The South East Europe Digitisation Initiative (SEEDI) Conference

Alastair Dunning, Programme Manager at The European Library, recently attended the 8th SEEDI conference (The South East Europe Digitisation Initiative). The purpose of the conference is for members of cultural heritage institutions, researchers, consultants and government officials to come together and share best practice in terms of advance digitisation projects in countries of south east Europe - Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Slovenia.

The countries attending the SEEDI conference have initiated a large number of successful projects, which demonstrates a healthy commitment to the possibilities of digitisation for both public use and scholarly research.

Outcome of the Conference

The festival of Croatian digitisation projects formed part of the conference. In fact, one delegate estimated that there were at least 250 digital collections in Croatia. Other resources cited in the conference included folk collections from Croatia, the photography collection of the National Library of Slovenia, and an art collection from Zagreb's Museum of Contemporary Art.

The event showed a growing need to better integrate users into digitised cultural heritage. One brilliant user evaluation by Snezana Nenezic of Serbian Public Library Collections showed how ill-suited existing digital libraries were to particular types of users. Research conducted by Marija Segan further explored the connection between different learning methods and how digitisation process should be presented to students.

Breza Salamon-Cindori's comprehensive presentation illustrated how the National and University Library of Croatia was making use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube) in line with the practices of other libraries within Europe.

Discussions of sustainability particularly financial issues were non-existent (at least in the official lectures). This is quite possibly because there are so few options for private funding for these countries. Either libraries get involved in larger EU projects or get central government funding. Funds for digitisation had almost dried up completely. Government interest now tends to be focused on cross-domain aggregators that could showcase content from libraries, archives and museums (for example, the Serbia Forum, as presented by Aleksandar Mihajlovic or the cross-domain aggregator being developed in Croatia).

It was also apparent how much of this work depended on researchers from departments of mathematics or computer science. They also managed to tie digitisation issues into some advanced topics (e.g. sensing and modelling Macedonian folk dance, building Android apps or building virtual reality models of a medieval religious complex).

Digitisation as Expression of National Identity

The urge to digitise as part of expressing national identity was particularly strong. Croatian academics are working with their ministry on a national digital plan until 2020. The recent history of conflict and territorial changes provides extra impetus to digitisation as a means of expressing cultural identity. This was particularly true for Serbia, where speakers highlighted cultural destruction in many forms. They were hence inspired by projects such as the Digital Catalogue of Cultural Monuments of Serbia.

Such themes were also present in the presentation of a Macedonian language corpus, or a comprehensive history of the publishing and printing history of Montenegro, and in the Bosnian virtual reality creation of a destroyed religious complex in Sarajevo.

Perhaps the most impressive project was the Digital Library created at the National Library of Slovenia. 650 historical publications scanned, transcribed and marked up with TEI. This project stood out for a number of reasons - firstly, the creation of a full corpus integrated into the library's digital systems, the use of automated techniques to mark up the text with OCR and, the use of WikiSource as a means to obtain transcriptions of around three quarters of the text.

Surprisingly, this was the only mention of crowdsourcing in the entire conference. One of the challenges highlighted in Alastair Dunning's presentation, You've Digitised, What Next?, was how these digitisation projects need to go beyond merely scanning and publication in silos and to ensure that crowdsourcing, APIs, linked data, search engine optimisation etc. allows content to be widely disseminated on the internet.

The conference concluded with the promise to continue the work of SEEDI. Whilst infrastructural challenges slow down some projects in the region, with the resultant effect that there was less time dedicated to things like API development or crowdsourcing, the dominant tone was much like similar events elsewhere in the world: enthusiasm, skill and knowledge of digital libraries being tempered by uncertainties about the funding models that would support and sustain such work.

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