Digitizing and presenting minority heritage – from the ,classical’ to the ,digital cultural canon’

The following paper was presented by Albert Weber (Institute for East and Southeast European Studies (Regensburg/Germany)) at the Conference „Regional Identity and Social Cohesion” on 25 October 2013 in Timişoara/Romania.


In the past years digital national libraries have been founded in almost every European state. Despite their partially high technical standards these libraries often do not follow yet elaborated digitization strategies, a fact that displays itself especially in the selection of materials for digitization: most digitized materials belong to the state nation, i.e. the majority, while the heritage of the historical national minorities within the state as well as of the own minorities abroad is often neglected, or not properly presented by a clear separation from the majority’s materials. The present paper discusses the currently existing possibilities for efficiently digitizing and presenting the cultural materials of a nation and its neighboring historical national minorities as well as of multicultural regions populated by several ethnic groups. The paper concludes with a short analysis of the importance of digitization (“digital cultural motorics”) for individual, social and ethnic identities by theorizing about the relation of the classical cultural canon and the digital cultural canon, which is forming today and deeply influencing the future cultural development.


I. Introduction

Digitization is comparatively a new technology, which only in recent years begins to have a profound and irreversible influence on the work of librarians on the one side, and on the cultural and scientific development on the other. Being new, there are still many of its aspects still to be developed and defined and many of its potentials to be fully utilized. One basic desideratum is a major refinement of the current strategic conceptions regarding the digitization of different cultural entities: in some countries national digitization strategies are yet to be devised, and even if they are in application, they usually do not broach the issue of minorities, may they be cultural, ethnic, social or otherwise. This may partially be a result of the still fragmented infrastructure of the digital landscape – the founding of many digital libraries is necessary for providing an efficient covering of entire cultural areas, actually however the network of libraries is not consolidated and dense enough and consequently intermittent –, but seems also to be caused by a passiveness of the state-guided libraries, which to some degree is owed to the extensive activities of commercial ventures with global aspirations. With an adequate strategy and self-conception the state-guided libraries certainly could proceed with sustainable success and balance the current situation more and more in their favor.

The present paper intends to especially contribute to the existing concepts of regional digital libraries by discussing applicable strategies for increasing the efficiency of the digitization and presentation of cultural materials, with special regard to these from culturally and geographically overlaping cultural entities. A second objective of the paper is to analyze the cultural impact of digitized materials, which depends from the quality and performance of the respective digital libraries, and to determine in which ways the virtual world can influence regional identities.


II. Definition and categorization of digital libraries

Before discussing the general guidelines for digitization strategies, the characteristics of digital libraries and especially their categorization is to be analyzed for providing an insight into the current developments. The most common definition specifies the digital library as follows:

“An organisation, which might be virtual, that comprehensively collects, manages and preserves for the long term rich digital content, and offers to its user communities specialised functionality on that content, of measurable quality and according to codified policies.”1

This comprehensive definition considers the heterogeneous modes as well as the ,overloading’ of the term ,digital library’, caused by the fact that a digital library must not limit itself to written materials only, but can contain many other media, which are not part of the traditional “brick-and-mortar library”: in digital libraries beside texts all kinds of cultural artifacts can be integrated due to the huge possibilities of digital recording, thus becoming cultural repositories. Moreover there are two main forms of digital libraries: 1) a digital library which is dependent from an analogue library, i.e. it contains digitized stocks from the attendant analogue library; both can together be classified as ,hybrid library’2 or 2) a ,digital-only’ or bookless library, which is not an appendix to an analogue library and hence independent, i.e. it has not to be a digital version of the printed stocks of an analogue library. The present paper will concentrate on the digital libraries – may they be hybrid or digital-only – which are most important for the public: the non-commercial, state-guided regional, national and continental digital libraries.3

A short illustration should give a better overview on their position in the ,digital landscape’: first of all the motivation of its operator is basic for a digital library. There are generally three types of operators: state-guided, commercial and private:

State-guided digital libraries evolve in most cases from a public analogue library, which wants to offer a part or all of its stocks in digital format, the digital library being thus an expansion. The motivation for building it complies therefore entirely with the program of the analogue library: offering for free materials to the public, to researchers, for professional, educational and for political or social purposes.4 State-guided digital libraries are in most cases geographically aligned, i.e. they offer materials from a geographical area, which may involve a city, a region, a country, a continent or reach even a global level.5 Their advantage is being mostly free of cost and thus available for all parts of society.6 However the lack of charge often prevents them from offering current literature, reducing their digital stocks largely to older materials, free of copyrights. This situation is described as the “black hole of the 20th century”, with the public digital libraries losing a great part of their appeal for many readers; the aspect of consumption is therefore limited in comparison to commercial digital libraries.

These are founded by publishing companies, i.e. the producers of the books or agents of the authors, or by business companies, which digitize books or other materials and are offering them for sale or for free, presenting for it advertisements to the readers.7 The main motivation is to gain financial benefit through consumption of e-books, but can also be ideological and therefore educational.8

Private digital libraries are founded due to the specialized interests of a group, a foundation or an individual, aiming on serving the public good in a different, often less official modality than state-guided libraries or on influencing the public opinion in favor of a certain ideology.9

The freedom of selecting the digitized content, which makes the concept of the private library so appealing for the operators, often involves the violation of copyright, what would not be possible in a state-guided library. However because of the reduced reception of these private libraries – due to the high technical requirements of a digital library the private ones can offer only a reduced amount of digitized materials – and their thematically limitation, legal issues aren’t frequent, thus making the entire concept functional.


III. Theoretical guidelines for a national digitization strategy

The following model for a strategy for the digitization of national cultural heritage is mostly based on state-guided digital libraries. It doesn’t however exclude commercial partners – as it is the case with Google Books10 – in achieving its main goal: digitizing as many cultural materials as possible for providing a „critical mass“ for comprehensive and efficient use by science and society. For realizing this, the basic structure of every digitization strategy should comply approximately with the following hierarchic pattern:

Local digital libraries: present their digitized stocks and deliver the copies to the higher levels

Regional or Thematical digital libraries: present and deliver their stocks to the national library

National digital library: centralizes and presents all stocks within the country and delivers them to the

Continental digital library: does not digitize, but centralizes all stocks of the continent

Global digital library: centralizes all stocks from all continents like a digital global union catalogue

The basic principle is that the digital libraries of the higher levels cannot be complete without the materials of the lower levels, which they receive as copies. A national digital library cannot therefore pretend to offer all important materials of the national heritage without having regarded every region with a considerable cultural landscape, i.e. the smaller cultural entities within the nation. It is in most countries impossible to achieve this without regional digital libraries which are ,harvesting‘ the needed materials, which cannot be easily reached by the national digital library in the center of the country. The regulation for depository analogue copies in the national library unfortunately is not a solution: because of occasionally or systematic nonobservance of the regulation the library usually does not hold the complete stocks of the nation. A cause for major gaps can also be material losses in militant conflicts. The fact that the national heritage is dispersed over the territory of the country necessitates a digitization strategy which coordinates the different institutions to overcome the challenges of geographical division of the analogue stocks.

For a successful strategy some generalities must be respected: the sharing of technological resources and capabilities within a network of cooperation between digital libraries of the same country is mandatory, like e.g. regarding long-term digital preservation, software for catalogues, processing and presenting of digital materials and technical know-how in general. This is essential for reducing the costs of building new digital libraries. With the saved expenses more materials can be digitized, the used technology modernized or at least an equal technical level of the different libraries can be reached. The latter desideratum is the basis for developing new technologies: on the one hand there should be built a considerable number of digital libraries to guarantee the accumulation of many materials, but on the other hand a stable and balanced modernization is needed for facilitating constant technical innovations. These are more likely with a greater number of institutions actively participating and dynamically contributing to the process of digitization and consequently to the common progress by in turn sharing technological achievements in the cooperative network. Digital libraries should therefore not only be seen as holders and presenters of digitized stocks, but also as sources for important innovations which can regularly change the appearance and substance of the digital landscape, if given the required means.

A very important, but not always sufficiently considered aspect is the need to provide a high-quality presentation of the digitized materials. Many libraries concentrate too much on their quantitative performance by digitizing as many materials as possible and offering them in their catalogue, but neglect in the same time the usability. A frequent example is the lack of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for textual materials which seems to be abandoned or postponed for providing the library with the means for mass-digitization; the lack of OCR however impedes the accessibility of the materials. Another example is a low standard for the user interface, which again handicaps the access to the library’s stocks and simply rejects the users. Such a development should whenever possible be avoided and instead a balanced investment of resources on digitization and presentation preferred, with optimal usability as the main objective, which can also support, as mentioned, the efforts for technical innovation – which would not be essentially brought forward by the extensive accumulation of low-tech digitized materials.

Last but not least it is important to provide open access to all digitized materials. This is not only a moral question – if public money is financing a digitization project, the taxpayer has the right to dispose freely of the resulting materials –, and a question of being in accord with liberal principles and the right for information, but it is also an imperative to serve with open access the ,digital motorics‘, i.e. the functionality and mobility of content in the virtual world: If digital content is directed to the public and therefore aimed to have a cultural impact on society, then completely free access to it must be provided. If content cannot be linked or copied freely by the users for being communicated to other users – and today’s virtual world with its huge social media infrastructure depends highly on the communication of contents –, consequently the information within the content will not be spread, in favor of other, more and easier available contents. Later in this paper the effect of communicating cultural content and the forming of a ,digital cultural canon‘ will be further discussed.


IV. The digitization of the heritage of historical national minorities

Departing from these considerations regarding especially the national level of digitization, in the following the models of possible strategies for minority and regional heritage will be discussed. Before starting to look upon these from a more technical point of view, one should realize the cultural implications of the dominance of the majority in the field of digitization:

The ,Virtual World‘ fulfills for its users mainly three functions: documentation, communication and entertainment. Being accessible and susceptible on a global level, these functions can provide an extensive, substantial and dynamical cultural impact of certain contents. To perform such an impact a nation or, more precisely, a cultural entity needs to highly conform to the already discussed aspects of digitization and presentation: on the one hand a cultural entity should have the means to digitize as much of its materials as possible, on the other these should be properly presented. For a digital library this implies a high degree of usability, but on a global level that means primarily accessibility through a search engine and dispersion by a sophisticated infrastructure of social media; both can efficiently circulate the digital content or knowledge about it. If a nation/cultural entity however achieves to build a highly developed ,digital infrastructure‘, then it is able to obtain to a certain cultural dominance and push others into a minority position in the virtual world.

The best example for such a ,digital dominance‘ is the position the English-speaking nations have achieved over the last years. Largely this dominance is not only based on the high economic capacity of these countries, enabling them to invest significant in digitization, but it depends to a major degree on instruments like Google or social media platforms, all with actually unreached performance and high technical standards. English-language content is consequently wider spread and easier to access and to use and consequently also the acquisition of the English language is needful and easier. This imbalance has been considered a major cultural problem for the non-English-speaking cultures and popularized in a large debate by the notable French librarian Jean-Noël Jeanneney: cultural dominance instead of equality in the virtual world damages the global cultural and linguistic evolution – and especially the European –, as is stated by him in his writings against Google’s commercial dominance in particular and the Anglo-American dominance in general in the area of digitization.11

For the present paper Jeanneney’s global perspective is transferred to the European level: in the same way he is stating that the Europeans in general are in an inferior position in the field of digitization and therefore culturally disadvantaged, one can argue that a similar situation exists on the national level for the European minorities:12 the digital national libraries are the dominant factor in the area of digitization in Europe and therefore they can decide what has to be present in the libraries and what not and thus influence the future cultural evolution of all the cultures within their state’s borders. The pragmatic and moral stance against ,digital dominance’ has hence to be valid for national minorities as well: Europe’s variety cannot be saved and protected if the majority alone decides what should be digitally present and what not, otherwise essential parts of its cultural heritage will be left outside from the contemporary cultural evolution in ,black holes’, as absence from the virtual world means on the long term a loss of memory and cultural relevance. To blank out this heritage – which in most cases can’t be digitized by the minorities themselves, lacking the needed funding –, even if only for a few years, means a cultural damage by impeding the production of knowledge; this should and can be avoided.

There are two possible solutions – which are also applicable in combination to each other – for solving this issue: the minority can raise awareness for the situation in the society and on political and academical level with the aim that the state’s majority will provide the needed means to digitize the minority heritage, in coordination with the respective minority. The other possible solution is that the minority assumes for itself the task of digitizing its heritage. In any of these cases the following guidelines are to be considered. First of all the central question must be settled: should the founding of a separate digital library of the minority be preferred over the installation and the operating of a collection within the national digital library? There is no predetermined answer to this issue; the decision must be taken depending on already existing structures of the minority which can provide continuous operating of a separate library or a collection. If there exist substantial institutional, financial and personal resources, then the founding of a digital library is strongly recommended. The main advantages are:

  • A high degree of independence for all aspects of the library (direction, conception, selection of materials, modes of presentation, implementation of new technologies etc.).
  • The library can easier become an identity factor for the minority as some kind of virtual lieu de mémoire contrary to a collection within another digital library. The minority can point out its uniqueness, what wouldn’t be easily possible with its heritage presented in a dependent collection, beside collections of several other minorities.
  • Better visibility on an international level of the digitized cultural heritage.

The advantages of a collection within the digital national library or a similar library are the following:

  • Protection against close-down or temporary discontinuation because of support from a major institution, whose preservation is legally assured.
  • Stable financial support for the collection, mostly independent from the economical situation of the minority.
  • Access to new technologies respectively to the current technical standard of the digital national library.
  • The minority heritage would be less distant to the majority’s cultural materials and could easier be linked and interrelated; better visibility and reception by the majority is provided.
  • Presentation in cultural and political conformity with the state’s society could be provided and prevent an isolated development which can occur within a separate digital library; this can ease the reception, but can also become a disadvantage if the state’s policy towards minorities proves to be less liberal or excessively ,politically correct’.

If, however, the state must take over the task of digitizing the minority heritage, then it has to decide which minority has to be considered primary. For this decision exist several criteria: First of all the ethnic minorities within the state’s territory must be classified: are they domiciled, emigrated or “vanished”? A domiciled minority, i.e. an ethnic group which is still present and living in its native region, has due to paid taxes naturally to be considered before other groups, who emigrated from the country or vanished, i.e. who are not existent anymore but historical. In this regard an important criterion is the existence of a moral obligation and therefore of a cultural responsibility of the majority to preserve the heritage of a minority, e.g. because of discrimination in the past, which has led to emigration or disappearance.13 Also considered must be the criterion of the cultural importance of a minority. To decide about this is certainly subjective, but however necessary for determining the relevance of digitization; if e.g. the original materials of a vanished minority mostly lack a cultural importance, then also the reception of the digitized materials will be reduced and therefore isn’t a priority.

For any of these cases, i.e. if the minority can support or take over the digitization or if the state has to assume the task or if the mother country of the respective minority can make a major contribution, a centralized coordination of the process of digitization is imperative. Otherwise an economical and professional progress of digitizing the respective heritage is not guaranteed. This process can be efficiently sustained and directed by the founding and operating of two central institutions: a central office and a working group. The central office is to be founded and guided by persons, who are responsible for the digital library or the collection. Their main tasks are the following:

  • Coordination of the entire process of digitization by efficiently managing cooperations between the members of the working group.
  • Overviewing the development of digitization by contacting of all digital libraries which may be interested in the materials and of all analogue libraries with important stocks.
  • Compiling a list of all existing digitized materials of the respective minority.
  • Providing the collected information on the issue to the academic community, partially by blogging and organizing workshops and conferences.
  • Conception of a detailed digitization strategy: selection of stocks, digital libraries and centres for digitization; defining of short-, medium- and long-term objectives. The central office also needs to adjust the strategy to the specific needs of researchers by e.g. supporting primary the digitization of materials necessary for major scientific projects.
  • Coordination of the working group for the implementation of the strategy; modification of the strategy based on the working group’s desiderata.
  • Serving as contact point for institutions which are interested in contributing to the digitization.

The working group is an organization and network of all institutions which are interested in digitizing the cultural materials of the respective minority. It can initially be formed as a domestic network, but should evolve to become international and include also libraries from the eventual mother country of the respective minority. Its main objective is to economically digitize the heritage in the interest of all involved institutions and to efficiently contribute to the digital library or collection. The following tasks are to be assumed:

  • Adjusting the coordination: designation of stocks for digitization, avoiding of doubled digitizations.
  • Cooperative digitization: sharing and exchanging of digitized materials, division of work, sharing of technical resources.
  • Participating at workshops and conferences organized by the central office.
  • Procuring the circulation of knowledge about the digitized materials in the society.
  • Obtaining rights for the digitization of copyrighted materials by contacting authors and inheritors.


V. Digitizing the heritage of a historical multicultural region

The next level when departing from the digitization of the heritage of a single ethnic minority is the digitization and collective presentation of all ethnic minorities respectively cultural entities of an entire historical region. The already presented generalities remain practically valid: every cultural ,component’ of the region, i.e. the materials of every individual ethnic minority, should be digitized as described in a centralized process, this being the most efficient mode to proceed. The basic precept and main objective however must be to provide an equal cultural and linguistic representation of all regional ethnic groups. If for this purpose a regional digital library is to be founded or a collection within the digital national library of the region’s country, is also to be decided occasionally. A separate library however seems a more appropriate way to present an entire region and can produce a certain identity factor.

To leave these theoretical deliberations and to approach a concrete example, there should be a closer look at the Banat, a European multicultural region with a remarkable ethnical diversity; it is an almost ideal model for the digitization of regional cultural heritage. The major ethnic groups are the Romanians – the majority –, the Hungarians, Serbs and Germans; beside them there are numerous minor groups of East and Southeast European origin. This high number of groups results in the following situation: The heritage of the individual minorities is quite dispersed, important stocks are sometimes not preserved in the own, but in the institutions of other minorities. Some cultural materials were in the past partially brought by the minorities into libraries in their mother countries. In Banat’s case this heritage is to be found in libraries in Romania, Hungary, Serbia, Austria and Germany. Given the fact that there are highly evolved digital libraries in these countries and that there is a stable interest in the culture and history of their respective minorities living in the Banat, the opportunity exists to build an international network for cooperations and to digitize in a collaborative and economical effort the region’s heritage, mainly based on the exchange of digitized materials – organized by a central institution, which is to be based and directed in the Banat.

Regarding the presentation of the digitized materials the following recommendations should be considered: regional cultures reside often in a strong competition with the national culture. Achieving a broad popular reception of the regional cultural heritage is therefore mandatory for preserving the same level of cultural knowledge about the region. It is however not enough to rely on scholars, i.e. to provide materials mainly set for their academic use and work – for scholars often a very simple and for the common public unappealing presentation of the materials is sufficient –, and to count on their ability to reach the society; unfortunately the cultural impact scholars are able to produce has certain limits. The main guideline for reaching the public is to relate relevant knowledge and to prominently present the respective materials which are communicating this knowledge. For a region with several ethnic and linguistic minorities like the Banat firstly it is important to consider and to eminently present materials with important linguistic content which can help to preserve the region’s languages. Because the languages are carrying and making accessible cultural knowledge, these are forming the basis of any effort to preserve the cultural heritage. A digital library or collection for the region should therefore support and ease by any means their learning and preservation.

The second possibility for improving the popular reception is to prepare the materials with special regard to journalistic work: journalists have a very high ability to reach the public and to select – even if this can often be debated – relevant knowledge for their readers and widely communicate it to the general public. To offer them materials for their work can therefore vastly improve the popular reception and make also more special knowledge accessible to the public. An elaborate and successful example for such a collaboration of librarians and journalists is “ANNOdazumal”, a service offered by Austrian Newspapers Online (ANNO), the collection of digitized newspapers of the Austrian National Library.14 ANNOdazumal contains short presentations of important or interesting events mentioned in the digitized newspapers and directs the readers to the respective articles for further information. For journalists such an offer is almost ideal, giving them the needed materials for writing about historical events – which are especially important for a region.

Highly important for a popular reception is surely Wikipedia. It has two main advantages: Wikipedia is one of the most visited websites in the internet and often the first source for information, being supported also by Google which ranks it eminently among its search results. The other advantage is that Wikipedia is regarded by the public as a very reliable source of information, especially in comparison to journalistic works. Digital content, which is described and linked in Wikipedia, can therefore have a considerable and sustainable cultural effect. Once again ANNO provides a very good example of how to efficiently interconnect digital infrastructure: ANNO directs some of its resources on composing articles on Wikipedia for its more important newspapers and is linking already existing articles with reference to the historical Austrian press with its own content. A survey of the provenance of the accesses on ANNO indicates that daily a few hundred users are directly coming from the links on Wikipedia. In comparison only a few are directed to the content by Europeana, where not just a selection of ANNO’s stocks is linked – as is the case on Wikipedia – but all. Regarding this huge effect of multiplication of the reception provided by Wikipedia, every digital library should try to present its stocks in the global encyclopedia and such raise the awareness of the broader public. Last but not least Wikipedia is also an important source of information for journalists, even if not always credited.

Another suggestion is to concentrate on the noticeable presentation of iconic materials which communicate the historical narratives about the region from the perspective of the different ethnic groups. To see how the region of Banat was imagined in the past can be of high interest and relevance also for non-professionals and form an interesting facet of the actual collective memory because it exceeds the partially narrow perspective mediated by school knowledge. That would also be fitting to the plurality of historical and political perspectives imparted in the virtual world and would represent more than just putting together bricks of historical and cultural memory. Reviving narratives from Banat’s past would definitely be an intriguing approach to the region and deliver substantial knowledge for present debates and identity issues.


VI. Digitization and social identity: the digital cultural canon

The precedent chapters discussed general recommendations for the building of organizational and administrative structures which can provide an efficient digitization and a broader reception of the materials. To complete these guidelines a short analysis will be undertaken trying to determine more exactly the cultural impact of digitized materials on the individual and on the society. First of all it is important to realize that a new kind of individual ,cultural canon’ is forming through our extensive and daily use of the new medium of the ,virtual world’: the ,digital cultural canon’ as a competitor and partially successor to the ,classical cultural canon’, i.e. the corpus of analogue cultural works which form our educational background and consequently a considerable part of our knowledge, and which is mediated to us by school, society, social affiliation etc. Beside textual materials like books – e.g. the classical authors of the national literature –, this classical canon contains also audio-visual materials like pictures, paintings, music or movies. The digital cultural canon on the other hand is formed by digitized or born-digital materials and by contents produced by Web 2.0 features like e.g. blogs, internet fora, wikis, video hosting or social networking services. To illustrate the differences between the two canons their numerous characteristics are comparative specified in the following:

Classical cultural canon:

  • Mostly treats older themes and thus imparts less daily knowledge.
  • Often strongly bound to the past through cultural tradition.
  • Composed over a long time period.
  • Mostly collective composed and less individual.
  • Mostly written materials.
  • Quantitatively the classical canon of a single person is smaller than the digital.
  • The works of the classical canon are regularly larger.
  • Its materials are more difficult to copy or to transfer, consequently their reception is limited.
  • Only accessible when its medium (e.g. the respective book) is physically present. Consequently consumerism is limited.
  • Much more static than the digital canon and can therefore be preserved as a canon for a longer time period.
  • Less commercialized than the digital canon.
  • Physically existent and can therefore pose as property.
  • Available mostly in classical media and is due to copyrights only partially digitized; consequently the reception of the classical canon is more difficult and time-consuming.
  • Mostly legal acquisition and circulation of the materials.
  • The creation of works for the classical cultural canon is very reserved, restricted and elitist.

Digital cultural canon:

  • Mostly appeals actual themes and thus imparts more daily knowledge.
  • Often strongly bound to the present and less to cultural traditions.
  • Partially composed over a short time period.
  • Mostly individually composed or by smaller communities.
  • A considerable part is formed of non-textual but of audio-visual materials.
  • Quantitatively larger than the classical canon of a single person, but generally inferior regarding intellectual and artistic value. However many possibilities of interpretation exist due to Web 2.0 features like commenting, which can be very efficient due to anonymity.
  • The works or components of the digital canon are regularly smaller but can dispose of more media through linking to audio-visual materials.
  • When open access is provided its materials are easier to copy and can therefore reach more users and consequently be added to the digital canon of numerous other persons.
  • Its materials are almost always accessible through portable communication devices and can be consumed very precise using searchability or fast-forwarding. Consequently consumerism is instigated.
  • The aspect of consumerism demands a regular renewal, i.e. reception of new content. A digital canon is therefore almost always involved in a constant change.
  • Mostly commercialized, mainly due to consumerism and need for actuality.
  • Physically non-existent and therefore ephemeral due to data losses or when content goes offline. Due to high accessibility and theoretically infinite numbers of copies digital content cannot pose as individual property in the traditional sense.
  • Highly dynamic due to linking via hypertext or availability in different media. Traceable through search engines, which guarantees a high rate of reception.
  • The acquisition and circulation of the works is not always legal: Pirate copies are produced or procured for avoiding costs or copyright law. Consequently illegality adheres to the digital canon.
  • Everyone can produce through the features of Web 2.0 works which can be included in the digital canon of others.

Regarding the fact that in the foreseeable future the classical cultural canon will disappear and be replaced by the digital canon, it is an important concern for the society to determine how this canon should be composed: it will represent a considerable part of our knowledge and direct our identity in today’s globalized culture. The modalities of the transfer of the traditional cultural heritage to the virtual world however are for the time being decisive. As results from the comparison between the two canons the critical aspect is the mobility of the digitized works’ content. These digital motorics are only working efficiently, i.e. they are achieving a high degree of reception.


VII. Conclusion

Digitizing means organizing variety. To succeed in this undertaking, librarians must set strategic guidelines for efficiently digitizing our cultural heritage. The argument that on the long term everything will be digitized and accessible online and that consequently the process of digitization should be considered as a laisser-faire, is not valid, as has been shown in the present paper: commercial or polycentric digitization efforts will not be in favor of the future cultural development for they result in an unstable and fragmented digitized heritage, partially even formed by illegally procured digitized materials. Hence the state has to build the needed digital infrastructure and centralize and coordinate the digitization effort for bringing orderly together the components of the digital landscape. Having the educational responsibility and the traditional authority the state must also guide the compilation of the digital cultural canon and such counterbalance until a certain point the effects of the commercialization and fragmentation which is actually prevalent. For achieving this, the state has to build digital libraries which are competitive towards commercial providers and can thus attain a broader reception of their contents in the society. An important aspect which demands to act is the fact that today there is a high degree of global migration. Consequently it is very important for every nation to provide for its ,diaspora’ well equipped digital libraries containing the cultural heritage of the home region or country, in order to preserve cultural knowledge, coherence and language. Digital libraries should therefore try, as has been shown, to optimize their digital motorics by affording a high mobility of the contents within their digitized works and such enabling them to take part in the future cultural development and in the building or preserving of individual, social, ethnic and regional identities – all of which are inevitably taking place in the virtual world.



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The New Renaissance. Report of the ‘Comité des sages’. Reflection group on bringing Europe’s cultural heritage online (2011), [Online], Available: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/digital_libraries/doc/refgroup/final_report_cds.pdf [15 Nov 2013].


Cite this blog post
Albert Weber (2016, January 14). Digitizing and presenting minority heritage – from the ,classical’ to the ,digital cultural canon’ Minorities Records. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from https://minorecs.hypotheses.org/319

  1. Candela et al (2007: 17). For wider definitions and theory about the foundational concepts of a digital library see Candela et al (2011). For an overview on the early history of the concept see Greenstein and Thorin (2002). []
  2. An ostensive example for the transformation of a traditional academic library to a digital-only library is the library of the University of Texas at San Antonio, which digitized all its stocks and offers these in its intranet. It can in general be stated that academic libraries are on the forefront of digitization efforts. For a comparable attempt for a public library see http://www.npr.org/2013/01/15/169412670/a-new-chapter-a-launch-of-the-bookless-library. The users can borrow e-book-reader devices with up to 150 e-books. This concept for a public library however struggles with copyright issues, making current literature and especially bestsellers in many cases restricted or even unavailable. []
  3. An elaborate example for a regional digital library is The Bavarian Land Library Online (Bayerische Landesbibliothek Online), existing since ten years and offering a huge amount of digitized materials from different media, ages, topics and regions: http://www.bayerische-landesbibliothek-online.de.

    The most renowned and established digital national library, which serves as a model for other libraries under construction, is surely Gallica, operated by the French National Library (www.gallica.bnf.rf). It is offering a huge variety of different media, combined with a comfortable presentation and thus gaining a high reception by its readers. Because of its large content and high technical standards it was for years (Castle et al, 2008) the principal supporter of Europeana, the European Digital Library (www.europeana.eu).

    Europeana is to date the largest continental digital library, containing like a union catalogue the metadata and links of hundreds of European digital libraries. It is operated by the National Library of the Netherlands and mainly financed by the European Commission. Europeana was founded following a political initiative dating back to 2005, with the aim to preserve and present the European cultural and scientific heritage as an answer to Google Books; for the debate see Jeanneney (2006, 2007, 2010). For the strategic conception of Europeana see The New Renaissance (2011). Another example for a continental digital library, but unlike Europeana founded following a scientific initiative, is the Southeast Asian Digital Library: www.sea.lib.niu.edu. []

  4. Another group, which is to be more or less silently appealed by the state-guided libraries are the state’s representatives being responsible for funding the libraries. This situation of dependency is directing almost every aspect of a public library. In contrast the commercial and private libraries are more exempt of political influence. []
  5. Like the World Digital Library: www.wdl.org. []
  6. Exceptions from that basic function of the public library arose with the public-private partnerships including Google: the company provides full and free digitization of a library’s stocks which are free from copyright, but restricts in numerous cases the access, not least by its search engine, which often gives only a selective perspective on the available stocks. The problem of the commercialization of knowledge in the internet, which can be opposed to the general public interest, has been extensively discussed by Jeanneney (2006, 2007, 2010). See also Darnton (2009), who states that the public libraries have failed to lead the digitization of their stocks and especially of current literature. []
  7. Google Books is by far the biggest commercial digital library, financed through advertisements; it also offers a service with costs for copyrighted e-books. Having no geographically or thematically limitations, Google Books can be considered a global digital library. []
  8. Jeanneney (2006: 64) states that Google could silently censor anti-US-American content by simply blanking it out from its search engine. See also PARISER 2011. A well documented case of censorship was Amazon’s affair of blanking out from its store e-books with LGBT-content. See Hung (2009). []
  9. An example for a private digital library aiming to serve the public good is Memoria.ro, run by the Aspera Foundation, dedicated to Romania’s culture and history in the 20th century, addressing itself explicitly to younger readers. Without limiting itself to certain subjects, the library nevertheless has apparently the task to criticize the former communist regime from a liberal point of view and is therefore ideologically aligned. Another, yet not liberal but nationalist example is the “Patriotic Digital Library “Octavian Goga” (Biblioteca Digitală Patriotică “Octavian Goga”, www.octaviangoga.blogspot.de), advertising openly for “nationalist books”. The ideological tasks of both libraries are documented by their blogs which can direct more clearly the intended messages to the readers; blogs can be rated as an individual characteristic of private digital libraries.

    An example of a private digital library which receives state funding and is thus following the state’s cultural and educational policy is the Digital Forum Central and Eastern Europe (Digitales Forum Mittel- und Osteuropa, www.difmoe.eu), run by an association. It is actually offering periodical literature and monographies of the German minorities in Eastern Europe, financed by the German Federal Gouvernment Commissioner for Culture and the Media. []

  10. E.g. the British Library (http://pressandpolicy.bl.uk/Press-Releases/The-British-Library-and-Google-to-make-250-000-books-available-to-all-4fc.aspx), the Bavarian State Library (http://www.bsb-muenchen.de/Kooperation-mit-Google.1776.0.html) and the Austrian National Library (http://www.onb.ac.at/about/austrianbooksonline.htm) – all of them being the most important libraries in their countries – concluded public-private-partnerships with Google Inc. []
  11. Jeanneney (2006, 2007, 2010). []
  12. The author of the present paper formulated an agenda for digital minority rights, i.e. rights for historical national minorities for digital representation of their cultural heritage: 1. Every historical minority has the right to have its heritage completely digitized and properly presented in a collection within the digital national library or in a separate library of its own. 2. Favored for digitization projects should be national minorities, who are still existent in the respective states. 3. The representatives of the minorities must have a voice in the process of digitization. 4. The digitized materials and the mode of presentation should be technically on the same level as the other stocks in the digital national library. 5. If a search engine on national level exists, then it should be set to present in an appropriate manner the digitized materials of the minorities, i.e. it must not blank out content in the language of the respective minorities. Beside these rights of the minorities there exist obligations as well: I. The cultural organizations of the minorities should support the process of digitization with their existing resources. II. These organizations should finance translations of the most important works of their minority and offer them for digitization, for the majority has also a right to have extensive access to information about the respective minority. These rights are based on two considerations: Lawfully the heritage of the national minorities must be protected by the state, whose citizenship they are holding. Being valid for analogue cultural materials, this traditional right of a national minority must be in effect for digitized content as well. []
  13. Beside systematic violent actions like ethnic cleansing or, in the most extreme cases, genocide – as is the case of many European Jewish communities –, the disappearance of a minority can also be caused by mostly non-violent processes like gradual assimilation. []
  14. http://anno.onb.ac.at/anno_dazumal.htm []

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