Member of the Month – Liberas

During the past Autumn General Assembly, Liberaal Archief / Liberas was voted in as an affiliate member. Could you tell us more about the archive, your Liberal positions and your activities?

Liberas/Liberaal Archief is the central archive of the liberal movement and liberal ideas in Belgium/Flanders. It focuses on individuals, organisations and groups that want to help reach this goal. It wants to be the solid and independent custodian of the rich cultural, social and political heritage of liberalism, as expressed in the Oxford Charter. As the only Flemish archive and documentation centre for liberalism, it aims to save the past and it maps the present of all those organisations and socially-active individuals who are inspired by the freedom ideal, by free thinking, and who champion free trade. Liberas/Liberaal Archief also functions as an historical research institute and a meeting place for cultural heritage.

Liberas/Liberaal Archief stores more than 10 kilometres of archives related to the history of liberalism in its broadest sense. The archives are searchable via the archives overview and the search function on our website ( A global description of all the archives is available in the catalogue. More than 700 of these descriptions are linked to an inventory that describes the content of the archive in detail. Consultation of archives is possible in the reading room in our building in Ghent, Belgium. We surely invite ELF members to visit Liberas/Liberaal Archief when they find themselves in our nice city.

An interesting challenge for an archive is digitalisation. How are you approaching this matter? Could you share any best practices with other ELF members?

At this moment digitalisation is one of our main objectives. Digitalisation already commenced at the beginning of the 21st century (mainly digitalisation of Belgian liberal periodicals, some precious archival pieces, posters, etc.). After 2015 we started the digitalisation of our photographic collection (approx. 80.000 – 100.000 pictures). Currently more than 10.000 photographs are available on our website. The hard work was done mainly by volunteers. On a free base, they come to scan our materials one or twice a week for 3 to 4 hours.

Scanning is supervised by our digital project manager. He controls that the work done by the volunteers follows international standards for long-time preservation. From the spring of 2018 onwards, our volunteers also started scanning materials from election campaigns of the 19thand 20th century. For the future our aim is to digitise journals and newspapers. We developed quite some expertise in this field and are always happy to share our experiences with other ELF members.

Just for this moment, here are some lessons we have learned:

–          Begin with a plan: digitising paper materials is a huge job. The beginning is quite daunting, and it seems this work will last for years. Our advice: just take it up and go for it. Results will come soon.

–          Follow the right standards: previously people scanned using all kinds of image resolutions and saved the scans in different file formats. Not all file formats will survive, follow the standards.

–          Save now for the future: digitalisation is not only about scanning, but also about safeguarding digital-born materials. We have lost a lot of interesting historical materials from the beginning of the digital revolution (just before and after the year 2000). Now we are developing strategies to inform people about delivering their e-mail files, digital photographs, etc. We store this in our so-called ‘digital depot’, a controlled server infrastructure to sustain long-time preservation. We also ask people and organisations to send us their e-newsletters. Twice a year we harvest interesting websites to store in our systems. There is a lot of information in our world, and sure enough you cannot keep everything, but you should start somewhere.

We would be happy to receive digital material from the ELF members, and we are always prepared to give advice on all kinds of digital questions in relation to archiving.

It is time to apply for next year’s ELF projects. Could you anticipate something about your plans for next year?

As a newly affiliated member we are still in the ‘exploring’ stage. Our staff members are thinking about interesting topics and we are glad that we have some good connections with people like Mrs. Annemie Neyts and Mr. Thomas Leys, who know the ELF-structure very well. For the future we are thinking about launching projects on the history of liberalism (i.e. little biographies, or digital publications), projects on stimulating archival/digital awareness or sharing our expertise to help other organisations to be proud of our liberal past. We would like to invite ELF members with interesting ideas or questions to contact us for partnerships. And remember, you are always welcome in Gent, a city with a great liberal tradition and some good beers!

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