Our historical knowledge depends to a great extent on the Danish ALM-institutions’ daily work of collecting, preserving and mediating. Traditionally, the institutions follow a pattern of work which means that the archives store archivalia and pictures, the libraries printed material and the museums artefacts and pictures. In physical terms the institutions’ collections are spread out in many different localities, and they are registered after different systems according to old professional traditions and work methods which can seem quite impenetrable to the user.
The differences between the institutions have somewhat hampered the development of a common national access to the cultural heritage and all the local-historical sources. But the Internet has opened up for the availability and democratisation of access to the collections which up till now have really only been accessible to a rather limited group of people.
In the spring of 2001 a pilot project was launched on Funen that was to focus on this problem. The idea was to develop a local-historical portal which would mediate the ALM-collections to the users on the Internet making it easy for them to see which material was available on a given subject and where.
The project’s target group was defined as ‘the interested layman’. It was therefore important for the portal to have a mediatory superstructure in order to stimulate the users to search on their own in the material. This was done i.a. through stories, recollections and articles which then pointed in the right direction for further search in the portal. In other words, the users should not be limited to only seeing the naked registration records – image records were to be presented on the screen.
The many requirements meant that it was decided to limit the number of records searchable in the portal to the subject “trade and industry” and here in particular bread, beer, glass and iron.
The participating institutions were a mixture of large and small ones; some had great experience of digitisation and electronic registration, while others were not quite as advanced. The participants included, Ringe Local-historical Archives, Dalum-Hjallese Local-historical Archives, Middelfart City Archives and Museum, Odense City Archives, Local-historical Library in Odense and Faaborg Cultural-historical Museums. The State and University Library in Århus was in charge of the project which ran through 2001 and the beginning of 2002. On 22. March 2002 the portal www.historifyn.dk was opened. Since then the people with an interest in local history have been able to sit comfortably at home in front of their PC, gaining access to the collections of archives, libraries and museums at one particular site on the Internet. Today the base offers search in over 4,500 records within the chosen subject area.
Structure of the database
The local-historical archives register their collections in the programme ARKIBAS, the museums in DMI and the libraries in the co-called Marc-format. The archives use a reduced version of DK5 (the Danish classification system) for the classification of their collections. DK5 is used in the Danish public libraries, and it therefore seemed obvious for the structured search on subject codes in the portal to be based on DK5. It proved relatively easy to make a concordance between the different subject registration systems. Apart from search on subject code, the user was simultaneously offered the possibility to search on free-text, institution, type of material, place and period. A stringent periodizing of the material, wherever it was registered, remained more or less unsolved as the Danish ALM-institutions date-register differently. Archives can register specific date intervals, the libraries specific dates (year of publication), while the museums frequently use very large date intervals. For example – “recent time” can cover the past 1,000 years!
It was originally intended to base the common search on Z39.50 searches in common databases for the three areas. It was however, considered unrealistic to apply this technologically advanced tool, and a simpler technological solution was chosen which in many ways was turned into an advantage. The retrieval data from the institutions databases were done via simple “print-tofile”-commands. The database itself was constructed in such a way as to preserve the structure of the individual databases. But in the brief display format they had a common appearance which was an advantage for the user.
Example of a search
Anyone with an interest in Funen’s history of trade and industry would be well advised to start in historiefyn.dk.
If you want to know something about the Funen Glassworks, it is obvious to start with a simple search on the name. This yields 50 search results, and running through them shows that many of the glassworks’ products – a multitude of different types for every day use, ranging from simple feeding bottles to magnificent vases in opaline white – are today exhibited in Faaborg Cultural- historical Museums. The glasses are shown on the screen and examining them in greater detail is only a click away. The search result also included references to material which is placed in Odense City Archives, i.a. a great number of photos, some of them going right back to about 1900. Here it is possible to see how the workers at the glassworks in practice handled the very hot material and created both form and colour. In the accompanying text to one of the pictures we are told that the person in front directing the work, is the foreman, Adolf Brocks. His name also appears in one of the museum registrations from Faaborg – Brocks was in fact the creator of a very beautiful vase – which is, of course, also shown. Suddenly the players of the past become quite real – a link is forged between the elderly man in the picture and the object of art which is displayed a hundred years later in a museum.
The search result also gives some references to memoirs in Odense City Archive – the memoirs by the founder of the glassworks, consul Frederik Hey and also the memoirs of one of the workers. Both are published in Odensebogen 1997, but one does not have to borrow the book, as extracts from Olaf Jespersen’s account of working life at Funen Glassworks can be read at historiefyn. dk. If this surf has sparked off further interest in the glass industry of Funen, one can visit Odense City Archives or Faaborg Cultural-historical Museums and inspect the original material in the reading room or see the exhibited glasses during the museum’s opening hours. The search also includes a reference to the book by Mogens Schlüter on the Funen Glassworks. You can of course order this book electronically.
Over the past couple of years, other ALM-projects have emerged, like for example NOKS (see following article). To a great extent it is due to the new IT-technology that this co-operation in mediation has flourished. Each institution maintains its professional competencies and physical position, but via the Internet their collections and specialist knowledge are integrated and presented as a whole.
In future the different ALM-projects will hopefully contribute to the development of standards for coming ALM-mediation platforms. Historiefyn. dk has already moved into the next phase. The aim for 2003 and 2004 is to expand the circle of participants to as many Funen ALM-institutions as possible and to add considerably to the number of searchable registration records. Mediation is still very much the operative word and we want to see experiments with the use of maps, sound, film, digital reference works and news fora. Internet co-operation between ALM-institutions is one essential course to steer.
Translated by Vibeke Cranfield