New technologies have made it possible to expose cultural heritage on digital platforms. However, until this moment only a small fraction of the cultural institutions worldwide digitised their material and made it openly available. You can read more about the importance of digitisation of open cultural heritage and its re-use.
In fostering the process of digitisation of cultural heritage, cultural institutions can benefit from governmental organisations that fuel the policy debate on the topic and take measures to bring stakeholders in the cultural sector together to improve the framework conditions for digitisation.
This article outlines the actions European and national governmental institutions have already taken to boost the digitisation of cultural material. The Rijksmuseum (the Netherlands) and the Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK) (Denmark), whom we interviewed about their Open Data policy, provided insights how governmental organisations have supported them during this process and shared their vision on what else can be done by governmental organisations in the future.
What the European Commission does to foster digitisation of cultural heritage
The European Commission (EC) has an important role in fostering the digitisation of cultural heritage. One of the EC's efforts regarding cultural heritage is that the EC, together with cultural institutions, developed and enriches Europeana, the largest cultural heritage platform in Europe.
Europeana provides access to over 53 million items including image, text, sound, video and 3D material from the collections of over 3700 different cultural institutions. The collections on various themes such as art, fashion, music, photography and the first world war contain galleries, blogs and exhibitions.
The foundation of Europeana was an important milestone in Europe's ambition to create a shared, digital heritage that is available for re-use. Now, cultural institutions such as libraries, galleries and archives can digitise their collections for everyone to see them and once these collections are made public online, Europeana makes sure citizens can find, use and share them. According to the Rijksmuseum and the SMK, Europeana has been very helpful in giving advice on how to make their data available online. Another benefit is that Europeana is a big, European platform with the ability to bring new visitors into contact with museums.
Efforts European governments take
In the last couple of years, European cultural institutions have achieved progress with the digitisation of cultural material. There are several examples of initiatives that governmental organisations took to stimulate digitisation at cultural institutions and bringing cultural material online without restrictions.
In the last couple of years, various national networks for cross-domain coordination and cooperation have emerged to address digitisation planning. An example of cross-sectoral cooperation is the Dutch Netwerk Digitaal Erfgoed (NDE) [Network Digital Heritage]. In this cooperation, several organisations work together on a national level on a whole spectrum of issues concerning digital heritage. The strategy of NDE includes goals and work programs for a joint approach aimed at the development of a national, cross-sector infrastructure of digital heritage. The partnership has been initiated by the Dutch ministry of Education, Culture and Science.
Since the costs involved in digitising Europe's cultural heritage are a major challenge, several structural funds have been successfully set up in different European member states for financing digitisation of cultural material and related services. Public-private partnerships have been established to engage private partners in the process. Next to this, alternative funding sources are being set up, such as lottery funding and national sponsoring from big organisations. According to the Rijksmuseum, it is important that there is enough funding to enable institutions to digitise the collection. The lack of money is often a barrier for institutions to take the next step. The SMK states that, especially in the last couple of years, there has not been very much 'pushback' against the core ideas of open access. People in institutions are 'culturally ready'. To help museums take that last step the cultural sector needs convincing cases and models (funding/ revenue). According to the SMK, to further stimulate open access, 'openness' can be a requirement for any kind of funding in the cultural sector for instance: openness can become a requirement for applying for funding.
The next step
To further stimulate open access in the area of digital cultural heritage, it is important that national governments keep investing in funding programmes and public-private cooperation. According to the Rijksmuseum and the SMK, investments in both the development of infrastructure and the maintenance of the infrastructure are crucial. According to the SMK, it is "extremely important for the cultural heritage sector in the digital era to have supporting frameworks". The Rijksmuseum adds that especially smaller institutions have the aim to make their collection available online but are often not in the position to do this as they do not have the means. Facilitating cultural institutions in developing and maintaining their infrastructure will help cultural institutions to take the next step.