Mediestream – online access to cultural heritage collections

The State and University Library holds cultural heritage collections of significant value to researchers and students of higher education as well as to the Danish population in general. The library offers three ways of accessing the collections, and the article describes one of these, Mediestream, which is the one aimed at students and researchers in particular.

Digital cultural heritage and research

Why is cultural heritage of interest to researchers and students of higher education? A question any national institution with curatorial responsibilities for national collections may ask itself. The reasons are obvious: Collections are ‘raw material’ illustrating our history. They have not been subjected to any filters of selection or arbiters of taste – it is untouched material. When collections are made available in unison, they supplement each other and increase our understanding of the past. General information and knowledge of writers and their works can be supplemented by news-paper articles and the programmes from radio and TV. Thus, things are put into perspective and there’s an increased understanding of the time period in which a specific novel was written.

Collections of cultural heritage will reveal changes in society and when research is done across collections it is possible to investigate exactly how these changes manifested themselves. Further, digital collections make re-search easier and faster. The digital format provides immediate access to the contents – there is no waiting for analogue copies to arrive at your doorstep, and navigation in the collection is vastly improved. This means that tendencies within a specific collection and across collections are often easier to follow than when dealing with traditional analogue versions of the same collections. Further, the possibility of data mining generates new research methods which are of significant importance for the development of the ‘digital humanities’.

A legal deposit library

The State and University Library is one of two national libraries in Denmark – the other being The Royal Library. Both libraries serve as legal deposit institutions and in that role are the curators of national collections of cultural heritage. The State and University Library focuses on collecting and preserving audiovisual materials and news-papers whereas The Royal Library has similar responsibilities for books and periodicals.

As a result, the State and University Library holds multiple analogue and digital collections of value to the Danish population in general and researchers and students in particular. Among the biggest collections are the State Media Archive with more than a million radio and TV programmes and the National Sound Collection with recordings covering the Danish audio history of the 20th Century. Other major holdings are the National Newspaper Collection with all Danish newspapers published since 1850, the Netarchive (the Danish web archive), and Danish Cinema and TV Commercials 1955-2005. However, the library also holds collections which are less comprehensive but still of significant value. That includes The Ruben Collection (the oldest sound recordings in Denmark 1889-1897), Danish Dialects and other unique collections such as literary readings and voices of famous men and women of the past. Some of the collections are available in digital format, others are awaiting digitization.

Different target groups – different channels

The State and University Library serves as national library as well as university library for Aarhus University and Centre for Shared Services for Public Libraries. This means that the library in addition to the previously mentioned cultural heritage collections also holds collections of non-Danish materials, including electronic journals. As a result of this, our services target different target groups with different needs. In order to handle the vast amounts of information and at the same time offer smooth access to the collections, the State and University Library has established an extensive and solid infrastructure which serves as the basis for the services we offer. We speak of ‘channels’ which support the three main tasks. Bibzoom, for example, is the main channel which we use for serving patrons of the public libraries. At the patrons can borrow music files and stream selected samples from our cultural heritage collections, for example commercials and historical sound recordings.


The main channel for making our cultural heritage collections accessible bears the name Mediestream. Our goal is to create a basic online portal where our online users will be able to search across our digital cultural heritage collections. The search result will contain hits – each displaying metadata and a link to the object itself. The link will take you to the digital object. If the material is free of copyright restrictions, you will be able to read, view or listen to the actual contents. If the maerial is covered by copyright restricions, you will need to login in order to access the contents. That is unless you show up at the physical location of the library – then you will have complete access to the full collections.

Our main target group for Mediestream consists of researchers and students of higher education. It is our experience – and hope – that we will be able to open up collections which usually have high copyright restrictions to this specific target group. The target group is fairly small and their use of the collections will be for research purposes.

So far Mediestream holds the collection of radio and TV-programmes but within the next year it will be enriched with at least two other collections: Danish Cinema and Movie Commercials (complete) and the Danish News-paper Collection (continuously added). In the long run all our digital collections will be made available at We just need to find the money the cover the digitization expense. Mediestream will be made available to researchers and students of higher education during 2012.



Project Manager, State and Media Archive, State and University Library, Denmark

Facts: Newspaper digitization project

The State and University Library has been granted DKK 16.5 million to digitize a significant portion of the Danish National Newspaper Collection. An additional sum of DKK 6 million has been granted and earmarked for dissemination of the digital newspapers. The digitized newspapers will be available through an online service in 2013. Follow the project at