Professionals in Focus - Clemens Neudecker
Europeana Members Councillors have diverse jobs and wide experience across the heritage sector, but are united by their passion for digital cultural heritage. In our ‘Professionals in Focus’ series, we speak to our Councillors about their roles, working lives and plans for their time on the Members Council. This month, Clemens Neudecker discusses his work as a research advisor at the Berlin State Library and the value of being part of the Europeana Network Association.
How did you enter your profession?
During my studies, I met a student couple who were blind. I found that I could assist them by scanning and applying text recognition software (OCR) to literature to allow the contents to be displayed on a Braille keyboard or read out by a text-to-speech software. Later, the Digitisation Center of the Bavarian State Library was looking for someone with experience in OCR and I started working there while completing my studies. Soon I became responsible for creating an OCR workflow for the digital library and a few years later, the KB National Library of the Netherlands offered me a job as Technical Manager for the European OCR project IMPACT. So I decided to move to the Netherlands, where I spent a wonderful five years in the Research Department of the KB. Six years ago, I moved back to Germany and joined the Berlin State Library for the Europeana Newspapers project.
It was during my first working week in The Hague that I met with Julie Verleyen Terzi and Antoine Isaac from Europeana. Today, almost 12 years after first learning about Europeana, I still collaborate with Antoine and many Europeana Network Association members on a regular basis. The profound work relationships that develop between European cultural heritage professionals has made being part of the Europeana community the most rewarding for me.
What are you currently working on?
My role is two-fold: as a Research Advisor, I advise the Deputy Director General on the development and implementation of the research strategy of the Berlin State Library and assist other departments and colleagues in their research activities and proposals. I also try to keep a close eye on current research in relevant information and communications technology (ICT) and library and information science (LIS) fields and the digital humanities, identify areas of interest or opportunities for collaboration for the library and initiate proposals and projects.
My other role is that of a Project Coordinator. When we are successful with a proposal, I often take on an active role in these projects by leading a work package or contributing in some other capacity. Next to continuing the work on Europeana Newspapers and the German Newspaper Portal, I currently have a few other projects in my portfolio that range across topics such as text recognition, artificial intelligence or social network analysis.
When I can still find some free time, I also like to diversify and start a lab or help to organise hackathons.
What are some of the challenges in your role? What are some of your favourite elements?
With the broad range of responsibilities I have, it can be challenging to meet everyone's expectations at all times and switch contexts multiple times a day. Also, with multiple projects in parallel, there are naturally considerable administrative overheads which prevent me from committing more of my own time to the actual research being done. On the other hand, this is probably also my favourite element of the job: constantly traversing between different projects and use cases ensures the job never gets too dull.
Another challenge is the digital transformation of the Berlin State Library and its umbrella organisation, the SPK. With about 2,000 staff members across five institutions including libraries, museums, research institutes and an archive, there is enormous potential to leverage. At the same time, there are massive challenges with changing processes and strategy to become more digital, and to create space to develop the digital transformation without leaving anyone behind. Finally, with research projects at the edge of technological innovation, the question of how to sustain and implement the outcomes in production is always a tricky task.
What was your motivation for joining the Members Council?
After a decade of collaborating with Europeana in various ways and seeing it actively develop, it was a good time to take on some responsibility in the governance of the Network Association and try to give something back. Over the years I’ve had opportunities to meet with and learn from many diverse colleagues in the network with a broad range of backgrounds and interests related to Europeana and digital cultural heritage. Next to libraries I do work a lot with researchers, but also companies from the creative industries. Trying to make sure the views of all these stakeholders are appropriately reflected in the activities of the network and its communities was another driver.
What do you plan to do as a Members Councillor?
I currently have the pleasure of serving as Chair of the Steering Group for the EuropeanaTech Community and I also contribute to the AI in relation to GLAMs task force. Naturally, I want to aid in the further development of newspaper content in Europeana and make sure we meet the needs of all stakeholders. Based on my various collaborations with researchers, I would also like to help make Europeana content generally more accessible and useful for researchers. Most importantly though, across my various activities and professional networks, I always try to spread the word about Europeana - although currently only from a safe distance! Once we have come out of this pandemic, one of my greatest wishes is to make such sprawling and lively events as the EuropeanaTech conferences return.