Our ten proposals for digitising and archiving photographic collections
In 2019, meemoo started investigating how it might be able to organise a mass digitisation process for analogue photographic collections. This research was carried out with regard to demand in the cultural, media and government sectors. Following the initial field study, we’re now taking a second step: research into the prerequisites and feasibility for digitisation and archiving. This second phase of the research process has already resulted in ten specific proposals, and we’re rounding things off this spring with the publication of the final report.
Flemish archives contain a lot of analogue photographs, as we soon found out in the first phase of our research project. The different types of photographic materials are however very fragile and vulnerable, and difficult to access in analogue form.
Since March 2019, we’ve been researching whether and how we can harness our knowledge of mass digitisation to help digitise different types of photos. Many of our content partners have photographic materials, but digitising them doesn’t currently fall within the scope of our work. We therefore decided to identify the needs and develop some concrete proposals.
In the first phase, the field study, we identified the nature, quantities, conditions, activities and needs for analogue photographic collections in the Flemish cultural, media and government sectors. We then started working with this data in the second phase of the research project. We held several internal brainstorming sessions and consulted with experts, digitisation companies and our content partners themselves, which allowed us to work towards finding possible solutions to satisfy existing needs.
In this second phase, we also examined how – on the basis of a few observations – we could proceed in concrete terms. There are incredibly large numbers of analogue photos in very widely distributed collections, and some of the content is at risk of becoming damaged and lost. The collections are also in different stages of the processing chain – from identification to being publicly accessible – with some parts already digitised, although not always to the same quality standard.
Ten concrete proposals
With input from our content partners and help from experts, we used the above findings to work out ten concrete proposals to offer solutions for the high-quality digitisation and sustainable archiving of photographic collections. We also looked at any additional prerequisites.
Five of the proposals are specific digitisation projects for different types of around 8.5 million photos in total. The other five proposals are to provide various kinds of support, including for identification, selection, quality control, metadata enrichment and rights documentation.
For each proposal, we demonstrate the need that it offers a solution for and answer the following questions:
How is the proposal structured?
What is the expected impact?
When can it be implemented?
What is the required budget?
Who is the intended target group?
The ten proposals are as follows:
Digital identification tool for photographic materials
Low-resolution digitisation of bulk collections of negatives
Low-resolution digitisation of bulk collections of slides
Facilitate selection via automatic image recognition on contact sheets
High-resolution digitisation for a selection of photographic materials (all types of materials except for albums and glass plates)
High-resolution digitisation of photo albums
High-resolution digitisation of glass plates
Development of an accessible open source tool for digitised image content quality control
Application of automatic description techniques for metadata enrichment of digital image content
Integration of the Public Domain Tool for documenting rights status
You can find detailed answers to questions about each of these ten proposals in the final report (in Dutch).
What impact will these proposals have for involved partners?
The project approach requires a lot of preliminary work to be carried out by content partners, including making inventories, registration and preliminary logistics, as well as selection and quality control. These preparations should allow large parts of their photo collections to be digitised and sustainably archived efficiently to a high-quality standard. Selecting photos in the digital domain will also be much more convenient.
The impact of this structural expansion of meemoo’s services will be felt in our operations. We will need to adapt our existing systems, processes and infrastructure, and develop and maintain new tools. This expansion could ultimately lead to acquiring new content partners, and all this will have an influence on the various services we provide.
Estimating timing and budget
We drew up a timeline for all our proposals together with a global budget estimate. All proposals are spread across seven years, and we calculate €3.5 million in pure project costs for the entire project.
We present the ten proposals as a logical whole, but also aim to demonstrate that they cannot be implemented independently. Priorities can be set or limits agreed with regard to quantities, types of material and numbers of content partners involved. The consequences of these choices can then also be worked out in a concrete implementation plan. The report and ten proposals will hopefully form the start of a dialogue between stakeholders and policy-makers in the field with regard to the challenges involved in preserving Flemish photographic heritage, rather than provide a definitive solution.
The project was supervised by a steering group that gave us lots of feedback. It consisted of representatives from our content partner groups and a number of photo conservation and digitisation experts. Members are Ann Deckers (FOMU), Prof. Frederik Truyen (KU Leuven / Photoconsortium), Hilke Arijs (Pajottenland-Zennevallei heritage body), Koen Van Keer (ADVN - Archive for National Movements / OLAV - Flanders National Archives Consultation), Rob Wyse (Flemish Art Collection), Rony Vissers (meemoo), Tijs Goethals (Poperinge-Vleteren inter-municipal archive) and Tom Ruette (Kunstenpunt).
We also surveyed focus groups in the cultural, media and government sectors about some of the ideas that underpin the ten proposals developed in this research phase.