A few weeks ago the European Commission adopted a recommendation (full text / press release) urging EU member states to increase their digitization, preservation, and access efforts for cultural heritage. This is an update of an earlier recommendation adopted in 2006, motivated by progress reports suggesting that “more and better action is needed” in the areas of financial resources, quantitative targets for digitization, and support for the Europeana digital library.
The recommendation is wide ranging and significant considering its source and strong language. I won’t attempt to represent its entirety, but a few specific points have sparked the following thoughts relating to our work that may be of interest to campus stakeholders.
The fact that this recommendation was issued by the executive body of the European Union and that it urges intensified effort demonstrates an understanding of the immensity of this undertaking. Action at the highest levels is necessary for successful and timely large-scale preservation of cultural heritage. And, there is money behind it —European Union Structural Funds are available to co-fund digitization activities as part of projects that stimulate regional economies and the recommendation calls for even more widespread and systematic use of this support.
At IU Bloomington, the Media Preservation Initiative (MPI) was born out of a realization that digital preservation of audio, video, and film holdings was beyond the reach of any individual campus unit. We calculated that it would take our two largest media-holding units roughly 120 years and 58 years respectively to digitally preserve their holdings. Other units had few prospects for even engaging in preservation work. With this in mind we began developing a campus-wide solution. It is clear that digital preservation must become part of the infrastructure of our institution.
Both the recommendation and the strategic plan for Europeana advocate digitizing Europe’s entire cultural heritage by 2025.
We believe that a 15-20 year window of opportunity exists to digitally preserve audio and video recordings before the combination of degradation and obsolescence makes it either impossible or prohibitively expensive, particularly for large collections. Our strategic plan is built around preserving campus targets within a 15 year period from 2013-2027.
The recommendation touts “enormous economic opportunities,” “further development of Europe’s cultural and creative capacities,” and “the quality of life of European citizens” as benefits of “digitizing and providing wider access to cultural resources.”
For our campus, we might add the research, instructional, and experiential value of the many thousands of unique and rare recordings and films of classical music, world music, film history, endangered languages, radio history, Indiana culture, University proceedings, the creative output of artists, and much more held by IU Bloomington.
The recommendation foregrounds access by setting a goal of 30 million digitized objects in Europeana—the online digital library for Europe—by 2015.
Although preservation has been the primary focus of the MPI thus far, we recognize that there is little basis for preservation without access. One of our major objectives this year is to develop media access recommendations for the campus. We have formed an access task force that is already addressing issues relating to copyright and intellectual property, rights management, discovery, infrastructure, metadata and others.
The pooling of digitization efforts and sharing of equipment, cross-border collaboration, and development of partnerships between cultural institutions and the private sector are all encouraged in the European Commission recommendation. They have obviously concluded that meeting this challenge requires strong collaborations.
For IU, collaboration begins with the 80+ media-holding units on the Bloomington campus as well as the five administrative units that have jointly funded MPI development and planning. We must also prioritize communication with other institutions engaged in similar work along with organizations developing standards and best practices if we are to be successful. In addition, the MPI is in the early stages of exploring what form partnerships with other universities might take.
The window is open and the time is now!
// Mike Casey
Click the picture below to access Europeana’s site: