Accelerating 3D in the common European data space for cultural heritage: Building capacity for 3D

Spanish Presidency, Conference 17.10.2023:

The conference to kick off the Spanish Presidency on Europeana in 2023 was all about 3D and the related challenges, opportunities and discussions about its necessity.The European Commission, together with Europeana, is pursuing the goal of creating a unified strategy for digitizing our cultural heritage in Europe. The TwinIt! campaign, the contents of which will be explained later, was intended to symbolize a first step in this direction. With the decision to make 3D digitization a central point of the digital strategy, some hurdles and difficulties had to be identified in advance and approaches to solutions had to be developed directly.The first hurdle is the creation of an infrastructure that allows the documentation and migration of 3D objects. Until now, most documentation systems are tailored to handle image and text files. The task is to improve and extend these systems for the creation of a holistic system for all file types.In addition, it must be established at the outset that there can be no quantitative-brachial 3D digitization push. Rather than that, the institutions and professionals must pay attention to the highest possible quality of the objects, because today’s optimum will already be obsolete tomorrow. In connection with this, the exact purpose of each 3D object must be determined. In this way, quality and format can be adjusted to the specific needs. This probing and early evaluation is an iterative process. Furthermore, it we must not forget to create suitable framework conditions for metadata standards and storage space.At the beginning of the 3D offensive, the project leaders defined precise conditions as to how to proceed with the objects of cultural heritage. In that process, three reasons came up that recommended 3D digitization:

  • Object is exposed to an immediate risk (e.g. destruction)
  • Object is among the most visited in the country
  • There is a low rate of digitization in the class of the object

With these conditions in mind, European member states were encouraged to propose an object to be digitized in 3D by next year as part of the TwinIt! campaign. As an example, three ministers of culture from three different countries were invited to present their ideas and objects:

Another important point at the conference was the question on copyright for 3D objects. As with all other cultural objects, this question must be clarified for 3D digitization, too.

Discussions, as mentioned earlier, often revolved around the type and amount of 3D digitization, the advantages and disadvantages. There was one major advantage coming from 3D digitization: By creating a digital replica of the original object, the opportunity arises to conduct research without the original. The objects could then subsequently be returned to their countries of origin, paving the way for a “decolonization” of Europe’s museums.

A complete digital strategy includes, among other things, a capacity-building program for professionals and other interested parties. At the University for Ferrara, the 4CH project launched to fill this position. They provide a dedicated cloud as a storage space for cultural heritage objects, as well as standards and protocols for digitization. The work is driven by existing networks and involved in trainings and teaching. Europeana itself provides a way to use 3D content in teaching with ‘Built with bits’. At the end of the conference, the hosts also provided an outlook on the following EU Belgian Presidency.