Van 11 tot 13 september vond in Oxford de PASIG conferentie plaats (Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group). Deze conferentie wordt jaarlijks georganiseerd in Europa en de VS en richt zich voornamelijk op de praktijk van duurzame toegang van archieven en het delen van kennis en ervaring. Behrang Mousavi, manager Erfgoed van Het Nieuwe Instituut, gaf een presentatie over het conserveren en toegankelijk maken van digitaal erfgoed en het belang van samenwerking.
Text Behrang Mousavi
Our holdings cover the period 1850-1980, and include over 700 archives and collections of Dutch architects, professionals and educational bodies. They comprise museum quality drawings, personal and business correspondence, design related sketches and photographs, models and published articles. The collection traces developments within Dutch architecture and urbanism from the mid-1800s to the present day.
The architecture collection of Het Nieuwe Institute consists of approximately 18 kilometres of material, about 1.4 mln. Drawings, 65.000 books and around 3.000 models. The archives and collections acquired since the late 1980s include digital material.In 2009, Het Nieuwe Instituut acquired its first digital-rich archive – that of Carel Weeber, with 25 projects consisting of digital material from the 60’s and 70’s. The MVRDV architect archives, largely composed of digital material, were acquired in 2015.
Achieving digital sustainability is one of the greatest challenges to confront our generation.
We are the first to develop large-scale systems and methods to preserve the accessibility of digital objects in their authentic form. Enhancing data accessibility boosts its value, and academic transparency is served by professional data management and -archiving. If we do nothing, we risk losing a sizeable chunk of contemporary history. If research data isn’t handled now, it could result in data fraud, with catastrophic implications for science. We must ensure that today’s digital objects are preserved and remain accessible for posterity.
The first computer-aided Dutch designs date from the 1960s, but the computer was not widely used in architecture until the 1990s. Digital heritage has recently made huge strides. Methods and systems have been developed to keep digital objects accessible in an authentic form. The Dutch National Library established an operational e-depot for digital publications. The Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision is involved in the management and preservation of audio-visual heritage. The National Archives are expanding their current e-depot facilities into a shared infrastructure for all digital archives in the Netherlands. Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS) has a digital archive for research data going back to the 1960s.
As technology rapidly advances, quantities of digital material increase, and digital objects become more complex, organisations cannot manage digital archives reliably on their own. Collaboration boosts efficiency, provides access to knowledge elsewhere, assures greater benefits from results achieved, and facilitates a better connection with large-scale digital developments all-round. The boundaries between data, documents, and publications are fading. It is vital to prevent any duplication of activities, while simultaneously avoiding the occurrence of any omissions in collection policies at the national level.
Collaboration has always been rooted in research and development topics, and embedded in large-scale national and international projects that yielded usable results for the organisations.
These projects brought an added benefit: creating a common understanding of the problems and standpoints shared by all involved. In 2002, a more organised and structural collaboration was launched with the foundation of the Digital Preservation Coalition. The Dutch government established the Network Digital Heritage (NDE) in 2014. The participating parties are national organisations occupying key positions in the realm of digital heritage. Working together, these organisations aim to improve the visibility, usability and sustainability of digital heritage materials from every sector.
When a digital archive is transferred from a firm of architects to Het Nieuwe Instituut, the context and management regime change. At the agency, the archive mainly supported the design process. At Het Nieuwe Instituut, the Heritage department’s mission and collection policy views the archive as a means of documenting Dutch architecture and urban planning, and the design process. Moreover, heritage is preserved and conserved for many years, for cultural and historic reasons. These two contexts place different demands on management, preservation, description and accessibility. Het Nieuwe Instituut is keenly aware of the need to preserve digital archives for posterity, but many architectural firms tend to overlook digital sustainability. A fact confirmed in 2008, by a research that was conducted into the archival practices of 4 medium and large-sized architectural firms in The Netherlands.
Managing digital files and preserving paper archives are very different. Without a management and preservation strategy designed specifically for digital material, much of the information we produce on computers today will be unusable within decades. Carriers that store digital material deteriorate and become obsolete; hardware, operating systems and software fall into disuse. Given a choice between analogue and digital archives with precisely the same information, many institutes choose the analogue version of a file. Such a choice is, however, increasingly rare.
Digital archives also offer new research possibilities for a variety of user groups. Software tools developed in the future will reveal and visualise new links, for instance by carrying out data analyses. Which in turn will make it easier to connect collection items, make relationships with other collections and objects, create new contexts around documents, and connect new user groups to the collection.
Internationally renowned architects MVRDV gifted their archives to Het Nieuwe Instituut in 2015. They mostly comprise born-digital material: files of all projects, realised and unrealised, designed between 1991 and 2008, and is 5 terabytes in size. If printed out, it would equate to 200 metres of paper archive. The digital archive contains presentation maps, floorplans, cross-sections, renderings, texts, diagrams, photographs, 3D animations, audio-visual material, emails and correspondence. MVRDV also donated a selection of models, and the firm’s paper archive. Het Nieuwe Instituut acquired this archive because of MVRDV’s pivotal role in Dutch architecture during the last 25 years. The archive tracks the firm’s history, and many topical architectural developments from 1990 until today. Het Nieuwe Instituut’s collection policy lists MVRDV’s archive among the most important records of the post 1980s.
The archive is exceptional because the born-digital materials cannot be considered separately from the analogue archive. As a research-driven firm MVRDV’s design process may involve making models, and using software programmes. The models are intimately related to the digital archive. Evaluating and selecting digital archive material requires a new approach: the collecting institute needs insights into the agency’s design process to answer such questions as: which are the key project files, where and how does the archive reflect the design process in general and highlight the moments of inventiveness and creativity in the body of work of MVRDV in particular? These are the first sections of the archive to be sustainably preserved, and made accessible. To evaluate and select material from the digital archive, the research concentrates on important projects in which the firm utilised the computer to the fullest, or used that experimentally.
The role of institutes involved in collection preservation extends further than managing collections and ensuring their accessibility. Institutes like Het Nieuwe Instituut play a vital role in highlighting digital design culture, and ensuring sustainable access to it through exhibitions, publications and the like. Architects and designers can make use of the resources that museums and archives are able to utilise in managing and preserving digital collections.
Cultural heritage institutions ensure that meaningful material produced during our lifetime is preserved for posterity. For years, different types of objects were categorised into groups, and held separately, in library or museum collection, and weren’t easily accessed. Today, we have many different digital sources. Analogue material has been digitised and is readily accessible. Together with an abundance of born-digital objects, generated in every conceivable domain. Collaboration between the creators of archives and institutions charged with managing collections (such as Het Nieuwe Instituut) is crucial for the long-term preservation of collections.
To ensure access to huge collections, collection management organisations will need to have the right resources with respect to infrastructure, knowledge, finance and organisation. But this is a task beyond the scope of any individual organisation.
Trans-national collaboration can ensure the efficient management and preservation of data from the public domain. This applies to many Dutch and international organisations. But this demands more than shared storage facilities. Knowledge and manpower are crucial. Without them, these facilities cannot be managed properly. Moreover, to deal effectively with issues encountered, institutes need staff with the skills for digital management and preservation. Training and education at academic level is imperative. And clear agreements are required concerning the tasks the organisations will perform themselves, and those to be carried out with peer institutions.
In the past, the archive was almost entirely composed of drawings, models and paper documentation. Today, Het Nieuwe Instituut is increasingly faced with digital heritage materials. These digitally-born objects require a specific approach to acquisition, inventarisation, management and accessibility. As design practices become increasingly technologized, we are compelled to find new solutions for the preservation of digital-born material.
In the years ahead, one of the key priorities of Het Nieuwe Instituut is to set up a digital infrastructure with the accompanying procedures, processes and systems.
The maturity and capabilities study conducted by the Netherlands Organisation for applied scientific research TNO in 2015, identified where Het Nieuwe Instituut currently stands, and what is required if we are to realise our ambitions. A budget has been set aside for this purpose, and Het Nieuwe Instituut is playing an active role within the Digital Heritage Networks (NDE). The primary task of this organisation is to develop knowledge and competencies aimed at enhancing and expanding the skills of personnel. In 2017 and 2018 financial resources are available to take steps towards setting up a digital archive. Our goal is to have a fully-functioning e-depot in place by the end of 2018, together with the required procedures and processes. This also involves developing a policy, and deepening the knowledge and capabilities of staff. Sector-wide collaboration on a national scale is essential, and requires governments to play a channelling role. As promotor of Dutch coalitions, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Education gave a significant stimulus to the Network Digital Heritage and the Netherlands Coalition for Digital Preservation.
The magnitude of the challenge we are facing together is uncontested, and the directions in which solutions may be sought are clear. The task now is to take the next steps and intensify the existing collaboration, and make it permanent. To do so requires better organisational anchoring and structural funding, for both the sustainable management of digital information and for further innovation within this context. However, architectural firms, art producers and designers can all make a vital contribution to ensuring the longevity of their own products. In which respect, the heritage institutes will need to offer a helping hand. After all, the production and long-term accessibility of digital objects are two sides of the same coin. Governments, collection management institutes and collection production organisations will need to structure their collaboration in a way that reflects the needs and role of each party. This is the only way to prevent the loss of important cultural and historical information. Because today’s history is written largely online, we cannot risk digital amnesia.
Behrang Mousavi is General Manager Erfgoed & Facilitaire Zaken bij Het Nieuwe Instituut.