background image
DigiCULT
.
Info
7
gives a description of each resource and a
link to the project's Web site, so that digital
objects free from copyright can be visited
(unfortunately, there is necessarily very little
information on twentieth-century resources
due to rights restrictions). It also presents all
projects by particular institutions, and the
lists show how active our various archives
are in the field of digitisation. Archivists
often produce a product such as a CD-
ROM, which is very useful to provide as an
alternative to the fragile original objects. We
consider this catalogue to be extremely suc-
cessful and valuable. It is the first example
of this kind of inventory on this scale and
is a model for further work at a European
level. It has already inspired some work
within MINERVA on the new MICHAEL
portal (Multilingual Inventory of Cultural
Heritage), which comprises our catalogue
as well as others. The reason it works so
well is that it provides a general view for
people to see what cultural heritage has
been digitised over our entire country. We
are very proud of it. 3
T
he organisations digitise all kinds of
different objects of cultural signifi-
cance: examples include photographs, blue-
prints, books, glass plates and precious
objects. The data relating to each object are
added to the database of the service that
owns the object. Although the databases are
separate, each must adhere to the markup
rules and guidelines we set out. Each dif-
ferent direction has a group of people who
together designed an appropriate common
system for all objects. We also encourage
the digitisation of audio and moving image
materials.
T
o aid in the selection of materials, a
catalogue was created, using XML,
which classified what had already been dig-
itised through projects initially only by
the Ministry of Culture, but now across a
wider group of projects in France. Similar
description of collections will be used in
Belgium and in Italy. The most precious
items have priority, although our selection
process is also affected by the staff mem-
bers working within each institution they
have to show an interest in digitisation,
otherwise it is unfeasible to pursue it. One
example is the digitisation of manuscript
illuminations; we have 14,000 images at the
moment and by the end of 2004 we will
have included 92,000 illuminations held in
public libraries. These images are available
online from http://www.enluminures.cul-
ture.fr/. We also select materials for digi-
tisation based on a geographical strategy;
for example, we are currently working on
projects to digitise marks on jewellery and
a collection of precious porcelain. These
collections should be understood as com-
plete, therefore, we will always try to com-
plete the precious collections in one village,
before moving on to an institution some-
where else in France. Our selection strat-
egy does take into account materials that
are under threat, to digitise them for pres-
ervation. However, we tend to work by
completing whole collections, including
modern objects, rather than digitising indi-
vidual items, therefore an object under
threat may not necessarily be our prior-
ity. Our selection process is also, necessarily,
driven by the interests of the public, who
are the ones who will eventually be access-
ing these digital resources. One example
is the digitisation of old public registers,
where the originals are too fragile for pub-
lic research, driven by the great interest in
genealogy. A good representation of this
plan is the civil register of Paris, which will
take four or five years to digitise complete-
ly. Another way to understand our selection
process comes from the project within the
Central Union of Decorative Arts (http://
www.ucad.fr/). They have over 5000 works,

each with hundreds of pages; therefore, by
collaboration with the experts on these
works, the best 400 were chosen for digi-
tisation. This makes the task more man-
ageable, while still providing an excellent
representative sample of the cultural objects
available at this institution.
W
hen this programme was first
planned, back in 1994, our aim
was to feed the roots of information, i.e.
to make information about these objects
widely available, and not initially for preser-
vation of the objects themselves. However,
taking steps towards preservation by digital
means is expensive and so the two activi-
ties have been combined: we now store
a high-resolution master for the future.
Nevertheless, our main objective is still to
provide access.
T
he past ten years have seen a lot of
progress in the Ministry of Culture's
digitisation programme. Before the national
policy was put in place, all candidates used
to digitise separately. This was both expen-
sive and incoherent in terms of interoper-
ability and strategy. So, one company, Jouve
(http://www.jouve.org), was put in charge
to standardise the methods used, and went
on to run training workshops for digitisers
across France. The quality of digital docu-
ments produced by some companies often
did not meet the very precise standards we
required. The Ministry of Culture deal with
projects individually, which can be a com-
plicated process, but our relationships are
all informed by the central direction of
the programme and by the growing pool
of expertise which is being developed by
experience and training, and the standards
of digitisation are improving greatly.
A
nother problem commonly experi-
enced by digitisers is the movement
of precious items. There is a significant
security risk and the logistics of transport
are often difficult. For example, institu-
tions often have to take out special tem-
porary insurance for the objects to protect
against damage or theft that occurs outside
the usual place of storage, or need to ensure
that adequate security is provided.
H
owever, the single largest problem
that faces us is what medium to use
3 Search the catalogue at http://www.culture.gouv.fr/cul-
ture/mrt/numerisation/fr/f_02.htm.