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In focus: “The world is going digital – and so is cultural heritage”

Historian Hans Petschar thinks far ahead: As director of the Austrian National Library's Image Archive and Graphics Collection, he deals with extensive holdings from bygone eras on a daily basis – while at the same time focusing on the digitization of cultural heritage. Recently, my-picturemaxx users have also been able to access the library's digital image archive. In an interview, the expert explains the advantages of this and why it is also important for libraries and museums to think about the future.



Interview with Dr. Hans Petschar, Director Image Archive and Graphic Collection Austrian National Library


Illustration mit Zitat von Zeynep Arghan und Bild des Cornelsen Verlagshauses

Mr. Petschar, you are a historian and, as director of the Austrian National Library's Image Archive and Graphics Collection, you deal with Austria's history on a daily basis. What is it about it that constantly fascinates you every day?


Dr. Hans Petschar: “Here in the Austrian National Library there is an almost inexhaustible number of sources; it is, after all, the successor to the Court Library and also houses the family library of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. These are insanely extensive and great collections – whether they are documents, books, pictures, graphics, photos, maps, even handwritten material. We would like to make all of this accessible to as large and general an audience as possible, which is why we always prepare it anew for our current exhibitions – our ‘showcase for the world', as I always call it. I am constantly fascinated about what I discover there myself. That just makes my job unbelievably exciting.”




You are also digitally present with 500,000 historical images in the Bildarchiv Austria of the Austrian National Library, and the topic of digitization of cultural heritage is something that is close to your heart. Why is it important to be represented digitally as well?


„The whole world has gone digital. And that in all areas of life, which of course includes cultural heritage. A library like ours not only manages historical and current holdings, but also wants to make them accessible to all users – as stated in our vision 'We open spaces'.

During the pandemic, we digitized more than one million additional items and made them available on our library platform. That was important, and it still is, because a lot of researchers work from home, including students, and so we reach a lot more people.“



What are the tasks of the digital archive – and to what extent does it complement the library rather than compete with it?


Dr. Hans Petschar: „Digitization allows us to reach different and broader user groups, and to do so faster and easier. But it has a whole other advantage: This is because many analog inventories are endangered due to their material, especially in the field of photography. They lose color, are destroyed over time, do not last forever. For these particularly fragile objects, digitization offers protection, so we can capture them for eternity. But it's also clear that you can't digitize everything. Analog inventories will also always remain important. It will always be a mixture, because visiting the library is also a place for people to exchange and meet. It's not an either-or, but an important complement.“



Digitization sounds so easy, but it seems to present museums and libraries with major challenges. What are the biggest hurdles here?


Dr. Hans Petschar: „For a library our size, the sheer mass of sources and materials is a challenge. We cannot do this alone, but only in partnership with institutions and companies. The issue of legal frameworks and copyrights can also be a hurdle, as many legal requirements are geared towards print and printed works. So for now, we've focused on rights-free inventory and inventory where we own the rights.“



Since December, your image archive is also available to my-picturemaxx users. Why did you decide to make the pictures available to an even larger audience here – and why via picturemaxx?


Dr. Hans Petschar: „One reason is that it allows us to directly address many publishers, newspapers, editorial offices, etc. in Germany that are interested in the topic. Via my-picturemaxx, they save themselves a long and often tedious research path and can search our stocks directly via the common platform. This is a great advantage. We looked at a few databases. picturemaxx is a very proven and well known system. With the team and the technical capabilities it offers, it's a very flexible solution that allows us to easily share the collections from our own library system.“



Who is the offer primarily aimed at, who are the users and what in particular do they ask for?


Dr. Hans Petschar: „Here in Austria, it's mainly students and researchers who use our digital assets. The picturemaxx solution is aimed more at professional groups. Important topics are historical photographs, the Habsburgs, Austria, to European history and more and more contemporary history. World War II and National Socialism are also topics of great interest. We also have the estates of more than 40 photographers here with us.


Portraits of historical personalities are another major focus. We have a collection of more than 200,000 historical portraits from the 16th to the 19th century, which can also be found in picturemaxx! And not only kings or nobles, but also scholars, members of parliament, zoologists, etc., who cannot be found elsewhere. In our Habsburg image collections there is a great focus on the theme of nature and the environment, flora and fauna, wonderful animal pictures and depictions of nature. You see: There is not only Austrian history to discover here, but the history of the whole world!“



This interview was conducted for picturemaxx by media journalist Julia Gundelach.

Thank you!




Further informationen


Austrian National Library: www.onb.ac.at

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