Memory Institutions


Kim H. Veltman

"Framework for Long-term Digital Preservation from Political and Scientific Viewpoints"

Digitale Langzeitarchivierung. Strategien und Praxis europäischer Kooperation, Deutschen Nationalbibliothek, anlässlich der EU-Ratspräsidentschaft Deutschlands, 20-21. April 2007, Frankfurt: National Bibliothek, 2007.


The range, depths and limits of what we know depend on the media with which we attempt to record our knowledge. This essay begins with a brief review of developments in a) media: stone, manuscripts, books and digital media, to trace how collections of recorded knowledge expanded to 235,000 in 1837 and have expanded to over 100 million unique titles in a single database including over 1 billion individual listings in 2007. The advent of digital media has brought full text scanning and electronic networks, which enable us to consult digital books and images from our office, home or potentially even with our cell phones. These magnificent developments raise a number of concerns and new challenges.

An historical survey of major projects that changed the world reveals that they have taken from one to eight centuries. This helps explain why commercial offerings, which offer useful, and even profitable short-term solutions often undermine a long-term vision. New technologies have the potential to transform our approach to knowledge, but require a vision of a systematic new approach to knowledge. This paper outlines four ingredients for such a vision in the European context. First, the scope of European observatories should be expanded to inform memory institutions of latest technological developments. Second, the quest for a European Digital Library should be expanded to include a distributed repository, a digital reference room and a virtual agora, whereby memory institutions will be linked with current research;. Third, there is need for an institute on Knowledge Organization that takes up anew Otlet’s vision, and the pioneering efforts of the Mundaneum (Brussels) and the Bridge (Berlin). Fourth, we need to explore requirements for a Universal Digital Library, which works with countries around the world rather than simply imposing on them an external system. Here, the efforts of the proposed European University of Culture could be useful. Ultimately we need new systems, which open research into multiple ways of knowing, multiple “knowledges”. In the past, we went to libraries to study the recorded world. In a world where cameras and sensors are omnipresent we have new recording worlds. In future, we may also use these recording worlds to study the riches of libraries.

Read full article