Calvados Archives in the 21st century: from microfilm to open data

For the Archives of the French département of Calvados, the topic selected for this year’s International Archives Week: “Designing the Archive in the 21st Century” could not have come at a more apposite time. We have just taken delivery of new equipment for digitising our collections to ensure their long-term survival and user accessibility. In 2018, Calvados Archives had 11,819,718 pages of digitised materials, 11,163,653 of which were consultable in the reading room and 9,478,080 consultable online. Our team of Angélique Jeanne dit Levavasseur, Annick Eveillard and Pascal Sellin has the permanent task of digitising our collections. Angélique used to be in charge of microfilm operations, while the practice was still in use. In the photo, you can see her old and new workstations and the copybookshe now has at her disposal for a direct and instant snapshot of all the materials  digitised, still with their original bindings obtained by means of a moving platen system. Annick, for her part, uses a scanner capable, in particular, of high definition glass platen digitisation. Last but not least, Pascal, our photographer produces large format digital copies, primarily using a vacuum platen.

1. Calvados archives enter a new era 2. Before: Microfilm copier 3. Now: Copybook 4. Photography studio with vaccuum table

For Calvados Archives, the archives of the 21st century form part of the open data era. Our work on collecting materials and our communications activities are designed with this in mind. While born digital archives now represent a growing proportion of all records, ways have to be found of ensuring their long-term preservation. Another major challenge is that of making the records we have in our collections consultable. The digitisation department at Calvados Archives is therefore procuring the necessary equipment to step up the digital content on our new website  ( published on 13 May 2019). By  opting to embrace the open data era, we can offer our users remote access to increasingly large volumes of data. But archivists still have to deal with non-digital materials and their tasks are therefore threefold. Firstly, they have to agree on the criteria for selecting the data to be preserved from the ever growing volumes of documents produced. They then have to take account of the need for personal data protection and check the data to be posted online to ensure the necessary safeguards are in place and that it forms part of the public domain. Last but not least, they have to decide on digitisation priorities.

Another challenge with digital transition is that of making sure that people without access to the new technologies are not forgotten. For this, we have suitably qualified staff on hand in our reading rooms to help users consult our digital collections. Our target is also that of sustainably providing universal access to information content, “universal” including future generations. This is where digital technologies are a boon in enabling archives and records to be protected from overhandling and the resulting wear and tear.

A few figures :

  Number of materials digitised
(aggregate figure at 31/12/2018)
Materials consultable on the spot
(aggregate figure 31/12/2018)
Materials consultable online
(aggregate figure 31/12/2018)
Number of pages digitised (manuscripts and printed documents) 11,819,718 11,163,653 9,478,080
Including parish and register office files 7,211,284 6,780,204 6,114,656
Number of images digitised 34,646 33,082 33,082
Including ancient land records 4,889 4,889 4,889

By Maxence PHILIPPE, Cultural and Educational Action Task Force Manager at Calvados Archives