How the Finno-Ugric World Comes Closer and Available for All? Round Ticket on the Route Göttingen-Helsinki- Petrozadovsk-Saint Petersburg- Moscow-Izhevsk and Back.

I am on the railroads again. This time, Deutsche Bahn is taking care of me on my return journey from Göttingen. The milestone that this train just passed was probably my six-thousandth on the tracks with this initiative, in just the past 5-6 weeks. If you don’t get what Göttingen has got to do with this blog and our project, you’d better read further, because you might end up to drawing the map of the Finno-Ugric world anew.

Earlier this year, the Digitization Project of Kindred (Finno-Ugric) Languages at the National Library of Finland was awarded a grant by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Cultures. The purpose of the grant is to promote the co-operation with Finno-Ugric peoples in the Russian Federation in order to maintain the languages and cultures of our kindred peoples. We had something in our minds, as to how we could contribute to this, so we applied for the grant. And we got it.

To promote the objectives described above, the National Library of Finland has launched an initiative that is intended to generate a shared and open information system infrastructure, a centralized hub. The hub is to consist of library metadata of the material in Uralic languages that has been digitized by various libraries in various projects over the years, not only within the Digitization Project of Kindred Languages, but mainly in Russian libraries.

Naturally, this initiative is linked to the things that we do with the support of the Kone Foundation and both projects are aiming to one and the same goal: making the material more available for all of us. That’s also the reason, why we applied for a grant from the Ministry and that’s also the reason why we brought up the initiative by promising that we would collect all those digitized Finno-Ugric materials together and make them available from one precise location. From a hub, one might say. For the project plan in English, please, click here: DPKL_sub_project_plan_en

As I indicated above, I’ve had a day-visit at the Niedersäschishe Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek in Göttingen. The SUB has a great collection of Finno-Ugric publications and they even have a department for the Finno-Ugric material. This department is led by fantastic Christine Bethge, who has also put her fingerprints to both, Vifanord (Virtual Library Northern European and Baltic Regional Studies) and FennUgGuide (The Finnougristic Guide for Finno-Ugric Studies).  Christine and her department is also linked closely to the oldest Finno-Ugric Seminar in Germany at the Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen. Having these perspectives in Finno-Ugric research, the SUB is considered a suitable partner for the Digitization Project of Kindred Languages at the National Library of Finland.

And indeed, the mutual partnership started in a leeward today. There were five persons at the table –my German colleagues Christine, Martin, Rolf, Alex and myself. Since no researchers were present this time, we spoke mainly of the technical realization and shared interests of the two libraries within this hub project. The questions raised by my German colleagues were pretty much the same as during my discussions with colleagues in Petrozavodsk (the National Library of the Karelian Republic) and in Izhevsk (the National Library of the Udmurt Republic) earlier this spring. Since the metadata of the digitized content has been catalogued in local repositories using different guidelines, made either in the localized bibliographical metadata format or modified library data, the key problem seems to be the harmonization of metadata. However, all library formats have at least some key elements that won’t vary drastically in any format. So, as long as we can define the relevant fields from every single format, and perhaps do a bit of converting, we can have a hub that has mapped the relevant information regardless of the native format. I am convinced that this would manage to tackle the problems to some extent. Europeana’s metadata mappings and normalization guidelines could work as some sort of a benchmark for this project too.

Of course, we are at the moment in the very beginning with testing these things and there are an abundance of issues to be solved ahead of us. For instance, the alphabets are tricky ones to be tackled. If the purpose of the hub is to enable more and easier access to the material and make the information that it holds more open for the search engines too, one ought to be able to find the material in both, Cyrillic and Latin script. Abbreviations, authorized titles, names of persons and names of places would create some new challenges too. Despite the predicted troubles in our way, we would like to see this metadata running onto VuFIND. The National Library of Finland has some experience of implementing the metadata to VuFind through the Julkaisuportaali project and it looks so promising that we would like to see whether VuFIND can work as a platform for this project too.

The tracks are leading southwards now and I have noticed that we just passed another milestone – one mile more behind us, but many good ones ahead. The meeting was successful and it put a good mood in the air. The co-operation with my Göttingen-based colleagues seems promising to me and even though we cannot see the destination, I am privileged to be onboard.

/ Jussi-Pekka

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