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Digital copies of documents

Research project DI/03 (Research action DI)

Persons :

  • Mme  VERACHTEN Lucie - National and Provincial State Archives ()
    Coordinator of the project
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/11/2005-1/1/2012
  • M.  MEESE Laurent - Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences ()
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/11/2005-1/1/2012
  • Dr.  MARTIN Dirk - Center for hist. research & docum. on war & contemp. Society (CEGES-SOMA)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/11/2005-1/1/2012

Description :

Digitisation is admirably suited to put the precious and unique collections at the disposal of a wide variety of target groups, belonging to the large public (existing and new target groups) as well as to the scientific community. It is also important that the valuable and fragile documents are safely stored without the risk of loss, theft or damages due to their manipulation.

The aim is to digitise a selection of documents in 3 FSI’s: the National Archives and the State Archives in the Provinces (ARA), the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) and the Centre for Historical Research on War and Contemporary Society (SOMA / CEGES).

The KBIN's (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences) scientific library contains one of the largest scientific collections in Western Europe. The earliest works in this valuable collection date back to the 16th century. One of the special collections is the Dautzenberg Library, which contains 7.956 specialised works and rare books and over 200 of Philippe Dautzenberg's own publications, in which he described 1.895 new taxa. For reasons of conservation and preservation the latter category was prioritised for digitisation. The second digitisation category encompasses the institute's exhausted scientific publications. The third category of selected works consists of books previously treated in a large-scale mass deacidification project.

SOMA / CEGES opted, in the context of project DI/00/03, for the post-war judicial investigation files of the Belgian military courts. After the war these courts tried not only collaborators, but war criminals and leaders of the German occupation administration in Belgium. The files should be viewed in the European context of local proceedings against the German leaders after the international military trials in Nuremberg.

Given the size of the patrimony of the State Archives a full digitisation would be inconceivable, so choices have to be made on the basis of the frequency of the demand for the documents, their value, fragility or historic importance and the opportunities for collaboration with other institutions.

Valorisation of the archives is one of the top criteria in defining the projects. Indeed, digitisation is in the first place about availability. The archival documents that are often asked for figure high on the priority list. As a large part of the State Archives’ visitors are genealogists, the digitisation of genealogical sources is top priority.

However, many other archival documents have also been digitised, sometimes in collaboration with universities or in the context of scientific research projects. Digitisation is in fact an important means to discover as yet unknown sources.

The results of the digitisation projects in the narrow sense of the word can be consulted by the public by means of the search engine "", which gives access to different types of metadata (general descriptions of the records conserved, descriptions of archival units (traditional inventories), detailed historical notes concerning the archives’ producers and analyses of archival documents up to the level of the acts) as well as digitised documents. The search engine is the starting point for all archival research, in the State Archives’ reading room as well as on its website.

For the archival services, digitisation is a far-reaching process. The working processes of all personnel are being adapted to ensure that the results are immediately usable in a digital environment. In the context of the digitisation process, special attention has been given to the development of an efficient back office where all aspects (material and intellectual preparation, quality control, follow-up of long term availability,…) have been foreseen.

With the DI/00/03 project resources, but also with own resources and external financing (National Lottery) and thanks to the cooperation with third parties, a solid infrastructure for the creation, the management has been set up, the long term conservation and the valorisation of digital content. The State Archives have invested in apparatus (scanners, networks, digital reading room,...), personnel training (own personnel as well as DI/00/03-personnel) and especially in solid and advanced working processes where international standards are being used.

When acquiring technical equipment (scanners, storage) and when purchasing or programming software applications, open standards and the possibilities for further growth are at the centre of attention. New developments are being followed, analysed, and applied where possible.

The State Archives’ infrastructure has been conceived in order to be extendible and to be able to integrate all future digitisation projects. This is why uniformity and integration into a whole are being opted for. This approach is important to assure the digital environment can be managed and, at the same time, it can offer the users a unique entry point.

Finally, attention should also be given to the durability of the results of the digitisation projects.

Documentation :

Digitale copies van documenten : eindrapport  Verachten, Lucie - Meese, Laurent - Martin, Dirk ... et al  Brussel : Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid, 2012 (SP2523)
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