Digitizing Travel Photography Albums of Bijzondere Collecties Leiden

From the Travel Photography Albums of Bijzondere Collecties Leiden

Some snapshots of digitized travel photography albums from the Geheugen van Nederland website. While  viewers are able to ‘flip’ through the pages of the album digitally, no effort has been made to document the accompanying handwritten text, which is barely decipherable even after using the zoom function.

[Travel Album Singapore, Egypt, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, circa 1927-1929] 

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Leading to a poignant note on digitization in heritage Institutions:

Excerpt from Michael Ross, Manfred Grauer, Bernhard Freisleben, Digital Tools in Media Studies: Analysis and Research, An Overview, University of Siegen: 2009, pp. 29-32

“Incidentally, the promise of digital evolution does not immediately solve all of the problems related to access, enrichment and presentation of the cultural heritage. Digitization continuously proves to be a complex and slow process which drains a great deal from budgets in the cultural heritage sector. The first problem with respect to access is still that, just as the physical objects are stored in independent collections, the digital equivalents are also stored in many non-interoperable databases. Even if this problem is solved, we will still have the problem of searching through millions of (heterogeneous) objects. Building on this, we have the challenge of arriving at combinations from the search results which provide more insight into, for instance, the painting being displayed or the historical performance. We then have question the of how to present the (combined) results in such a way that they respond to the of the person who asked the original question. And thus (automatic) personalization is far from trivial.

Cultural heritage institutions scarcely meet the first challenge of digitization. For the time being, the dynamics of digital cultural heritage lie in the digitaization of one’s own collection within one’s own walls. Thus, the Geheugen van Nederland website (www.geheugenvannerderland.nl) is no more than a webpage of handy links to isolated digital collections rather than an an integral access point to Dutch cultural heritage. THe dream of an integral search engine which can search straight through the arcvhices and collections of different heritage institutions was high on the government’s agenda in the year 2000, but not necessarily so on those of the institutions. Everyone seemed to concur that the user would benefit from unrestricted access to historical information. Furthermore, the development of the necessary toolkit, technically speaking, would not have to be a very formidable task. In March 2000, the ministry placed the Archives on Display (Archiven in de etalage). as the report of the same name aptly indicated. Many heritage institutions snatched this up in order to display their treasure rooms online. they have made ample investments in the digitization and exhibition of their own collections…The institutions are still just making their island empires, but now digitally as well. Nor is there any (commercial) benefit in working together; instead, it is a matter of market shares and promoting one’s own unique character…”

What you really have to bear in mind with this infrastructural blueprint is that that ‘the world’ has its own will, is heterogenous and complex and stays that way, and the same applies to the creation of digital collections from heritage institutions. A mandate as to how to carry out digital collection in a uniform way seems not to be viable in practice; more importantly, however, it would not do justice to the heterogeneity of the various objects  Of course standards can be agreed upon regarding how to store or describe things, but these will quickly prove to develop into ‘dialects’ used to capture the uniqueness of the objects: an archaeological find is something different again from a text, a film, a scene or a costume. The real crux of the matter lies in the standardization of the exchange of data, i.e. the bridges that can be built between digital collections. This exchanges touches on a technical bridge that must be built (exchange of data), a semantic bridge that must be built (exchange of meaning) and an organizational bridge that must be built (exchange of interests and rights). The latter two are by far the most onerous, the organizational bridge seemingly only passable if columns have been put in place which demonstrate the value of even talking about it at all. The value is certainly there, we only need to bring it to light.

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