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January 12, 2011 / jmeuropeana

The New Renaissance

The ‘Comité des Sages’ report on digitizing cultural heritage is out. It is called ‘The new Renaissance’ [PDF], and contains quite a few points of interest for Europeana and the cultural heritage world.

I very much like the name ‘The New Renaissance’ even though when taken literally it seems a bit double: ‘the new re-birth’. But the Renaissance as a cultural and historical period was defined by improved and democratized access to sources – by translations of the classics from Greek and Arabic into Latin and vernacular languages, by the invention of printing and by new ways of looking at authority.
Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien: ein Versuch

We have the potential for a similar breakthrough in the cultural sector through new technologies in digitization, description and distribution of cultural content. I am very happy to see the ‘Comité des Sages’ (Maurice Lévy, Elisabeth Niggemann and Jacques de Decker) recommend more efforts and more focus into digitization, and they see an important role for Europeana in that.

On the technical side (one of my responsibilities in Europeana) they were advised by the people at CapGemini, who were asked to verify whether the Europeana architecture is sufficiently ‘future proof’. That is a difficult question: who actually knows the future? In their separate report they give us a clean bill of health, and recommend that we continue to keep an eye out for future developements. One development they are particularly fond of is cloud computing. As prices drop and reliability increases that may indeed be an option for some of our storage and processing needs. For the medium term we are very happy with the professional services we source from Vancis (the former Amsterdam University Computing Center SARA).

An interesting suggestion by the Comité is that Europeana act as sort of a ‘legal deposit’ for all digitized and born-digital cultural heritage material throughout Europe. Quit a scale-up of our current operation: we currently only hold the metadata for each object: the descriptions of the object, together with links to the objects. The objects still sit on the server of the holding library, museum or archive.
Holding copies of the actual objects is a few orders of magnitude bigger than what we do now and would require us to completely rethink and redefine our technical architecture and operations. Interesting challenge…

Over the next few days I will share with you some thoughts on the implications of this and other suggestions and possible directions for Europeana. Watch this space.

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