2 minutes to read Posted on Tuesday November 19, 2019

Updated on Tuesday November 19, 2019

portrait of Beth Daley

Beth Daley

Editorial Adviser , Europeana Foundation

portrait of Shadi Ardalan

Shadi Ardalan

Member States Liaison Officer , Europeana Foundation

Next steps for multilingualism in digital cultural heritage

Making Europeana Collections more multilingual is a priority and so we were delighted to take part in an event on 24-25 October with the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture and cultural heritage institutions on the topic of multilingualism. The two-day event at the Hanaholmen Culture Centre, Espoo, Finland, titled ‘Multilingualism in Digital Cultural Heritage - needs, expectations and ways forward’ was carried out under the umbrella of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which is currently being hosted by Finland.

main image
Title: Finland’s Ministry of Culture and Education State Secretary Tuomo Puumala
Creator: Sebastiaan Ter Burg
Date: 2019
Institution: Europeana Foundation
Country: Netherlands

Supporting cultural heritage institutions to engage their audiences with digital culture is at the heart of everything Europeana does. And it is highlighted as a priority in the proposals for the EU’s new Digital Europe Programme, which will shape and support the digital transformation of Europe’s society and economy.

At this event, policymakers, cultural heritage institutions, members of the ‘Digital Cultural Heritage and Europeana’ expert group, experts in multilingualism and Europeana came together to discuss how the cultural heritage sector can make use of advances in digital technology to make heritage material more accessible to more people across the EU. 

Most viewed item from Finland 2018
Title: Porvoon Kirjakauppa Oy-Borgå Bokhandell Ab
Date: 1960
Institution: Finnish Heritage Agency
Country: Finland
Most viewed item from Finland 2018

Why is multilingualism important?

Europeana Collections contains material from galleries, libraries, archives and museums in all 28 EU member countries - and more. You can navigate the website in 27 languages, and it’s easy to search for items described in your own language. But things get more complicated when you want to see items that match your search but are described in a different language.

In total, 37 languages are used to describe the collections. However, more than half of all the material (57%) uses one of just five languages - English, German, Dutch, Norwegian or French. 

Making an item described in one language turn up in the results or related material when searched for in another language is not easy. And we know we have a long way to go but making positive changes in this area is one of our priorities.

Read more about our approach to multilingualism

Creator: Sebastiaan Ter Burg
Date: 2019
Institution: Europeana Foundation
Country: Netherlands

What did we talk about? 

The event was a mixture of speeches, case study presentations, workshop sessions and a panel discussion. Finland’s Ministry of Culture and Education State Secretary Tuomo Puumala emphasised the role of culture and heritage in creating a democratic and inclusive Europe. Keynote speaker, Anne Bajart, Deputy Head of Unit at the Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology at the European Commission made a call to cultural heritage institutions and Europeana content providers to ‘help and support the development of the eTranslation project by providing the curated translations they have’. Other speakers then covered a broad range of topics, including multilingual policy, user experience design, learnings from automatic translation projects, multilingual metadata, linked vocabularies, automatic subject indexing services, and measuring success.

Working in groups, participants were then invited to share their experiences of opportunities and challenges related to multilingualism. They identified benefits of multilingualism and discussed what solutions or changes are needed to address the challenges.

Benefits of multilingualism

During the speeches and workshop exercises, the following benefits of multilingualism emerged:

  • Access to more sources of information, and to the knowledge and history of other cultures and less common language groups

  • Promotion of socially inclusive societies and mutual understanding of diverse cultures

  • Increased usability of digital cultural heritage in education and research

  • Outreach to more diverse audiences, attraction of more visitors and increased exposure of collections

  • Contribution to a stronger European identity. 

Challenges facing the advancement of multilingualism

To realise the identified opportunities, a number of challenges need to be addressed. The issues the sector faces in relation to multilingualism were identified as follows:

  • Lack of understanding of the benefits of multilingual digital cultural heritage and the opportunities it brings to the sector and to  society, causing a lack of unified multilingual/translation policy 

  • Lack of awareness and failure to share, disseminate and promote competences and knowledge in the sector, leading to a shortage of expert resources and training

  • Lack of tools, technologies and digital resources that are readily adapted to digital cultural heritage and able to tackle the intricate nature and constant evolution of linguistic concepts related to our domain

  • Lack of critical mass for applying machine learning to less common languages

  • Wider issues in cultural heritage that also have an impact on handling multilingual issues: lack of quality (translations of) metadata/content, lack of interoperability/ standardisation, institutions not aware of or not making use of existing tools, lack of R&D in future technologies e.g. AI.

Potential solutions to advance multilingualism

It became clear that addressing these issues is a shared responsibility of the Member States’ ministries of culture and cultural heritage institutions, aggregators and data providers, Europeana and the European Commission. Digital innovation hubs, the Europeana Network Association and the Europeana Aggregators’ Forum, the EuropeanaTech Community, domain representatives, associations, ontology providers, developers and the DCHE, can all positively contribute to such advancement.  

Solutions and actions identified include:

  • Co-operation at European, national and local level among all parties involved, including content providers and collection managers

  • Making more funding available to institutions for investment in the improvement of multilingualism

  • Providing standards/frameworks for multilingual data cataloguing practices, crowdsourcing, curated translation, and mass translation for the cultural domain

  • Supporting the development of more expertise in the sector

  • Raising awareness and facilitating the transfer of existing tools, standards and frameworks, and R&D by Europeana and/or the language technology industry

  • Raising awareness about the benefits of good quality content and metadata

  • Improved ingestion of metadata from aggregators to Europeana, supported by relevant services such as automated data cleansing tools

What’s next?

As part of the next steps to progress multilingual reach in Europeana and in the sector at large, Europeana is developing a recommended multilingual strategy and roadmap paper that builds on the output from the workshop and the expert presentations at this event. 

For more information on the event, read the presentations and see the images and the video from the meeting. Look out for updates on the meeting's outcomes on Europeana Pro.