(Most links are to pdfs of the presentations) / Same blog post at The European Library

I recently attended the 8th SEEDI conference – the South East Europe Digitisation Initiative – http://seedi.nsk.hr/. The conference assembles cultural heritage institutions, researchers, consultants and government staff to share best practice and advance digitisation projects in the countries of south east Europe – Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Slovenia were all represented.

As with nearly all European countries, the SEEDI countries have seen a large number of successful projects, demonstrating a healthy commitment to the possibilities of digitisation for both public engagement and scholarly research.

Indeed, the event included a festival of Croatian digitisation projects. One delegate estimated 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 the art collection from Zagreb’s museum of contemporary art.

The event showed growing awareness of the need to better integrate users into digitised cultural heritage. One brilliant user evaluation (by Snežana Nenezić) of Serbian public library collections showed how ill suited existing digital libraries were to particular types of users. Other work (by Marija Šegan) made specific connection between different learning methods and how teaching on digitisation should be presented to students.

Breza Šalamon-Cindori’s comprehensive presentation illustrated how the National and University Library of Croatia was making use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube) with good comparisons to other libraries in Europe.

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

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

Unsurprisingly, the urge to digitise as part of expressing national identity was strong. Croatian academics are working with their ministry on a national digital plan for now until 2020. The recent history of conflict and territorial changes give 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 and inspired work 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. It stood out for a number of reasons – 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, in particular, the use of WikiSource as a means to get 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 my own presentation (You’ve Digitised, What Next?) was how these digitisation projects need to go beyond scanning and publication in silos and ensure that crowdsourcing, APIs, linked data, search engine optimisation etc allows content to be disseminated widely on the Internet.

The conference concluded with 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.