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The Dutch national audiovisual archive Beeld en Geluid, and its partners in the Images for the Future project are in the process of digitizing 22,500 hours of film, 137,000 hours of television, 124,000 hours of radio recordings, and 2.9 million photos. They have received an investment of 154 million euros from the Dutch government that will be spread out over 7 years.

There are a number of very interesting aspects to this project that others, especially in the U.S., could learn from.

The new Beeld en Geluid building (which is beautiful and dramatic), has apparently inspired some donors of archival material to trust them and to want to contribute. Its museum had 250,000 visitors in its first year, which in a country of 16 million people is huge.

Visitors typically stay for four and half hours; most people get really involved in watching news and entertainment footage from their youth. Visitors are invited to assemble and read the news, or decide about the best programming for saturday night. They have a great promotional film that they show in the museum.

The back story on their funding is instructive. The Images for the Future project was able to obtain funding on a large scale by applying the same style of economic analysis to the archive as is applied to other government funded infrastructure. A study conducted on their behalf by a management consultancy concluded that “The present value of the total user benefits of the plan is approx. E176 million. Compared to these benefits, the costs drawn up in euros in 2006 amount to E148 million…” This kind of thorough, sober, cost benefit analysis of educational infrastructure is something U.S. organizations could emulate. It also forces the project to generate benefits. E 19 million has to be earned by the project partners, an outcome of the cost benefit analysis.

They are also engaging rights holders (and thus mass clearance) in a very interesting way. First, they are committed to ensuring that all rights are completely protected. But they are making their catalog available online, and for right holders that want it, they are linking catalog entries to stills, low res, or hi res moving images.

This seems like an excellent way to satisfy rights holders, and to gradually make most their collection accessible online — it seems a foregone conclusion that sales of the material by right holders will be increased if people can browse it first.

Like everyone, they are grappling with questions related to metadata, from lack of metadata on most tape cases, the habit of some producers to cram tapes full of random segments, and in harmonizing information from 150 (!) different databases that have been built over the years.

They are going with MXF & MPEG-2 at 50 Mbps for most television material, and MXF & MPEG-2 at 30 Mbps for news.

They are launching a project to link their materials to other “trusted,” repositories e.g. maps & newspapers, for educational purposes. On top of these repositories, student will get tools to work wih the materials and teachers will get tools to develop lessons. Sort of like Teachers’ Domain.

As with the PTV Digital Archive, they are going to start working on capturing web sites associated with programs and films, but there are challenges related to capturing streams and some AV files.

For other archives grappling with questions of file formats, metadata, selection, and budgeting, the approaches taken in the Netherlands can serve as a useful model. There is more background from the New York Times in a recent article, “Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, Encased in Glass.”