Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Digital Library Looking at the Bigger Picture

Website of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Digital Library
Website of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Digital Library | Photo (detail): © Universitätsbibliothek Greifswald

Since 2010, libraries, archives and museums in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern have been involved in a joint pilot project, laying the foundations for a digital library designed to raise the profile of this north-German state’s cultural heritage and make it more readily accessible.

The development of the German Digital Library (DDB) and Europeana, its European sister, is putting pressure on libraries, archives and museums. The idea is for as many cultural institutions as possible to contribute their digitized media, yet both portals see themselves merely as central points of access to decentralized digital content. Thus responsibility for the digitization process, for capturing meta data and for ensuring its long-term storage, remains with the participating institutions. What is more, it is up to them to decide which of their treasures they wish to make digitally accessible.

Cross-sector collaboration

These duties are taken very seriously in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Under the aegis of Greifswald University Library, a pilot project was launched there in November 2010 that is to lay the foundations for a cross-sector digital library at federal state level. Even during the project application phase, representatives of archives, libraries and museums from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern got together around the table and explored the possibilities and opportunities of digitization in a number of workshops.

The outcome of the pilot project will be a prototype state-level portal encompassing all three sectors – libraries, archives and museums. The plan is for users to be able to search for anything they want there, on either a cross-sector or sector-specific basis. Furthermore, the portal is intended to showcase the spectrum of digitized media available in the state.

Further technological development

As they work towards this goal, one challenge is to put in place the technical prerequisites, while another involves carrying out exemplary digitization processes. “In the first phase of the pilot project we have created an interface which will allow us to transfer the meta data from the state archive system to a joint system in an automated process”, explains Dr Peter Wolff, director of Greifswald University Library.

In the second pilot phase, which will continue until the end of March 2012, an interface for the museums is to be implemented. “We are also currently working on improving the viewer. The workflow – from digitization and cataloguing to putting content online – is also to become further automated.”

Exemplary digitization

Greifswald University Library has managed to secure 30,000 euros in funding from the Agnes Lohmann Foundation to further develop the necessary technology. To finance the exemplary digitization within the framework of the two pilot projects, the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern ministry of education has made available a total of 85,000 euros.

This includes digitizing several thousand maps in collaboration with the Geographical Institute of Greifswald University. “In the archive sector, we have chosen to focus on ‘North-German Chronicles’. Eight archives from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern are digitizing chronicles of the various centuries from their collections”, reports Wolff.

In addition, 370 works from the paintings collection of the Pomeranian State Museum in Greifswald will be digitized, as will paintings, sculptures and drawings from the Böhmer Collection of the Cultural History Museum of the City of Rostock, the last closed collection from the “depraved art” campaign of the Nazis.

Taking stock: digitization in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

Another goal of the project is to do a stock-take, to which end 425 archives, libraries and museums were surveyed. “We want to know: What cultural heritage worth digitizing exists in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern? Is it of regional, national or indeed international significance? Has some content already been digitized? And what has been the experience of digitization so far?”, explains the library director.

The idea is thus to ascertain the material and personnel resources available in the state. “It will then be up to the federal state to decide how digitization should proceed. I believe we should not rely solely on financing from the state but should also investigate where we might find sponsors or where EU projects are possible.”

Beyond the horizons of one’s own profession

In terms of the quantity of digitized cultural content available, there is no doubt that Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has some catching up to do as compared to other federal states in Germany. In its “Digital Library MV” project, however, it has adopted a pioneering role – in terms of collaboration between libraries, archives and museums.

“It is quite beneficial to look beyond the horizons of one’s own profession. Although many problems concerning digitization are very similar in the individual sectors, each sector nonetheless takes an entirely different view of things. It is not only a question of different objects, but of different requirements of users”, sums up Peter Wolff. “As librarians, we are specialists, but our users certainly are not. We can expect a great deal more of them because, as a rule, they are much more open-minded than we are. That is something that is fascinating to experience.”