Digitizing materials of libraries, museums and archives

The rise of the internet as the key information seeking, learning, and experience-building environment has thrust online ser-vices and digital content that is provided by libraries, museums, and archives into the spotlight of both culture, science and information society policies.

Towards the National Digital Library of Finland

The National Digital Library (NDL) is the most extensive cooperation project to date between libraries, archives and museums in Finland. It is the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture’s way of creating a unifying structure for contents and services with the purpose of promoting the availability of digital information resources of archives, libraries and museums and developing the long-term preservation of digital cultural heritage materials.

The essential foundation of the NDL is high-quality content. A part of its establishment has been a rapid and high-quality digitization of a large number of materials from libraries, archives and museums.

At the end of 2008, Finnish libraries, museums and archives had 3.9 million digital objects in total. In 2011, the number of objects had increased to 20 million. The most extensive digitization projects were those administered by the National Archives, the National Library and the Finnish Museum of Natural History.

The total funding of the Ministry of Education and Culture allocated to projects that contribute to the digitization efforts amounted to EUR 16 million between 2008 and 2011. The total employment effect of the projects in the public, private and third sectors was 400 person-years.

A large majority of the 16 million objects digitized between 2002 and 2011 – including historical photographs and maps, old newspapers, church records, war diaries, works of art, artists’ sketch books, museum artefacts and herbarium specimens – will be available to all through the public interface.

The public interface will be introduced in phases, beginning in 2012. It is maintained and developed centrally at the National Library of Finland in co-operation with participating organisations. The body responsible for maintaining the technical environment is CSC – IT Center for Science.

Challenges of digitization

The key purpose of the digitization of library, museum and archive materials is to make them more easily usable and accessible. Utilisation of digitized materials brings significant benefits to the community: it strengthens the general cultural foundation, facilitates the evolution of culture and research, and promotes innovation.

Libraries, museums, and archives often concentrate digitization activities on focus areas based on a combination of content and use criteria, such as the representativeness, significance, uses, and demand of the materials. A typical example includes digitizing homo-geneous, culturally or scientifically significant collections with characte-ristics that make physical handling difficult.

Questions related to the use of digital content go all the way back to the origins of the materials. It is, therefore, important to interact with various user groups when selecting materials to be digitised.

The challenges of digitization are manifold, covering large volumes of materials, increased complexity of materials, management of internal interrelationships between collection items, and future, unforeseen technological advances. The technology used and metadata created in the process of digitizing materials should meet all the use and long-term preservation demands in order to prevent the need for re-digitizing the material later.

Preserving the stored information for a long time without compromising ac-curacy and integrity can only be

achieved if sufficient administrative metadata are attached to digital objects. Correcting deficiencies later is expensive, and sometimes even impossible, as the necessary data may no longer be available.

Collaborating and interoperating

The best way to prepare for the challenges posed by digitizing materials and the management, distribution, and preservation of digital content is to ensure that collection policies and digitizing strategies are up to date and to share information and experiences between libraries, museums, archives – and users. By interoperating and col-laborating these holders, distributors, and preservers of core society information can secure their place at the centre of the digital society.


For more information: (Finnish, Swedish and English)

Counsellor for Cultural Affairs Ministry of Education and Culture Finland