Questionable New Renaissance

On the 10 January 2011 the Comité des Sages (give me a break, what a title) delivered their report ‘The New Renaissance’ (again with the big titles). But seriously, the Comité was set up by the European Commission in April last year with the purpose of making recommendations for bringing Europe’s cultural heritage online. The reports main headings cover areas like:

  1. Ensuring wide access to and use of digitised public domain material
  2. Stimulating the digitisation and online accessibility of in-copyright material
  3. Reinforcing Europeana as the reference point for European culture online
  4. Guaranteeing the sustainability of digitised resources
  5. Finding sustainable financing for digitisation and Europeana
  6. Complementing public funding through public private partnerships for digitisation

Also they have some interesting & innovative ideas (compared to others) for resolving the orphaned work issue and preventing it from re-occurring by introducing a registration for copyright. This would also help works which are not orphaned but just ignored.

On the question of digitalization the sages (LOL, again I can’t ignore the title) suggest that  if right owners don’t want to exploit then digitization should be paid for with public money in collaboration with the private sector. Also in the case of non-copyrighted, ignored or orphaned works digitalization should grant the digitalizor up to 7 years preferential use by private partners.

My main beef – and it seems to be shared by the 1709 blog – is the conflict between the reports title and the reports content: The New Renaissance will only be digital. Now don’t get me wrong I like digital. But in an age when we are closing museums and libraries, or cannot afford to display the contents of our archives digitalization is an alternative. However it is also an excuse not to maintain the physical – and that would not be a renaissance.

Visualizing the (invisible) archive

The Swedish National Heritage Board is an excellent example of an authority with a mixed archive of miscellaneous content. Among their content are old photographs and among the photographs are the works of the Swedish physician (and prominent balneologist) Carl Curman (1833-1913). His photographs found their way into the archives and have spent an uneventful century mainly gathering dust.

Then last year the heritage board joined Flickr Commons and began adding Curman’s images to the pool. The results were spectacular to say the least. Today the heritage K-Blogg reports

I was quite thrilled this morning when I had a glance at the Flickr statistics for views on our account on Flickr Commons. The magical limit of 1 000 000 views since the launching on 2009.03.17, was reached – actually the number was 1 000 100 when I looked, a nice sight.

Digitalization brings with it many interesting problems and, at times, we focus too much on these negative issues. But as these results show, by opening up the archives in this way the almost forgotten works have been revived and made relevant again.

Digitalization in the country of 246 cheeses

When it comes to cultural imperialism you can always trust the French to step up to the base and struggle to “save” their language and culture. The New York Times writes that President Nicolas Sarkozy has pledged nearly $1.1 billion toward the computer scanning of French literary works, audiovisual archives and historical documents. The quote says it all

“We won’t let ourselves be stripped of our heritage to the benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is,” Mr. Sarkozy said last week, apparently in a reference to Google.

Just got to love their determination and readiness to fight the fight nomatter the odds. Where does this desire to go your own way come from? Its hard to say but it must have something to do with its own self image and internal cultural diversity. Or as President Charles De Gaulle once said

How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?

Vive La France!