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How the Rijksmuseum opened up its collection - a case study

By Joris Pekel, Community Coordinator Cultural Heritage

Theehuis in de buitenlucht in Fukuroi, Hiroshige (I) , Utagawa, Takenouchi. In or after 1833 (public domain).

If you regularly read the Europeana Pro blog, you have probably already heard of the open access policy of the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands. Europeana has, alongside other organisations and initiatives, worked with the museum since 2011 to make their public domain collection available online without restrictions. This has resulted in over 150,000 high resolution images for anyone to view, download, copy, remix, print and use for any purpose they can think of.

The museum has been really satisfied with the results of this move. They believe that their core business is to get people familiar with the collection and the museum. By making the images available without copyright restrictions, their reach has extended exponentially and far beyond their own website. The material is now for example being shared and used widely in all kinds of online platforms such as Wikipedia or educational websites.

However, the decision to make everything available in the highest quality possible was not made overnight. Many small steps had to be taken to get where they are now, and a lot of both internal and external discussions were held. We believe that this case can be an inspiration for other cultural heritage institutions as well. We have therefore taken the effort to describe in a paper the entire process from the beginning to where they are now.

Besides the various steps that were taken by the museum, the paper also addresses the broader discussion on the importance of keeping cultural heritage that is out of copyright in analogue form in the public domain in digital form as well. It shows the effect on their revenue from online image sales after they started to make available the material in an open way, and the business potential of openly available cultural heritage collections.

In the coming months we want to publish more case studies about cultural institutions that have opened up their collections. If you have an experience that you want to share with a wider audience, we would love to hear from you.

The full paper can be found here.

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The Europeana Professional Blog is for people working in the field of digital cultural heritage. For more information or to contribute, contact susan.muthalaly@europeana.eu.

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