As the year 2020 is officially The Year of Digital Culture In Estonia, it is the right time to talk about Estonia’s cultural heritage. And it’s a wonderful opportunity for e-residents to learn more about the Estonian Government’s initiative to digitize the nation’s rich cultural artefacts.

There are over 900 million objects that are significant for Estonian culture and deserve digitisation. However, as at 2018 only about 10% were digitized by Estonian memory institutions. The percentage of digitised heritage differs by type.

Independent resources of each institution and the interest related to its collection determines the level of digitisation, rather than the state’s overall priorities or usage statistics as a whole. Therefore, on the one hand, duplication of digitisation exists in the memory institutions, and on the other hand, an integrated digital collection cannot be created without effective cooperation.

Due to these circumstances, Estonia lacks a critical mass of digital cultural heritage content, which include user-friendly and integrated digitised material that would cover all types of cultural heritage and would therefore be a prerequisite for the development of more business services that could make use of digitised cultural heritage.

The Plan of Action for the Digitisation of Cultural Heritage 2018–2023 was initiated by the Minister of Culture’s advisory council the Digital Heritage Council, who determined the project’s priority heritage fields. The action plan itself was created in the cooperation of Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Education and Research and Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications. Specialists from each cultural heritage field proposed the sectoral priorities, objectives, and project implementers.

The main objective of the action plan is the resource-efficient digitisation of a critical mass of the cultural heritage, as well preserving it and making it publicly available. The sub-objectives of the action plan are:

– To make up to a third of the cultural heritage of Estonia’s memory institutions available digitally.
– To develop a consolidated architecture and service for the archiving of digital cultural heritage, its long-term storage and backup.
– To make the information on 1.2 million cultural heritage objects available as open data.
– To increase knowledge related to the digitised cultural heritage in memory institutions, partner organisations and among young people.
– In cooperation with partners, to create opportunities for the active reuse and processing in the private sector.
– To increase the awareness of the public and increase satisfaction with online services in the cultural field.

This action plan covers the digitisation of heritage-based documents, printed materials, photos, artefacts, art, and films from the same time period (1900–1940) and depending on the type of heritage, also earlier (in the case of documents and art) and later periods (in the case of film and printed materials) so that it would be possible to organise the joint utilisation of various types of cultural heritage.

“Six digitisation projects have started in 2019 and seven will start in 2021. In addition to the digitisation projects we have carried out analysis, for example a legal analysis regarding the situation regarding copyrights and licenses related to the collections to be digitised and a business analysis of the information system for long-term storage in Estonia,” said Ülle Talihärm, from the Cultural Heritage Department of the Ministry of Culture in Estonia.

Furthermore, the Centre of Registers and Information Systems in cooperation with the National Heritage Board of Estonia is developing the Estonian Museum Information System and The National Library of Estonia is acquiring digital archive software for national publication.

“There is also talk about mirroring the tape drives of the Estonian Public Broadcaster and the Estonian National Archives in another geographical location and we are analysing the possibility of one digital cultural heritage access information system,” added Talihärm.

As a result of the project, combined with the materials previously digitised by memory institutions, the following percentages of the material in memory institutions will be digitised by 2023: documental heritage 3%; object heritage 32%; film heritage 60%; photo heritage 60%; art heritage 55%; and printed heritage 28%. This will ensure the necessary digitised content for the effective use of heritage and operation of memory institutions’ e-services.

Digitised materials can be used in different services, for example:

– Solutions supporting school curricula (e.g. e-Schoolbag, TaskuTark, e-school, the Film in School film database environment, digital textbooks, etc);
– Solutions supporting higher education and research (e.g. E-varamu portal, DIGAR, MuIS, AIS, FOTIS, etc);
– Research cooperation (e.g. supporting the cross-media teaching and research activities at Tallinn University’s MEDIT, Centre of Excellence in Media Innovation and Digital Culture; research of cultural history at the University of Tartu using new digital methods, as well as language technology-related text and data mining projects, etc);
– Services for the creative economy (e.g. Ennemuistne, an online game in the gaming sector; E-Aabits, Design House store, Sing Sale Pro OÜ, Külluslikud Etnokudumid — Etnowerk, Kingitrükk, etc);
– The opportunity to use periodicals at the article level (e.g. DIGAR Estonian Newspapers)
– Services that support tourism (e.g. the collection of information related to tourism and objects, and exchange with the developers of support services– e.g. augmented reality applications, e-Estonia, Ajapaik), visitestonia.com/puhkaeestis.ee, local government portals, etc);
– Media projects (e.g. Estonian Film Database, ERR archive, FIS, etc);
– E-services of state registers (e.g. Register of Construction Works, National Register of Cultural Monuments, Geoportal (e.g. historical maps, etc).

The total cost of realising the action plan is €9.13 million in 5.5 years, of which the amount to come from the national budget is €0.88 million and the need for EU Structural Fund investment is €8.25 million.