A digital archive of historical photos
Up and down the country in the libraries, archives and museums, we find photo collections of local historical interest, photos for the ordinary library user with an interest in local history, as well as photos for the genealogist and the historian. Local Historical Collection at the main library in Århus has for example got a collection of about 80,000 photos, and the library holds the copyright to approx. 20,000 of these. The collection consists of photos as positives in paper form or as glass/plane negatives and many are in poor physical condition. Up till now it has been necessary to appear in person in order to gain access to the collection.

In 1999 Århus took the initiative of inviting archives and libraries to a meeting to find out whether there would be an interest in co-operating on the development of a database for the registration of old photos in digitised form. The local historical archives in the libraries at Frederiksberg, Gentofte, Herning, Roskilde and Silkeborg confirmed their wish to join Århus in a cooperative project. During the spring 2000 the project was christened “danskebilleder.dk” (danishpictures. dk), and a project group as well as a steering committee were appointed with representatives from the participating libraries.

The aim of the project was to:

  • Establish “danskebilleder.dk” with a software solution which can be used by archives, libraries and museums in a central as well as a decentral solution
  • Make photo collections in libraries, archives and museums accessible and searchable via a web interface
  • Establish a co-operation between archives, libraries and museums for the purpose of preserving the photo collections for posterity
  • Develop monitoring options in connection with maintenance of the photo archive
  • Test the possibilities for electronic exhibitions
  • Make it possible to create decentral, regional photo databases.

“danskebilleder.dk” is a module-built database, based on internationally recognised standards like Z39.50, XML and Dublin Core. Basically the system consists of three main components:

  • A database containing the digitised photos
  • An administration module
  • A user interface.

The administration module is divided into a registration part and a cataloguing part with support functions and a search interface for the end user. Registration and cataloguing are done on the Internet via an ordinary browser. The registration screen is used for keying in the physical description of the photos (type of material, size, condition, next check date). Here one can place name of photographer, address, dates, name of person ordering, negative/ dias number, copyright restrictions and special clauses. You can also indicate whether the photo is for internal use only, should copyright reasons dictate this. Subject keywords from the system’s own list of keywords can be entered on the cataloguing screen. In order to secure a common terminology, the keying-in fields (e.g. keyword lists) are supported by authorised lists of words. You may add local keywords, place, persons, groups and corporation, as well as name of street, house number, parish, association of houseowners and title number. Gradually local lists will be created for a number of fields and it will be possible to reuse information which has already been keyed in. And finally, you may also add a description of the photo in question.

The system contains functions for managing access control and has got password protection.

Access to the database is via the address www.danskebilleder.dk and the page shows the search interface for the general user. The stored photos with descriptions are retrieved via the search interface. The result shows nine minimal photos (thumbnails) with relevant minimum cataloguing. From the search result one can choose to have a photo shown in a medium size and see a complete cataloguing (covenanted information might occur to which the user cannot gain access). From this the motif can be shown full-screen. It is possible to choose whether the search shall be carried out nation-wide or be limited geographically to one of the connected partners. Apart from a simple search facility directly from the initial screen, there are five different advanced search possibilities, where one can search more precisely on: place, subject, person, photographer or orderer as well as association, firm, shop or institution. Danskebilleder.dk is initially developed on a joint server with the possibility of distribution on local servers. Searching across servers takes place via a Z39.50 joint search.

The database contains digital photos saved as JPEG-files, where the width of the photo must not exceed 600 pixels. The naming of the files follows an agreed composition, making immediate identification possible.

The photos are digitised through a scanning process. This job may be outsourced and can be carried out independently of the cataloguing process. The scanned photos can be saved in TIFF format on CD-ROM, and this can act as a safety copy of the original motif and ensure it for posterity. At present, over 7,400 photos have been scanned and keyed in, and the process is advancing according to schedule. “danskebilleder.dk” is an important joint product which can be used in all photo collections, whether placed in archives, libraries or museums.

A beta-test was carried out as well as a user test of the system in autumn 2002, whereupon the marketing of danskebilleder. dk was put into motion. A small information card was printed and more than 1,000 invitations went out to an information meeting in September 2002. About 60 participants from archives, libraries and museums took part in the meeting, and several archives and libraries have already expressed their interest in participating in the project and the first new members have been accepted into the association. A founding general meeting took place on 26. March 2003 in Odense. At the ALM Conference “Dare we meet?” which was held on 14. November 2002 in Århus, danskebilleder.dk was presented alongside the projects NOKS and Historiefyn.

A manual, technical guide, course material and list of prices are available for new members of the association. All new members are offered a three-hour introduction course to the system. The financing of the project came primarily from the libraries that are cooperating in the project. The Year 2000 Foundation has supported the project with the sum of 100,000 DKK. In this connection danskebilleder.dk was presented at the national exhibition Danish Identity which travelled all over Denmark in three train carriages from August until November 2001.

The firm Index Data, Copenhagen, has been in charge of preparing and developing the database as well as the registration and indexing module.

The project is developed currently and might come to include clickable digital cards which link to scanned-in photos, streamed local historical films, lexical local historical information etc.

Any interested archives, libraries and museums can be provided with a trial password free of charge for a period of three months.

Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Development adviser, The Digital Library, Århus.

Read more about the technical development of danskebilleder.dk inArkiv. Journal of archival management and technique. 2001:6. Digitale billedarkiver – en internetbaseret løsning, by Sebastian Hammer and Sebastian Rostrup Stilling.