‘We learn so much from each other’ – Hildelies Balk about the Digitisation Days (19-20 May)

The Digitisation Days will take place in Madrid on 19-20 May. What can you expect from them and why should you go? In order to get answers to these questions we interviewed Hildelies Balk of the National Library of the Netherlands (KB), who is also a member of the executive board of the organizing insitution, the IMPACT Centre of Competence (IMPACT CoC). – Interview and photo by Inge Angevaare (see below for Dutch version)

Hildelies Balk Reading room National Library

Hildelies Balk in the National Library’s Reading Rooms

The Digitisation Days will be of interest to …?

‘Anyone who is working with digitised historical texts. These are often difficult to use because the software cannot decipher damaged originals or illegible characters. For example:

example OCR historical text

‘The software used to ‘read’ this (Dutch) text produces the following result:

VVt Venetien den 1.Junij, Anno 1618.
DJgn i f paffato te S’ aö’Jifeert mo?üen/bah
.)etgi’uotbciraetail)i.r/JtmelchontDecht
te / sbnbe bele btr felbrr geiufttceert baer bnber
eeniglje jprant o^fen/bie ftcb .met beSpaenfcbeu
enbeeemgljen bifet Cbeiiupcen berbonbru befe

‘The Dutch National Library and many other libraries are striving to make these types of historical text more usable to researchers by enhancing the quality of the OCR (optical character recognition). Since 2008, we have been involved in European projects set up to improve the usability of OCR’d texts – preferably automatically. The IMPACT Centre of Competence as well as the Digitisation Days are quite unique in that they bring together three interest groups:

  • institutions with digitised collections (libraries, archives, museums)
  • researchers working on means to improve access to digitised text (image recognition, pattern recognition, language technology)
  • companies providing products and services in the field of digitisation and OCR.

‘Representatives of all of these groups will be taking part in the Digitisation Days and they offer participants a complete overview of the state of the art in document analysis, language technology and post-correction of OCR.’

What are the most important benefits from the Centre of Competence and the Digitisation Days, in your opinion?

‘The IMPACT Centre of Competence assists heritage institutions in taking important decisions. We evaluate available tools and report about them. Evaluation software of good quality is available as well. We also provide institutions with guidance and advice in digitisation issues by answering questions such as: what would be the best tools and methods for this particular institution? What quality can you expect from a solution? And what will it cost?’

‘The Digitisation Days offer a perfect opportunity for heritage institutions to get together and share experience and knowledge on issues such as: how to embed digitisation in your institution? How to deal with providers? Also: how do we start up new projects? Where do we find funding? On the second day, those who are interested are invited to join a workshop on the topic of the research agenda for digitisation. What should be the focus for the coming years? Should we focus on quantity or quality? How can we help shapeEuropean plans and budgets?’

Now that you mention Europe: IMPACT, IMPACT Centre of Competence, SUCCEED – the announcement of the Digitisation Days is packed with acronyms. Can you give us a bit of help here??

‘IMPACT was the first European research project aimed at improving access to historical texts. It started in 2008, at the initiative of, among others, the Dutch KB. When the project ended, a number of IMPACT partners set up the IMPACT Centre of Competence to ensure that the project results would be supported and developed. The Centre is not a project, but a standing organisation.’

Succeed is another European project, and, by definition, temporary. The objectives are in line with the IMPACT CoC, and the project involves some of the same partners. The aim is raise awareness about the results of European projects related to the digital library and to stimulate implementation. Before the CoC, it was not uncommon for prototypes to be left as they were after completion of a project. Thus the investments did not pay off.’

Will you really turn theory into practice?

‘Yes, most definitely! It is our prime focus for the conference. This is why we instituted the Succeed awards which will be handed out during the Digitisation Days; the Succeed awards recognise the best implementations of innovative technologies. The board has recently announced the winners.’

What do you personally look forward to most during the Digitisation Days?

‘To meeting everybody, to bringing together all these different parties. Colleagues from other institutions, researchers – this is exactly the right kind of meeting for generating exciting ideas and solutions.’

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