German Digital Library More Than Just a Dream

Logo of the German Digital Library
Logo of the German Digital Library | © DDB

Planning and preparations for the German Digital Library have been underway since 2007 – and the project of the century that is to make Germany’s cultural heritage freely accessible to everyone is gradually taking concrete shape.

The collective cultural memory of a nation, made freely accessible to all its citizens – books, documents, notes, photographs, films, music, artworks, monuments, exhibitions: that is the vision behind the provisional working title “German Digital Library”. The library is to take the form of a centralized national Internet portal that brings together digital content from all German cultural and academic institutions in one place. There is still a long way to go.

New culture of knowledge through digital interconnection

“The German Digital Library is the project of the century in the field of education, science, communication and cultural policy”, explains Professor Hermann Parzinger, executive board spokesperson of the German Digital Library’s (DDB) competence network. For Parzinger, who is also the president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, unrestricted and all-encompassing access to knowledge and culture is a dream: “the definitive democratization of knowledge and cultural participation for everyone.”

If this dream becomes a reality, Parzinger believes this could change Germany as a nation of culture. “Cultural and academic institutions will advance into an entirely new dimension of digital interconnection. Linking museums, libraries, archives and other cultural repositories will give rise to a new culture of knowledge with global reach.”

From draft concept to pilot project

Since the summer of 2007, a competence network comprising representatives from federal, state and local governments has been working to realize this promising idea. A concept was drawn up and studies into the project’s technical feasibility and the expectations of potential users were conducted. The technical infrastructure, which was developed by the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (the Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems, IAIS) and the FIZ Karlsruhe – Leibniz Institute for Information Infrastructure, is now almost at the evaluation stage.

In addition, the decision-making bodies responsible for operating the DDB have been established: the competence network’s executive board, general assembly and board of trustees. They will steer the project as it continues to evolve, technical coordination being handled by the German National Library. Several working groups are dedicated to key issues such as the presentation of content, the management of metadata, and internal and external communication.

National contribution to Europeana

The DDB, which is also Germany’s national contribution to Europeana.eu, is financed by the federal, state and local governments. To develop the project infrastructure, the federal government has earmarked eight million euros from the IT investment programme of the German Bundestag (Germany’s parliament), while the federal and state governments have promised to fund its operation with 2.6 million euros per year for five years starting 2011.

“Over the next few weeks and months, a decision will now have to be taken about the project’s definitive name. From the outset, the name ‘German Digital Library’ was merely a working title because it does not make it sufficiently clear that the project is not only about libraries but also about museums, archives, film libraries and so on”, reports Hermann Parzinger. Furthermore, a data utilization contract is currently being drawn up that will lay down the rules according to which cultural and academic institutions will make their digital content available to the DDB.

Launch planned for mid-2012

In around mid-2012, the DDB – under its new name – is due to go live as a pilot project, possibly still with certain limitations. At the time of the planned launch, at least four million digitized media from 13 relevant institutions will be made accessible. This will be the first small but publicly visible step on the road to achieving the grand vision.

In the initial phase it will be difficult not to disappoint the high expectations of users. “Naturally, the portal will have to be continuously improved, with new content being added all the time. This is the biggest challenge. We will have to source finance to digitize our cultural heritage and join forces with powerful partners – private firms and institutions which promote science and scholarship alike – to establish a common strategy. We will also need a master plan that sets out the direction for prioritizing the fields in which to digitize content”, says Hermann Parzinger.

“This large-scale project poses an enormous challenge in many respects – technology, organization, content and communication – and will require considerable efforts for quite some time yet if it is really to be a success. Ultimately, however, it will be a wonderful means of letting the whole world see and experience Germany’s cultural heritage and cultural accomplishments for themselves.”