1. Premises of the project
Since the late 1990s, the Bibliothèque de Genève has been testing out the digitization of certain documents, either as an alternative to the classic reproduction techniques or as a tool for putting such documents within the reach of readers of every stripe.
It was during the first decade of the 21st century that digital libraries formed and became professional entities. In Switzerland, this meant digital portals managed by the country’s main libraries and specializing in specific types of documents, i.e., e-codices.ch for rare manuscripts, e-rara.ch for rare books, retro.seals.ch for reviews and journals, Rerodoc for general documentation, and the Swiss Poster Collection.
The Bibliothèque de Genève has played an active role in this movement. By participating in these programs, the Bibliothèque is gradually building up an online corpus of high-quality digital contents drawn from the library’s important holdings. The Complete Works of J.J. Rousseau (published in Geneva from 1782 to 1789), made available online for the 200th anniversary of this Enlightenment writer’s birth, is a fine example of this new area of development for libraries and has since become a reference edition.
2. Project development
These projects have prompted a transversal reflection on the digitization of the collections of the City’s libraries, making possible an overview of Geneva’s intellectual and cultural heritage. Between 2011 and 2013, a working group composed of the representatives of six institutions laid out the contents of an ideal digital library, viz., books, journals, magazines, manuscripts, archive holdings, picture collections, and maps. The core of this vast ensemble to be given priority in digitizing comprises 90 coherent collections – some 875,000 documents, or about 10 million pages – and will significantly enhance public perception and understanding of Geneva’s cultural heritage.
A pilot project, the digitization of the Tribune de Genève, has proven highly popular and is in constant demand. It already gives a good idea of what digitization will bring. Estimated costs for the project have been worked out and public and private partners are being sought, and naturally an implementation plan is likewise being developed. Both are based on the consolidation of existing structures, i.e. the digital lab at the Bastions location of the library.
Finally, Geneva’s own book industry will be given welcome support as local publishers will have the opportunity to include their recent work in a digital publishing website.
3. Objectives in the longer term
Democratizing access to knowledge and addressing the information needs of the public are the central objective of the project. At the same time, digitization naturally contributes to the library’s mission of preserving material documents.
Through the skill center that the Bibliothèque has put in place, the adoption of open-access principles, and the dissemination of information, the digitization of our cultural and intellectual heritage stimulates research and initiatives by private individuals. Developing tools for the dissemination and accessibility of these documents on the basis of such a rich and varied corpus represents a promising opportunity for the actors of the new digital economy.
The project will lead to the creation of a global portal bringing together the digital collections of the City libraries and museums.