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Digitalization is knowledge and education. An inspiring conversation with Joris Pekel from Europeana

  • Pubblicato il: 15/04/2016 - 15:10
Articolo a cura di: 
Emanuela Gasca

Prosegue l’approfondimento sulla cultura digitale attraverso l’intervista a testimoni privilegiati della comunità scientifica internazionale.
Nell’ambito delle progettualità europee in relazione al tema della digitalizzazione legata ai beni culturali, emerge il forte impegno di Europeana Foundation. Da più di dieci anni si occupa di favorire l’accesso alle circa 53.000.000 risorse digitali di musei, librerie, archivi e collezioni audiovisive d’Europa attraverso un portale web facilmente consultabile anche da un pubblico non esclusivamente specialistico. In questo ambito riportiamo qui l’intervista fatta a Joris Pekel, il “community coordinator” di Europeana Foundations. La conversazione è ricca di stimoli e riflessioni critiche sui temi della digitalizzazione dei beni culturali intesa non solo come attività rivolta ai soggetti che si occupano di beni culturali, ma anche ad utenti esterni ai musei stessi
* Articolo in lingua
We know that Europeana is one of the most important European project in terms of making digitized culture available to all.
Could you introduce this project and give us some numbers of collections and objects digitalized until 2015?

If you agree I could use words of our business plan that, in my opinion, underlines perfectly our objectives: «Europeana started 8 years ago as a big political idea to unite Europe through culture by making our heritage available to all for work, learning or pleasure. A deeply felt belief that our shared cultural heritage fundamentally belongs to all of us, and is therefore too important to leave to market forces alone to digitize and make it available. We still believe in this big idea. We are Europeana, the network for the cultural heritage sector in Europe, and we think we are in a unique position to make these ideals come true. We are expanding our network with thousands of cultural institutions, politicians, tech entrepreneurs, open data activists, developers and researchers all with one thing in common: a shared dream of a world where every citizen will have access to all cultural heritage. We transform the world with culture»
In this context I think it is important to know that Europeana does not get involved itself with collections digitization. This is the responsibility of the institutions themselves. After they have digitized, Europeana helps them to spread the material to a wider audience and all questions related to that such as copyright and metadata quality. For this reason we can’t consider the number of objects digitized, but only the amount of items we have added to the Europeana database.
Dealing with these aims Europeana is shaped by three working principles. Our business plan highlights that they “sum up everything we do and what matters to us. Usable, we believe culture is a catalyst for social and economic change. But that’s only possible if it’s readily usable and easily accessible for people to build with, build on and share. Mutual, we are a network, a partnership of connected organizations - from cultural institutions to commercial software developers. We can make an impact on the world because together, we’re greater than the sum of our parts. We believe in the power of creative collaboration and teamwork, working towards common goals and for mutual benefit, fostering innovation and new working practices. Reliable - we represent the cultural organizations that have safeguarded our heritage for hundreds of years. Who have organized it, structured it and made it accessible with great care and precision. We are committed to ensuring that our digital data is always authentic, trustworthy and robust, that it’s easy to create with and that our network partners benefit from sharing it[1]». According with this topic we have come a long way in a short time. In 5 years, we built an infrastructure that connects 30 million (and counting) objects from in 2014 over 2.500 institutions. From the Rijksmuseum to the Institut Cartografic de Catalunya and from the British Library to the National Audiovisual Institute in Warsaw, we have made all the descriptive data available under the most open licensing conditions.
At the moment we have 50 million records on Europeana from European countries basically. Most materials come from country that are in European Union but we have also material from countries not in the EU such as Switzerland and Russia. We don’t collect images or video but we collect metadata, the information about the digitized objects. We have metadata and on our website and there we have the link to the institutions where there are objects. You can click and you go on the site of the cultural institution and you could see the same records.
For example, if you go through Europeana Collections, you could find the “Adelaide” from Ludwig van Beethoven. If you want to hear it you could do it with «play», if you want to download it you could do it with the specific command in the right side of the web page.
Mr Pekel, after this very interesting introduction, could you please introduce Yourself to our Readers in this digital world as Community Coordinator of Cultural Heritage in the project Europeana?
I have been working for Europeana for three years, but have been involved with Europeana for a much longer time. I first got in touch with Europeana in 2008 with my thesis dealing with heritage and digitalization about history.
After finishing my MA I worked in a project that helps institution to open up their collections. The name of this project is Open Glam. (GLAM = Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums)
At  Europeana I have been working with cultural institutions to help them open up their collections as well.. It has been a very complex activity: some institutions decided to open data without problems, some other are more careful with them….

Is Europeana an Association? What are the different typologies of partners involved in the projects and how are they involved?
Europeana is an Association. The majority of founding comes from European Commission. On a regular basis we write project proposals with specific objectives and what we want to achieve.
For this reason we don’t ask money from institutions for our services.
We work with 3.500 institutions but there are still many more in Europe currently not sharing their data via Europeana.
Our system work with a specific process that starts from local sites and arrivers to the international level: there is a National Aggregator in every European country that is the link between Europeana and cultural institutions. Aggregators make it possible for us to work with thousands of institutions through only a handful of channels. They also help local institutions with preparing the metadata, questions about the rights, etc. They are essential for the Europeana ecosystem.
For example in Italy Cultura Italia collects all data from institutions and send them to us.
In Netherlands we have for example  Digitale Collectie and in Spain we have Hispana.
We have around 70 active aggregators in the project. They can work on a national, thematic or domain level: national aggregator, thematic aggregator - libraries and archives, fashion aggregator - that work only with fashion institutions - and domain aggregator  - dealing with archives (archives Portal Europe) and libraries (Europe Library).

What kind of objectives Europeana wants to scale up?
The mission is allow everybody to find and use European Cultural Heritage for any kinds of objectives dealing with knowledge and education. The main objective is collecting and sharing collections but also to work with data and copyright (that is a big blocker for our partners). We also do a lot of work to communicate heritage through exhibitions, social media activities ext. For example we have this end user blog: And an account Pinterest ( and Twitter (http:://twitter.comeuropeanaEU).
How Europeana work with Foundations?
Besides institutions we work with lots of other organizations and foundations that help us achieve our mission. A good example is Kennisland that advices on copyright issues.

How Enumerarte is located in the project Europeana?
Yes. It started as separated project but then Europeana decided that was very important to collect statistic about digitalization. In fact Enumerarte Observatory[2] studies what happen in this field from the point of view of country and different typology of museums: it provides a reliable baseline of statistical data about digitization, digital preservation and online access to cultural heritage in Europe. It collects statistics through surveys, reuses data from existing research, analyses and publishes the results and develops indicators.
In each EU country there is a Country Manager that is the responsible for collecting data from every cultural.
The DEN Foundation[3] is the lead partner of this projects.

What are, in your opinion, themes connected with the topic of cultural heritage digitalization?
What we see now talking with institutions is that in the coming years there will be a lot of material digitalized, an estimate of at least 2 hundred million objects. For the average user a database so big is too much. Europeana in the coming years will pay a lot of attention on the quality of data, for example languages,  rich descriptions, large thumbnails etc.
When Europeana started we want to publish as much as possible but now we want to take a step back and focus on quality of data.

What kind of advice could you give to institutions that would like to begin a process of digitalization?
I think that if you start digitalization, you have to know the objective that you want to achieve.
Why you are doing that? If you want to put collection available for tourist, you have for example to pay attention with geo localization.
Another thing is that is important to realize it is ok to start very small to see if it goes, to evaluate activities and data and then to decide how to scale up it.
Joris Pekel short bio
Joris Pekel works as a community coordinator cultural heritage at the Europeana Foundation. His academic work covers theatre, film, new media and digital heritage studies in Utrecht and Amsterdam. At Europeana he closely works together with memory institutions to open up cultural heritage data for everybody to enjoy and reuse. He is also coordinator of the OpenGLAM Network that promotes free and open access to digital cultural heritage held by Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAMs) and brings together organisations, institutions and individuals that share this goal.

Europeana Foundation (2015), Europeana for Education and Learning - Policy Recommendations.
Europeana Foundation (2015), Transformin the world with Culture.
Europeana Think Culture, Europeana Strategy 2015-2020.
GASCA E. (2016), Educazione digitale? Forse è possibile, in “Il Giornale delle Fondazioni” edito da Fondazione Venezia, Venezia, 15 gennaio. ISSN 2421-2466. Disponibile on line:
GASCA E. (2016), Competenze digitali: quando, come, perchè, in “Il Giornale delle Fondazioni” edito da Fondazione Venezia, Venezia, 15 gennaio. ISSN 2421-2466. Disponibile on line:
GASCA E. (2016), Educazione al patrimonio: accessibilità, partecipazione e cultura digitale, in “Il Giornale delle Fondazioni” edito da Fondazione Venezia, Venezia, 15 gennaio. ISSN 2421-2466. Disponibile on line:
Gasca E. (2015), Digitalizzazione centrata sull’utente, competenze in ambito di cultura digitale e azioni infrastrutturali trasversali. La Strategia per la Crescita Digitale 2014 – 2020, in “Il Giornale delle Fondazioni” edito da Fondazione Venezia, Venezia, 11 settembre. ISSN 2421-2466. Disponibile on line:

[1] Source: Europeana Think Culture, Europeana Strategy 2015-2020.

[2] Enumerarte Observatory:

[3] DEN supports archives, museums and other heritage institutions to improve their digital strategies and services. The sharing of knowledge of and experiences with ICT is a core mission of DEN. Furthermore, DEN encourages the institutions to invest in open technology, to implement ICT-standards and to make use of other tools that contribute to sustainable information services.