I think that many people who attend a GLAM exhibition still assume that what they are being shown is a ‘neutral’ representation of a particular topic but as digital humanists I think we all accept that it is highly subjective – from the curator’s biases to the collection policies of the GLAM to the availability of physical space in which to show the artefacts. As these limitations become more widely understood digitisation is often heralded as a solution to some of these challenges. Digital collections allow for access in multiple ways (thematically, chronologically, alphabetically) for example – which can remove inherent bias of the curator’s lense.  And the physical constraints of the GLAM are removed by the virtual nature of the artefacts in an online environment. But I think it is often forgotten that the issue of copyright has a significant influence on what material is selected for digitisation in the first place, as rights clearance is often one of the most expensive and time consuming tasks in the digitisation process.  The ability to display content online, without invoking the wrath (or legal challenge) of the copyright holders is key to representation in online collections. 

For many institutions there has been a gap between what can be shown in their physical collections vs what can be made available online. An analysis of the Europeana dataset illustrates this – in fact the phenomenon even has a name – the 20th Century Black Hole ! I find this graph, published in a Europeana factsheet fascinating.

Source: Europeana

The most recent EU Copyright Directive (CDSM, which was issued in 2019 and has still not been implemented by the majority of member states) seeks to address this issue by streamlining the area of copyright for the GLAM sector / CHIs (Cultural Heritage Institutions) in the EU. One of the articles makes it possible for CHIs to reproduce and make available online any Out Of Commerce works that they have in their permanent collections i.e. so-called orphan works. Another article, which pertains to visual works, states that if they are available in the public domain in the analogue CHI their use cannot be restricted in the digital realm of the CHI (i.e. on their website).

This directive was transposed in to Irish law in November 2021 and you can read a lot more about it in this essay on Copyright Legislation essay which I wrote for my Digital Publishing & Editing module.


DIRECTIVE (EU) 2019/790 on copyright and related rights in the Digital Single Market (2019). Available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/eli/dir/2019/790/oj (Accessed: 7 November 2021).

Europeana Policy Paper (2015). Available at: https://pro.europeana.eu/files/Europeana_Professional/Advocacy/Twentieth%20Century%20Black%20Hole/copy-of-europeana-policy-illustrating-the-20th-century-black-hole-in-the-europeana-dataset.pdf (Accessed: 7 November 2021).

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