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National library collaboration will digitize Swedish printed material

A man is photographing a book in a studio. Photographer Magnus Hjalmarsson Uppsala University Library.
Photographer Magnus Hjalmarsson is digitizing Swedish periodicals.

With the objective of digitizing Swedish printed material from the 1400s to modern times, a collaboration has been established between the National Library of Sweden and the five university libraries in Lund, Gothenburg, Stockholm, Uppsala, and Umeå. The undertaking lays the basis of a long-term digitization undertaking.

The material included in the digitization is composed of books, newspapers, magazines, reports, school books, etc. printed in Sweden. There is already a large amount of digitized material, both in the various libraries and, for instance, in Litteraturbanken. However thanks to this collaboration, the libraries are now able to take a more holistic approach to systematical digitization and to making accessible all Swedish printed material.  

It will also be an important resource for our democratic society as everyone will be able to access the material, regardless of where they live.

"Digitizing our entire printed cultural heritage and making it openly and easily accessible will be of great use to research and higher education. It will also be an important resource for our democratic society as everyone will be able to access the material, regardless of where they live. It must be easy to find and use Swedish digitized material, whether you are an upper-secondary school pupil, a local historian, a researcher, or a literary scholar," says Lars Ilshammar, Deputy Director of the National Library of Sweden.

Digitizing means that printed material is scanned or photographed page by page and that the images are translated into machine-encoded searchable text through an automated process, Optical character recognition (OCR).

The libraries will digitize material from their collections and the material will appear in Libris, the Swedish national union catalog. The entire document becomes accessible in full-text on various publishing platforms. One additional ambition of the project is to simplify the use of digitized material, for instance by using open, linked data. 

Our desire is to give the digital material new life and make sure it comes to good use in research

"This is a huge task. Our desire is to give the digital material new life and make sure it comes to good use in research, thanks to the infrastructure of digital material that the libraries will establish. You could go as far as to say that the libraries produce research data when digitizing their material and giving them a new range of uses when they can be analysed with new methods."

"This is why it is important to digitize according to international standards and in collaboration with partners specialized in digitization. International comparison shows that Sweden is lagging when it comes to systematic digitization.  Norway for instance and many other European countries are far more advanced." says Lars Burman, Library Director at Uppsala University Library. 

The library collaboration was initiated in 2020 through the signing of a letter of intent. Since February 2021, there is a project manager, Karin Byström from Uppsala University Library.

"The libraries included in the collaborative project are producing joint standards and are deciding on what material to start with. The plan is, to begin with, Swedish periodicals from 1850–1900, a material of great interest to both researchers and the general public."

"Additionally, digitization contributes to reduced wear and tear of physical material where the paper is gradually falling apart. The text will be machine-readable through the OCR-interpretation and thus possible to analyse using digital research methods," says project manager Karin Byström.

The project will require additional external funding

The project is initially funded by the participating libraries but will require additional external funding.

"The ambition is to digitize everything which cannot be done without supplementary funding. This is why we are now trying to find collaborative partners, potentially through non-governmental research foundations as was the case with the newspaper digitization project headed by the National Library of Sweden and funded by Arcadia," says Mikael Sjögren, Library Director at Umeå University Library. "However also government funding will be needed and will be extremely important for this enterprise."

"There is an enormous potential in a digitized, accessible collection and it is necessary for the libraries to increase the pace of digitization of Swedish printed materials," concludes Karin Byström.

 Steering committee:

  • Lars Burman, Library Director at Uppsala University Library, chair
  • Håkan Carlsson, Library Director at Lund University Library
  • Lars Ilshammar, Deputy Director of the National Library of Sweden
  • Morgan Palmqvist, Library Director at Gothenburg University Library
  • Mikael Sjögren, Library Director at Umeå University Library
  • Wilhelm Widmark, Library Director at Stockholm University Library

Co-opted member of the committee is Mats Malm, Litteraturbanken

The project has working committees with representatives from the participating libraries:

  • Production,
  • Accessibility,
  • Library collaboration,
  • National collaboration, and
  • Funding.

Karin Byström from Uppsala University Library is the project manager.

Lars Burman, chairperson of the committee and Library Director at Uppsala University Library
Email: lars [dot] burman [at] ub [dot] uu [dot] se
Phone: +46 18 471 39 10

Karin Byström, project manager, Uppsala University Library
Email: karin [dot] bystrom [at] ub [dot] uu [dot] se
Phone: +46 18 471 33 69