2 minutes to read Posted on Friday March 22, 2013

Updated on Monday July 30, 2018

portrait of Jan Molendijk

Jan Molendijk

Lead Teacher Data Analytics , Ironhack

So long, and thanks for all the fish

I have worked in the Europeana Office for just over three years now as its Technical and Operations Director. It has been a wonderful experience, and now it is time for me to move on. And I still love Europeana – here’s why:

Europeana connects people with their cultural heritage

This is, of course, our core mission, the reason Europeana exists. With a lot of digitisation efforts under way throughout Europe, creating a place where people can actually find information about digitised content helps maximise the value of those efforts. People use Europeana for entertainment and travel, for education, for research. Not just through our portal, Europeana.eu, but also through other sites and apps built on our API. Try it out for yourself: do a search on your family name, your home town, your favourite author and be surprised by the riches that you will find. For example, I found this image, titled 'Familie Molendijk uit Pernis' - it's my great-great-uncle and his family, in the village that I grew up in.

Europeana connects people IN cultural heritage

Through the Europeana Network, we connect to over 500 professionals in the cultural heritage field. In the European Commission sponsored projects, we work with hundreds of institutions toward a common goal. In doing so, we see all sorts of relationships develop between those partners, all moving forward towards the idea of a Cultural Commons. An ecosystem is springing up of institutions, projects, aggregators, professionals, and scientists. As in every ecosystem, some of these will thrive and some will struggle, but they are all connected by the common goal of caring for and providing access to culture.

Europeana not only creates ‘Open Culture Labs’, in a very real sense it already is one

Practical innovation is the core of what we do, with EDM (our cross-domain data model), with large-scale aggregation processes, by encouraging data providers to open up their metadata under CC0 etc. These processes are open and inclusive – we encourage and actively seek Network contributions and all of our software and models are available under an Open Source licence. We have already seen a first commercial spin-off of Europeana in Delving, a company that supports cultural heritage institutions with software and services, building on our Open Source code.

Europeana is a group of very talented and motivated people, both in the office and the Europeana Network

The 50 or so people in the Europeana Office and The European Library (TEL) are under quite some pressure, because there is always more that we want to do. They work very hard, and with a smile, too. Through a more structured process of business planning, we have become better at defining and prioritising our activities, which should help in relieving some of the pressure. The Network is a great help as well – there is just so much knowledge and experience out there, and many people in the Network have been quite generous with their time.

Europeana gives access to an incredible amount of great stuff

This never ceases to amaze me and fill me with pride at the same time. Saying that we now hold almost 27 million objects is meaningless – people are very bad at grasping such large numbers. What it means for me in practice is that whenever I want to find something about any particular subject, I almost always find relevant and exciting ‘stuff’. An example: you may know the American sitcom ‘The Big Bang Theory'. Its opening sequence is a rapid-fire series of images illustrating the history of the world from the first amoeba to the present day. Harald Kraft, a German fan, has created a list of these images and did research on what they represented. In all there are 109 images, and in more than 90 cases I was able to find a corresponding object in Europeana, the majority of these under an open licence. Here's one of them:

'Egypt: the pyramids at Giza and the Sphinx', Wellcome Library, CC-BY-NC

During 2011, I kept a blog, that (almost) every day illustrated historical events with Europeana objects. If a nerd like me can create such things, imagine what really creative people like you can do with the content in Europeana. It is all there, waiting for you to explore, enjoy and re-use.

PS. The title for this blog I borrowed/stole from Douglas Adams’ series 'The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy'. And yes, Europeana holds not one, but two references to this, both literary studies into the genius that is Douglas Adams. And there are lots of fish in Europeana as well. Need I go on?

PPS. In case you’re wondering, after leaving Europeana, I will be working in the field of educational publishing, going back to an application of ICT that I explored in my masters thesis over 25 years ago. At the time you would have been hard-pressed to find even one PC per school, and now a PC or tablet for every student is quickly becoming the norm. I am looking forward to also make the connection between education and Europeana content. I’ll be in touch!