Culture and Society from KU Leuven, Koksijde Local Government, Liberas, Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, Museum of Deinze and the Leie Region, In Flanders Fields Museum and Yper Museum (Musea Stad Ieper), Municipality of Opwijk - The Opwijk Archives (‘t Opwijks Archief), Ostend Public Library, Aalst Municipal Archive, Bruges Municipal and OCMW Archive (Stads- en OCMW-archief Brugge), Diest Municipal Archive, Kortrijk Municipal Archive, Leuven Municipal Archive, Lokeren Municipal Archive, Tongeren Municipal Archive, Tielt Municipal Archive, Hoogstraten Municipal Museum, Denderland Heritage Body (Erfgoedcel), k.ERF Heritage Service, Land van Dendermonde Heritage Body, Leie Schelde Heritage Body, Interwaas / Waasland Heritage Body, zuidwest Heritage, Cultuurregio Pajottenland & Zennevallei, CO7