On 16 December 2013 we had a meeting with Rianneke van der Houwen at the Rijksmuseum. In this meeting we learned a lot about the digitalisation of the Rijksmuseum prints and especially the annotating process. The whole digitalisation program started six years ago with the demand of the Dutch government to digitally register the objects that are in possession of a museum. At this moment 180.000 prints are digitalised and in the current pace the whole collection will be finished around 2027.
The most important part of this meeting was our visit to the annotators-office. We got the chance to have an inside look into the annotating process. This is especially valuable for our project because now we have a better understanding of the kind of information that actually gets digitalised. First of all there is the software that is used for annotating. This is a program called Adlib. With this program the annotators can mention who created the print, where it was made, what is depicted etc. Adlib also gives them the opportunity to create references to other sources, like Wikipedia or STCN (Short-Title Catalogue Netherlands).
The annotating process is, of course, not perfect. Time restraints especially limits the information that gets annotated from a print. Most annotators have a certain minimum of prints that they need to annotate, this limits the time they can spend on a single print. The negative consequences of the time limit is that the annotation of a print with a lot of different icons will not mention most of these icons. Usually an overarching word is used for a group of icons, like the name of a certain game board instead of all the icons on the board.
The information that gets annotated is also dependent on the annotator. What he or she perceives as the most important part of the print will get annotated, while other parts will not. One of the problems with this is that you can never know what people want from a print. So the subjectivity severely limits the search possibilities of the print database. The expertise of the annotators limits this problem to a certain extent. They’re knowledge gives them the opportunity to look at what was probably important to the creator of the print. Symbolic figures and their role in the print for example will be noticed by the annotator. In this way important icons from our perspective on the creator will almost always be annotated. But this still leaves out the icons that the annotators now perceive as unimportant.
It is good to see that there is some basic information that almost always gets annotated if it is known. This is information about the year it was created, the creator and the overall subject. To get this common information available in a good and clear way for anyone searching the Rijksmuseum online archive is just one step. Down the line it would be great to get really specific information of a print available for someone searching for it. This would be especially valuable for professional (art-) historians. As we have seen there are certain limits on achieving this with the annotating process. Still there is a lot of information being annotated and getting this available for visitors of the Rijksmuseum online prints collection is what we want to achieve.