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WissensWandel for archives

Dr. Joachim Kemper is head of the Stadt- und Stiftsarchiv Aschaffenburg and has long been committed to more digitization in libraries, archives and museums. As a pioneer in cultural management, he is looking for new ways to lead these cultural institutions into the digital urban society.

Dr. Kemper, archives are important repositories of knowledge. Until now, however, they have often only been accessible to experts. Why do you think that needs to change?

Archives have a kind of existence guarantee because of the municipal documentation obligation. Unlike museums or libraries, they do not have to compete in any "market". Their primary task is to manage documents and information, so access is usually limited to those who work with the contents professionally or scientifically.

There are also good reasons for not making archives physically accessible to everyone: Documents can be fragile and some are particularly sensitive in terms of content. That's why I see enormous opportunities for making these valuable repositories of knowledge available to a wider audience by opening them up via digital channels. Above all, opening up means democratizing knowledge and increasing transparency. How and under what conditions were certain decisions made in the past, for example? What can we learn from them today? Many answers can be worked out from archive material.

Do archives also need to expand their remit with outreach?

Evaluating the quality of information is a daily task for all of us - perhaps it is even becoming one of the most important tasks in our society. This is exactly what archives could additionally do today: Access to archives must also benefit educational institutions such as schools, universities and research institutes. The proper handling of primary sources and their interpretation should be at the top of the agenda of a galloping information society.

Archives can promote quality education and contribute to the advancement of knowledge. If we approach it in a playful way, we may even be able to reach groups that didn't even know archives existed before. Digital offers an enormous amount of opportunity in this regard. The scope of the projects funded by "WissensWandel" gives a good overview of this.

You are consistently pursuing the path of opening up in Aschaffenburg with several projects. What kind of response are you encountering?

As part of the "WissensWandel" funding program, we were already able to successfully apply for a project in the first funding phase (2021). This resulted in the Aschaffenburg digital store as a digital-analog interface to urban society. Obviously, our dialog-oriented digital strategy is being noticed supraregionally and nationwide. Dialog Romantik exemplifies our idea of a Dialog City that is there for people and connects the digital and analog worlds.

After all, Claudia Roth, Minister of State for Culture and Media, and the German Library Association, which is responsible for the program, have presented a final report in which selected projects are presented as examples. Our project "Dialog Romantik" is highlighted in particular.

The resonance is also great beyond that. Many teachers want to get to know the new world, but also need support themselves in order to integrate this new learning environment into their learning plans in a meaningful way. Above all, the interdisciplinary approach probably supports the mediation work.

Can the implementation of Dialog Romantik also be groundbreaking for other archives or libraries?

With the virtual Wissenslandschaft Dialog Romantik, we have made public some archival items from the Brentano family estate that were previously only on display in the archives. A death mask, an ivory crib, some framed pictures and a golden notebook. Until now, there was no viable way to show these cultural treasures and put them in a context that was also exciting for young people. With the VR environment, we have now succeeded. We have made it a mixture of virtual exhibition, workshop environment, knowledge landscape with learning paths for individual and group tasks, and cross-thematic media show. The possibilities are really hardly limited. So I'm sure that other archives will also be able to stage their own knowledge worlds.

How time-consuming is it for archives to start with their own projects in the VR/AR world?

What convinced us most about the implementation with tuijo was that participants can enter into a dialog with their own camera image and move around in 3D space. This remains personal and creates space for authentic dialog. In addition, the technical requirements do not exclude anyone; VR glasses are not required, for example. The Dialog Romantik project was funded with around 114 TEUR as part of the federal program "WissensWandel". That's a great budget, of course. However, it will certainly be possible to gain initial experience with virtual environments on a smaller scale. After all, Dialog Romantik is quite extensive.