Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek: The beta version went online five years ago

By Astrid B. Müller (Communication, Press, Marketing)

On 28th November 2012 the first public beta version of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek (DDB) (German Digital Library) went online: on this occasion we would like to review what there was previously and what came after that.

When Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and Spokesman of the Management Board of the DDB’s competence network, presented the new portal in the Altes Museum (Old Museum) in November 2012, together with Elke Harjes-Ecker (at that time Head of the Culture Department in the Thuringian Ministry of Education, Science and Culture and Chairwoman of the Advisory Board of the DDB’s competence network), Matthias Harbort (at that time Head of the department responsible for New Media with the Federal Government’s Commissioner for Culture and the Media and Deputy Chairman of the Advisory Board), as well as Jill Cousins (Executive Director of the Europeana Foundation), the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek already had its own history.

Hier wird das Video angezeigt.

Video recording of the press conference on the beta launch of the DDB on 28th November 2012, originally made available as a livestream (from left to right): Jill Cousins, Hermann Parzinger, Elke Harjes-Ecker, Matthias Harbor

The Beginnings of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek

In December 2009 the German federal, state and municipal governments decided on the establishment of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek and formulated the common mission “to present the cultural and scientific wealth of Germany in all its diversity at national and international level” (PDF: Gemeinsame Eckpunkte von Bund, Ländern und Kommunen zur Errichtung einer "Deutschen Digitalen Bibliothek (DDB)")(Common Framework of the German Federal, State and Municipal Governments for the Establishment of a “German Digital Library”). In the same year the German federal and state governments agreed on the structure and on the joint (respectively 50 - 50) financing (PDF: “Verwaltungs- und Finanzabkommen über die Errichtung und den Betrieb der Deutschen Digitalen Bibliothek”)(Administrative and Financial Agreement on the Establishment and Operation of the German Digital Library).

But even this is still not the beginning:

Within the framework of the Lisbon Initiative and even before the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon (2009), which was supposed to make the European Union more democratic, more transparent and more efficient, the European Commission also defined strategy and guidelines for the information society and on 30th September 2005 it started the initiative  “i2010: Digital Libraries”, with which the “cultural , audiovisual and scientific heritage of Europe should be made accessible to the public”. The European Digital Library (EDL), today Europeana, the Cultural Memory of Europe, was born.
Just under a year later the European Commission called on its member states to press ahead with the digitisation and online accessibility of their cultural works and to support the “European Digital Library”. In November 2006 the European Council passed a resolution in which the EU member states decided to develop corresponding initiatives and digitisation activities in their countries and to draw up national strategies and objective targets to bundle together the wealth and diversity of European culture via (in particular) their own national networks with their own access portal and to integrate these into the Europeana.

The Europeana prototype was already launched on 20th November 2008 with 4.5 million object references from more than 1,000 participating organisations and institutions at that time. Today it is already possible to discover 51 million works of art, artefacts, books, videos and audios from the whole of Europe here.

Screenshot of the Europeana home page (27.11.2017)

Many countries in Europe have set out to digitise their cultural heritage and make it available online – such as in Italy, France or in the Netherlands, for example. The results are as diverse as the people and the cultures of these nations. In Germany the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek was established, which became the German part of the European initiative Europeana at the same time (European Council decision of 13.11.2006).
Since summer 2007 a competence network consisting of cultural institutions from all sectors has been working on this project. The first stage of the technical infrastructure was developed by the Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems (IAIS) of the Fraunhofer Society from 2010 onwards. FIZ Karlsruhe – Leibniz Institute for Information Infrastructure is responsible as technical operator for the whole of the technical and administrative operation of the DDB’s central infrastructure – and has also been a member of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek’s competence network since 2014.

Activation of the beta version followed in 2012. This already offered a multitude of content and functions: research could be done in the total holdings via search key words and, in addition, various search filters were available. The information thus located was processed with great care and carried the seal of approval of the participating cultural institutions. Search results were not influenced by commercial interests. Comprehensively edited metadata made a unified search in different contexts possible.

At that time one important function of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek was that of the national data aggregator for the European culture portal Europeana.   Jill Cousins declared in 2012, “Underlying the Europeana is the conviction that free democratic access to cultural heritage must be guaranteed for everyone to be able to use the opportunities connected with digitisation for social development.”

And how did it continue from here?

The Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek was extended further: project coordination (business division Technology, Service and Development) grew as well as the branch office (business division Finances, Law, Communication). The service centre and sector-specific departments were extended and today these are established contact points for potential data partners and offer, among other things, comprehensive specialist information on DDBpro, the information portal for data partners.

In 2013 the open programming interface (API) was activated – an important step with which digital content could be made freely accessible and linked using Semantic Web methods. Because from now on users could develop their own applications and access the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek’s data via the API, integrate this in their applications and embed it in new contexts.

Finally, in 2014, there followed the presentation of the first full version of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek. Monika Grütters, Minister of State for Culture and Media, Brunhild Kurth, Vice-President of the Conference of Ministers of Education and the Saxon Minister of State for Cultural Affairs, Hermann Parzinger, President of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz and Spokesman of the Management Board of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, Jill Cousins, Executive Director of the Europeana Foundation as well as Frank Frischmuth, Managing Director of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek presented together the first full version in the Wandelhalle of the Gemäldegalerie  – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Central Hall of the Old Master Paintings – National Museums in Berlin).  The Minister of State Monika Grütters declared in her speech at that time  to the numerous representatives of the German cultural and knowledge institutions: “It is an important concern of mine that now all those can be approached via the internet who only rarely visit museums, libraries, concert halls and other cultural institutions or not at all. The DDB gives us new opportunities to bring them into contact with our cultural heritage, to awaken their interest in it and to remove their fear of the unknown.”

In the meantime there were already approximately eight million data sets from over 100 institutions online – and the event became the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek’s largest meeting on its own account up to that time with more than 300 participants.

Hier wird das Video angezeigt.

Culture and knowledge online – theme trailer 02: presentation of the first full version – Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek.

In the same year the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, together with its partners Servicestelle Digitalisierung (Digitisation Service Centre) Berlin (digiS), the Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland (OKFN) and Wikimedia Deutschland, established the first cultural hackathon. Under the title “Coding da Vinci” programmers, designers and games lovers were invited to develop digital applications on the basis of cultural data in Germany for the first time, together with cultural institutions. The success of the event and the popularity among the participants proved that the initiators were right: culture and digital offerings are of mutual benefit to one another. Since then a good tradition, the prize-giving ceremony for the hackathon will take place this coming weekend (2nd December 2017) for the fourth time.

The Archivportal-D (Archive Portal D)  was also launched in 2014: under the leadership of the State Archives of Baden-Wuerttemberg this has offered an archival perspective over the archive data in the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek since then and is proof of “ how well data from the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek can be re-used and what use new applications have”, according to Hermann Parzinger at that time.

In 2014 the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek also started a comprehensive strategy process, as a result of which the aims and working focuses were formulated up to 2020. It is about nothing less than establishing a general and sustainable information infrastructure to make cultural and knowledge heritage accessible and to link and present it. The Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek has formulated its guidelines and necessary working focuses for this comprehensive and ongoing task. Based on the vision of creating the central platform for culture and knowledge in Germany, the aim is to link more cultural data in better quality and to organise the expansion to a data platform (to the download of the strategy as a PDF file).

Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, Kultur und Wissen online: Strategie 2020, Berlin 2016
Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, Culture and Knowledge Online: Strategy 2020, Berlin 2016

We began with 5.6 million object references in 2012 – now it is 22.8 million in November 2017. 88 data partners started a “mammoth project” together with us – so Hermann Parzinger said at the launch of the full version in 2014. Today we are a community of almost 360 cultural institutions which share a common aim – to make cultural heritage accessible via the internet as simply and comprehensively as possible – from every place, at every time. We are still far from being finished

: Anzahl der Objektnachweise in Mio. seit dem vierten Quartal 2012 (Stand 30.09.2017)
Number of objects in millions since the 4th quarter 2012 (at the time of 30.09.2017)