The Costumer

Provincial Centre for Cultural Heritage (PCCE) of the Province of Limburg, Belgium, focuses around the knowledge and the disclosure of the Limburg cultural heritage. For this, the organization develops project-based initiatives, and works closely with the various players within the heritage sector - municipalities, museums, historical circles, heritage units, etc. PCCE leads this project as an inter-provincial partnership with the Province of Flemish Brabant and the city of Leuven.

The Challenge

  • One publicly available platform
  • Wide variety of users
  • Import and convert several existing databases

Information about cultural heritage in Belgium was dispersed across various institutions and organizations, which were using different databases and systems to store data. Cultural knowledge was fragmented and without centralized access. Faced with the same dilemma, the provinces of Limburg and Flemish Brabant felt compelled to create a central database to cater to a wide variety of users, for a broad range of purposes:

  • Heritage managers who use the platform to manage their assets and improve the quality of their own digital inventory
  • Policy makers researching cultural and environmental information for evidence informed policy making
  • Academics and technicians who study and preserve cultural and historical heritage
  • Teachers and students who incorporate this information in their lesson plans, projects, assignments, etc.
  • Tourism services and guides who use cultural heritage as a resource for their own activities and products, brochures, tours, etc.
  • The public, interested in learning about their history and environment.

 

The main challenge in the project’s design was the need to import and convert several existing databases from professional collections such as museums, immovable heritage, archives, libraries, etc.. These institutions use specialized programs to curate their collections, and the new platform had no intention of replacing the source inventories, nor of imposing or unifying solutions. To merge such a heterogeneity of databases and include all relevant updates through time, the system’s architecture would have to solve a number of difficulties: different contexts and structures, diverging terminology, distinct purposes and a variety of systems

The Solution

The provinces of Limburg and Flemish Brabant and the city of Leuven joined forces to solve these challenges.
They selected AMPLEXOR as their partner to develop one heritage database with one central searchable and publicly available online platform. AMPLEXOR focused this project in two main areas:


The website www.erfgoedplus.be to provide full online access for everyone to specific heritage objects, which are visually mapped and searchable through the underlying database.

The Heritage Register (Erfgoedregister), the input module of Erfgoedplus, an online registration tool, where all interested professional and non professional collections which don’t have a digital inventory tool can register and describe their heritage and objects directly into the database. The close collaboration established with AMPLEXOR and all the technical teams in the involved organizations were instrumental for the success of this complex and future-oriented platform, which required a highly integrated implementation of several software components. The following diagram shows the architecture of the Erfgoedplus.be system:

Architecture of Erfgoedplus.be system

Gathering Small and Large Collections

The erfgoedplus.be system for cultural heritage information management

The heritage register is the online registration tool for collections without a digital inventory. 

The administrators of these smaller collections can manage their inventory directly through their web browser. Oracle Berkeley DBXML is used to store this database in Pivot format, which is fed directly th

rough the web forms developed with Orbeon Forms. The heritage collections’ databases represent the import and mapping of the databases from existing collections.
Collection administrators continue to use their own systems, and regularly export their data to update the information in Erfgoedplus.be through conversion. The data is stored in Pivot format, compliant with Spectrum standard for museum documentation. Netkernel 1060 components are used for the quality control and conversion.

 

Towards One Heritage Database

The standardization of data from the different databases is achieved with the use of thesaurus and ontology in import, conversion and navigation. The primary standards used are a widely agreed reference terminology and a suitable taxonomic hierarchy – the Getty AAT - Art and Architecture Thesaurus, and its translation into Dutch, AAT-Ned; as well as a solid semantic structure, the CIDOC-CRM (Conceptual Reference Model - ISO 21127: 2014). FluidOps Information Workbench manages the dictionaries, thesauri and ontologies with an underlying RDF database Sesame triple store, tailored to the needs of navigation. Thesaurus terms from the Getty AAT are directly linked to the Linked Open Data version on the Getty servers

 

A Publicly Available Online Platform

Erfgoedplus.be is presented with a simple and responsive interface, which is easily understood even by non-technical users, and is fully accessible through any device or browser, following the current webdesign best practices.

Drupal was the chosen Content Management System (CMS) to manage the website, with the underlying databases in MySQL and PHP as scripting languages. Alfresco is used to manage all kinds of digital assets (images, documents and multimedia files) with the underlying MySQL database. Fuseki triple store is used to store the RDF data to be displayed in the detail pages using SPARQL queries. Elasticsearch is used for navigation and search results lists, by indexing data in JSON format. The search and navigation widgets are created using JavaScript.

Users have at their disposal several search and navigation possibilities, such as:


  • Text search, applicable to any field
  • Faceted search, allowing users to apply multiple filters
  • Object relations, when links are made between related objects
  • Graphical navigation, for image gallery browsing
  • Map interface, to explore information based on geography

The Drupal part of the website was built in partnership with Artspot and is now maintained also by AMPLEXOR.

 

Erfgoedplus.be online portal is responsive on all devices

 

 

Het Stadsmus was one of the first museums involved in using Erfgoedplus. It gave us the opportunity to put our collection online and show it throughout Europe and the world. All information is at your fingertips. You get a picture, the measurements and of course the location of the piece. The most interesting part is that we get the opportunity to continue displaying our temporary exhibitions virtually through Erfgoedplus. That gives us a chance to reach a wider audience, long after the pieces have been returned to their owners.
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Ann Delbeke

Curator at Het Stadsmus - Hasselt

The Result

In 2009 the website was launched with 37,000 objects from 148 collections. By 2013, with a design revamp, new CMS and backend of the ontology and thesaurus tools, the renewed website had almost tripled the volume of objects listed. In 2017, the online database boasts 139,000 objects from 520 collections, all professional museums in Limburg and Flemish Brabant and over three quarters of all churches. There’s an annual average growth of 15,000 objects.

Moreover, Erfgoedplus has contributed to:
  • More knowledge of the wealth of local heritage
  • Raising awareness of cultural heritage
  • Popularization and broad application of international
    standards
  • Increased collaboration and exchange between
    collection managers
  • Improvement in content and enrichment of the
    heritage collections
  • Implementation of educational heritage projects

Reaching Beyond erfgoedplus.be

All heritage data in Erfgoedplus are available in europeana.eu, the European Union’s virtual library, providing online access to tens of millions of cultural items and artefacts from libraries, archives, audiovisual collections and museums across Europe. This is possible through an OAI-PMH repository (Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting), after the data conversion into the Europeana Data Model (EDM). Collection descriptions are also created within the Archiefbank Vlaanderen (Archive Bank Flanders) and, wherever possible, links are made to relevant objects in other online databases, such as Art & Architecture Thesaurus (Getty Research Institute), the Belgian Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), Inventaris Onroerend Erfgoed (Heritage Agency of the Flemish government), Wikipedia, the Museum of Old Techniques (MOT), etc.

In May 2017, the European heritage organization Europa Nostra awarded the online heritage platform Erfgoedplus with the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Award in the category Education, Training and AwarenessRaising. It’s considered to be Europe’s highest honor in the cultural heritage field. The jury highlighted the creativity, innovation, sustainable development and social participation of the platform.

 

This outstanding platform has considerably advanced the standards of heritage documentation in Belgium while increasing public awareness of the values of cultural heritage. It’s a great example of excellence in heritage documentation and provides an interesting and effective training model for other projects throughout Europe as it integrates community involvement, education and digitization.
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The EU Prize for Cultural Heritage

Europa Nostra Awards 2017 Jury

 

 

It was not the outstanding software, flashy website or quality knowledge base that made us win this Award. But rather the entire ‘soft system’, composed of technical tools integrated with the purpose, the processes and the users. The strength of this system is that it is not a target of its own, made to suggest new uses or to convince clients to buy it. It is rather the other way round: the users and usage determine how the system should be of assistance. And the strength of AMPLEXOR as our technical partner since 2005 has always been that they could translate the requirements of our world (cultural heritage) in an efficient system architecture feasible in our limited-budget environment. For each component they helped us find the tools and data model with the best guarantee for interoperability and future-proofness.
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Jef Malliet

Coordinator Erfgoedplus.be, Province of Limburg

Table of Contents

Download this case study to discover why the online heritage platform won the most prestigious European award in the field:

  • Improvement in content and enrichment of the heritage collections:
    • 139,000 objects registered up to 2017
    • With an average growth of 15,000 objects/year
    • 520 collections, all professional museums and over three quarters of all churches in the Provinces of Limburg and Flemish Brabant 
  • Import and conversion of several databases from professional collections such as museums, libraries, etc.
  • Integration of digitization, community involvement and education
  • Popularization and broad application of international standards for heritage documentation
  • Increased collaboration and exchange between collection managers
  • Raising public awareness of the values of cultural heritage