Project of Digitization of the Serbian Cultural Heritage

2019. 07. 25. | Articles

Audiovisual Archive and Digitization Center of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts

The Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SASA) is a leading scientific and cultural institution in Serbia. Founded in 1841, it boasts a library and archive, precious not only for Serbian culture, but containing significant elements of world cultural heritage, as well. At the same time, part of the Archive of the Serbian Orthodox Church, located in Sremski Karlovci is under trusteeship of SASA, and preserves documents of priceless value for European history from the 15th to the 19th centuries.

Building of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SASA)


The establishing of the Audiovisual Archive and Center for Digitization of SASA (AVA SASA)

In order to preserve and present to the public the most important and valuable parts of the material in its possession, SASA established in 2017 its Audiovisual Archive and Center for Digitization (AVA SASA). At the time of establishment of AVA SASA, an approach was adopted that, due to the significance and value of the material preserved in SASA Library and Archive, its digitization must be performed in accordance with the highest standards through clearly defined digitization procedures.

The invaluable importance of the material that is to be digitalized is evident from the fact that it contains, inter alia, charters and codes of Serbian rulers from the 14th and 15th centuries, authograph records of works and correspondence of the most important Serbian scientists and writers, an art collection with over 3,000 paintings, drawings and sculptures, autographs of music scores of Serbian composers, photo archives with about 10,000 photographs and negatives, etc.

Marginalia of Vuk St. Karadžić on the first edition of his Serbian Dictionary (1818) / SASA Library, Rv 46/

Appian’s History of Rome, Venice, 1477 /SASA Library, R8 1/

One digital AVA SASA studio is located in the SASA building itself, while the core of AVA SASA is located in a building in close proximity, occupying about 800 square meters on three levels with six digital workstations. There is also a digital studio in Sremski Karlovci, where the said church archives are digitalized.

Digitization According to Utmost Industry Standards

In order to attain top standards in digitalizing cultural heritage, AVA SASA has opted for the acquisition of Phase One systems, following the example of the world’s most important archives and museums that use this equipment in digitalizing their material. Phase One is closely following our work, and through regular communication with this Company we are recipients of the latest information on digitization.Their readiness to inform the general public through its communication channels of the activities and progress of AVA SASA is another advantage.

Part of the AVA SASA Digital Workstations is equipped with four Phase One cameras (iXG 100 MP, iXG 50 MP and two XF 80 MP cameras), Schneider lenses and Capture One supporting software. This equipment is housed in specially designed rooms, where all factors that could affect the quality of the digital image (e.g. wall color, blackout on windows, humidity and room temperature control, etc.) are controlled for.

One of the digital studios in AVA SASA

Twelve associates are currently engaged in AVA SASA, including two expert consultants and six operators. Maintenance of IT equipment will be entrusted to a special company which will monitor on a daily basis the workstations, servers and storages, as well as the process of backup of digitalized material.

Even the best equipment for digitization will yield modest results if it is not serviced by experts and well-trained operators. Thus, during the past few months, AVA SASA has been conducting intensive daily training of six operators who are following all phases of the digitization process. In addition to technical details, special attention is paid to the developing of their sense of what is a well-digitalized item.

Training with expert consultant

 Training is provided by expert consultants who have exceptional experience with digital photography, as well as with the processes of digitization of cultural heritage. During the month of January, the company Phase One arranged a two-day workshop where experts from Hungary held a short training on Phase One cameras and demonstrated some of the features of Capture One software. The next workshop at which highest level additional training will be carried out is planned for April or May 2019.

Procedures of Digitization of Cultural Heritage

In view of the importance, value, but also sensitive nature of the material that needs to be digitalized, the AVA SASA team is developing a detailed description of the procedures for downloading, restoring and handling the material during its digitization. This is an extremely important and delicate part of the digitization process, in the absence of which digitization would be exposed to many unnecessary risks and potential damaging of valuable archival and library materials.

Particular attention is paid to the manner and mode of storage of digitalized material, from original to derived digital images, which are publicly available under certain conditions, as well as to the legal aspects of digitization. All these aspects of digitization will be part of the AVA SASA Rules, which are being finalized and which will define the overall work of this institution.

Operator working with Phase One camera and Capture One software

AVA Projects and Plans for the Future

Over the next several years the work of AVA SASA will be primarily directed towards the cultural heritage of SASA. In that sense, the priority projects will be related to the especially valuable collections of the SASA Archive and the SASA Library, the material that is stored in the Archive in Sremski Karlovci and the Art Collection of SASA. In addition to these cultural assets, AVA SASA intends to digitalize all editions (books, scientific magazines)published by SASA, since its inception in 1841, which amounts to almost 16,000 titles.

In the meantime, AVA SASA intends to conclude strategic co-operation agreements with various cultural institutions in Serbia, but also other institutions that preserve priceless cultural artifacts.

The intention of AVA SASA is to become a model of excellence in all aspects of digitization of cultural heritage. That is the reasoning underlying the decision of AVA SASA to opt for the Phase One system, and that is why a rigorous and long-lasting training of operators is carried out and detailed procedures are defined in the process of digitization. The formation of the AVA SASA Research Center is underway, in which different methods of digitization and the optimal relations between the quality and the time of digitization will be examined. The results of these surveys will be available to the public on the AVA SASA website.

All of the above goals pose major challenges that AVA SASA has to meet, but any other approach would fail to meet the required standards of SASA.

All photos in this article are by Branislav Vojnović and Veselin Milunović.