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"Digitisation gives all these heritage objects a face."

In the spotlight Geschreven op 16 Jan 2024
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The GIVE-project is a digitisation effort of impressive proportions: over 800.000 newspaper pages, masterpieces and glass plate photographs were digitised and sustainably preserved. With the help of artificial intelligence, over 130 collections with audio and video received more accurate descriptions, making them more searchable. Impressive results, but the project also initiated intensive cooperation between heritage organisations, experts, technical professionals and more.

In this article, we put the spotlight on the people behind the project. This time, we asked our 10 questions to Frederik Vandewiere, Registrar expert at the Ypres Museums.

Frederik Vandewiere

Can you tell us about your involvement in the GIVE project and your specific role?

I’ve been working as a Registrar at the Ypres Museums since 2002, which has given me a great understanding of our many and diverse collections. It’s this expertise that I bring to GIVE, where I’ve overseen the practical aspects of the project. I’ve kept a clear overview of the collections to be digitised, and shared the work between myself and two other colleagues.

Why do you think digitisation is so important and valuable?

Heritage items are often delicate and susceptible to damage, so the materials they’re crafted from can complicate the digitisation process. And the digitisation is itself a specialised field – a skill that’s not widely available. Collaborative efforts in initiatives like GIVE enable us to significantly enhance both the quality and scope of our work.

What impact do you hope the GIVE project will have?

The collections we’re making accessible now are treasure troves of knowledge, but there are still lots of others waiting to be digitised, so I’m hopeful this project will be continued – perhaps with a ‘GIVE 2.0’? These collection are still hiding a huge amount of untapped information, which museums and archives are struggling to digitise properly.

What challenges did you encounter in your work on the project, and how did you deal with them?

Digitising our extensive collection of glass plates was a major challenge. The

whole process of registering and packaging was a big task, which kept me and two colleagues very busy. But we all tackled everything very enthusiastically, with extra help from an intern later on in the project. We had a clear goal and achieved some fantastic results.

The glass plates take up a large area in our storage space, so we had to work in a very structured way. We always assign one colleague to a specific collection to complete it from start to finish, which ensures we can work progressively through each one as we prepare it for digitisation. Thanks to the GIVE project, all these glass plates, previously hidden deep in storage, are finally being given a face.

What have you learned or discovered during this project?

My key takeaway is that initiatives like GIVE are indispensable for the effective management of certain collections. Without projects like this, these collections would likely never be digitised.

Which collaborations within the project have made the biggest impression on you, and why?

We’ve worked together with meemoo on various digitisation projects for some time now. It’s always a seamless collaboration, and this project was no different. It may appear straightforward, but it’s definitely not. So they deserve a big shout-out for always making sure everything runs so smoothly.

What is your favourite masterpiece, newspaper article, glass plate or piece of metadata, and why?

The glass plates hold a special place in my heart. I can’t choose a favourite; they’re all equally important. The imagery is so beautiful, and sometimes says so much more than words. I really love looking at all the fascinating prints, paintings and photographs.

Which glass plate do you think definitely still needs to be digitised, and why?

I think I would have to rephrase the question. It’s entire collections that I want to see digitised. I can’t choose one specific object.

Many institutions still have a lot of plastic negatives and positives, which are often not in the best condition, so I’m very keen to see them preserved digitally. We could potentially set up a project similar to GIVE because digitising glass plates in-house is not straightforward for most organisations – but we can only assess the value of negatives once they’ve been digitised. For example, negatives and glass plates were used interchangeably during the First World War, and digitising the glass plates has already given us access to some new knowledge. Now the rest can follow, to also open up these valuable artefacts for historical research.


Want to know more?

Discover the steps we took to secure these fragile carriers.

Who do you think benefits the most or is most impacted by the digitisation of heritage objects?

Primarily, all the institutions that own the heritage objects. The GIVE project has made these objects accessible more quickly, so researchers now have a wealth of new resources at their disposal to look at, study and use. And the general public obviously benefits from this too. Everyone will undoubtedly have an opportunity to see these wonderful objects at some point, whether in digital or physical form.

Based on your personal experience and expertise, what recommendations would you make to someone who wants to work on a similar project in the future?

Don’t be daunted by the scale of the task. Embrace the challenge – there’s a lot to learn from getting involved. I found the partner events particularly valuable for sharing knowledge and making contacts with a diverse network of collaborators.

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