with the support of

Thousands of heritage objects at your fingertips

What do a sixteenth-century manuscript, a glass plate photo of Flemish singer and television presenter Willy Sommers, and an edition of decorated German author Ernst Jünger’s renowned book ‘De Arbeider’ have in common? Well, until recently, none of these important heritage objects were available digitally. Now, however, they have all been digitised along with thousands of others – thanks to the project: Gecoördineerd Initiatief voor Vlaamse Erfgoeddigitalisering - GIVE (Coordinated Initiative for Heritage Digitisation). This is important work, because what better way to understand the present than by exploring the past?

You can admire the first digitised gems on this website. The rest of the digitised content will become available on hetarchief.be and artinflanders.be over the coming years. In the online catalogue hetarchief.be, you can currently explore more than one million images and audio clips from the Flemish media, cultural and government sectors. On artinflanders.be, you can also view and download art from various Flemish museums and heritage institutions.

Why GIVE?

Meemoo, the Flemish Institute for Archives – together with over 175 partners – is running the GIVE project to speed up vital digitisation work. The coordinated initiative will run until the end of this year, and forms the framework for four projects:

  • the mass digitisation of vulnerable newspapers, in close collaboration with Flanders heritage Library;

  • the mass digitisation of glass plates, one of the oldest photographic materials;

  • the high-quality digitisation of masterpieces in 2D and 3D;

  • the metadata enrichment of visual and audio clips.

We are digitising and digitally archiving over 800,000 newspapers, masterpieces and glass plates, and using artificial intelligence to help add descriptions to around 130 audiovisual collections. This will make a wealth of Flemish heritage more accessible, searchable and reusable within the next two and half years.

What makes this project unique is its scale and diversity. The wonderful and very diverse results will have a positive impact on many organisations’ digital work in years to come, and on the accessibility of digital heritage for the general public.
Nico Verplancke, director of meemoo

Safeguarding heritage now for the future

Many types of analogue or digital data carriers – including CDs, photos, music cassettes and books – are used to store information, but often suffer from ailments and deterioration despite proper storage conditions. The materials they are made from, such as paper or photographic carriers, are inherently self-destructive and cannot withstand the test of time. Tears, scratches, stains or even mould can damage them. Digitisation and the subsequent sustainable preservation of digital files can provide a solution, however, as they can be accessed from anywhere without causing harm to the original carrier.

Meemoo is bringing together a wealth of materials from various partners in the GIVE project – in a cost-effective process that ensures uniform quality across organisations and storage facilities.

Making heritage accessible to all

Fragile glass plates and newspapers may be safely stored in repositories, and religious works of art are sometimes even suspended several metres high in churches. These hard-to-reach places – often not even on display – make these heritage objects difficult to access. But digitisation makes them accessible again to both current and future generations. Furthermore, they can even be made more tangible, for example by scanning sculptures in 3D.

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The GIVE project is also bringing heritage closer to home. The knowyourcarrier.com knowledge platform has been expanded and revitalised – allowing you to identify any audiovisual or photographic carriers you might have hidden in your attic, and learn how best to preserve or digitise them, in just a few clicks.

Searching heritage faster

The story doesn’t end with digitisation and sustainable archiving, however. After all, what good is an archive full of digital content if you can’t easily find what you’re looking for? That’s why the next step of the process is focusing on previously digitised and born-digital audiovisual content from around 130 cultural and government organisations. These materials consist of thousands of hours of video and audio with little or no description, making them valuable sources of information that are unfortunately difficult to search. The GIVE project is addressing this challenge by utilising artificial intelligence to add and enrich metadata.

Face recognition on archival material from LIBERAS
© LIBERAS Face recognition on archival material from LIBERAS

We have used three different technologies (face, speech and entity recognition) to add details, such as the names of people and places, as well as transcriptions, to no fewer than 170,000 hours of heritage gems – ready to be optimally searched and reused in the future.

It is important to first consider the legal and ethical aspects before utilising artificial intelligence, however. You can read more about this here.

Made possible thanks to European and Flemish funding

The GIVE project is part of the ‘digital transformation’ focus of the Flemish Government’s Resilience Recovery Plan. Meemoo, along with its partners, can make significant strides in digitising Flemish documentary heritage thanks to this recovery funding. The project is also receiving support from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) under the REACT EU initiative, the European Union’s recovery programme in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meemoo has received European funding of €2.7 million to take a digital step forward.

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Stronger together

Together with numerous partners from the cultural sector, meemoo is overcoming a significant hurdle in making a wealth of heritage accessible to researchers and the general public through this project. Who has joined us on this journey?

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Schatkamer van de Sint-Catharinakerk Maaseik

There is no lack of knowledge in GIVE. And we are eager to share the new insights we have gained with the outside world, which is why meemoo is gradually documenting and disseminating them further. The totindetail.be website is the first starting point.

In brief

The large-scale GIVE project is contributing to our collective digital memory. Making cultural heritage digitally available, sustainably preserving it, and making it searchable, safeguards this valuable source of inspiration for the future.