German Digital Library Time for knowledge

Screenshot of the German Digital Library
Screenshot of the German Digital Library | Photo (detail): © German Digital Library

A project for the century has become visible: after a one-and-a-half year pilot phase, the first expansion stage of the German Digital Library will go online in 2014. The national online access point for culture and knowledge has mastered technical hurdles and assembled a considerable number of objects.

Democratizing knowledge and cultural participation for everyone – this is the vision behind the German Digital Library (DDB). The project ensures access to the digital holdings of up to 30,000 national cultural and scientific institutions. Books, artworks, monuments, exhibitions, scores, music, photographs and films can be discovered through the central portal. In this way the German Digital Library is realizing the goal of making available the cultural memory of a nation. “But we want to provide more than a memory portal”, emphasizes Frank Frischmuth, Managing Director of the DDB. “We want to develop a vibrant platform to which the user too can make contributions.”

Soon 10 million objects?

After several years of preparation, the project to build up the DDB was launched in 2011 at the initiative of the federal and state governments. On 28 November 2012, the so-called “beta version”, with a data volume of 4.7 million objects, went online. “In the meantime, 7.7 million objects can now be researched in the database”, says Frischmuth. And the Managing Director sees a need for expansion: “One of the priorities this year will be again to increase significantly the data volume”. The aim is that digitalized data in the amount of a two-digit million figure should soon be available to users. They can now leave comments on the website on individual objects.

Acceptance of the DDB offer is already now very satisfactory. “On average we record 1,800 hits per day”, says Frischmuth. Compared to the initial phase with about 1,000 clicks per day already an impressive increase. The largest number of objects is currently available in the archives (about 2.96 million as of January 2014) and the libraries (about. 2.17 million). But the media libraries are also 1.2 million data strong. When the first expansion phase of the DDB is opened to the public in March 2014, the intended form of this nation library on the Net will become clearly visible.

New opportunities through data standardization

For all the joy of the interim success, Frischmuth also describes the project as a “huge challenge”. The sheer number of potential data providers naturally brings with it problems of agreement. The DDB is supported by a competence network consisting of representatives of 13 German cultural and scientific institutions. These include the Prussian Cultural Heritage (where the administrative office of the DDB is located), the Herman National Library, the Berlin and Bavarian State Libraries, the German Film Institute and the Brandenburg State Office for the Preservation of Historical Monuments.

There were also technical hurdles to surmount in the pilot phase. “In 2012 we agreed to convert to the data format of the portal, whose German partner we are, because of its better compatibility and interoperability”, says Frischmuth. The standardization process within the DDB, he explains, will benefit all supplier institutions in the form of a synenergy effect. “For the first time users will now be able to search for contents and objects from various databases through a central access portal.”

To the Erl King with a click

Like the portal, the DDB does not keep the actual digital holdings on its own shelves. Searches lead to a list of hits that show the searched-for objects with all the metadata. A link then takes you to the institution that has the digital copy in it archive. If you search, for instance, for Goethe’s Erl King, you will find, among other things, an audio file in the Saxon State Library in Dresden of a shellac record of Alexander Moissi reciting the poem.

Currently available at the DDB are only objects “whose legal status makes them freely available”, as Frischmuth explains. In future, however, the DDB will also provide access to copyrighted objects – for the most part works of the twentieth century. “The issues are currently being clarified with, among others, the collecting societies”, says Frischmuth. Also being currently evaluated is how the financing of the project can be secured beginning in 2016. Up to and including 2015, the federal and state governments will support the DDB with up to 2.6 million euro per year.

Will retain the character of a project until 2015

German Digital Library – this was actually supposed to be only a working title. But for the time being the now familiar name will be retained, “although we are much more than a library”, says Frischmuth. In any case, until 2015, the DDB will retain the character of a project. And it will be some time before digital copies of the holding of all relevant cultural and scientific institutions can be found in the DDB. Frischmuth dampens hasty expectations: “In this respect, too, we can speak of a project for the century.”