In 2003 the state agency Culture Information Systems was established under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture. The Agency has initiated intense work to stimulate the use of new technologies, especially in museums, archives and libraries.
Since then, significant projects have been developed in the field of digitalisation of memory institutions and developing other services in cultural field. Many of these projects have been co- financed by the EU Structural Funds. The following activities feature important developments in the field:
Municipal public library development project
In order to hasten the development process of Latvian libraries, a huge project in the field of IT and culture was started in 2006. Within the framework of the Global Libraries Initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Republic of Latvia has received a grant of USD 16.2 million to provide about 800 Latvian public libraries with broadband Internet connections, to build a Wi-Fi network for library users, to provide 4 000 computers to meet an anticipated high demand, and to offer basic computer training for library librarians. Microsoft Latvia has donated the software. For the first time, significant technical investments were made in the Latvian Library for the Blind and its regional branches have been equipped with computers for blind people.
As the result of the project, public libraries have become social and information centres as well. The study on Latvian public libraries and the internet (2013, available in Latvian here) suggests that 17% of respondents use libraries for printing, scanning, copying documents and 15% use the internet on computers at libraries.
Unified Archival Information System
The aim is to launch an integrated system for all the archives in Latvia, making them freely available to society.
This is an integrated technical infrastructure unifying museums in Latvia: it is a catalogue of holdings of all accredited museums (state, local, autonomous and private museums) of Latvia. Overall, there are more than 5.9 million items in Latvian museums. Only about 5% of them are exposed in the permanent and temporary exhibitions. The remaining 95% of them will be available with the help of the Joint Catalogue. The project is implemented with the support of the European Regional Development Fund.
Latvian culture mapping project
The Culture Mapping Project began in 2005. It is a complex database of cultural infrastructure and services all over Latvia. Since 2010, the statistical data on cultural institutions are collected through this website, although public accessibility of statistics is still provided by the Central Statistical Bureau.
The aim of this 2012-2014 project (with the financial assistance of the Estonia – Latvia – Russia Cross Border Cooperation Programme within European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument 2007
– 2013) was to create a digital environment to access 19th century documents from the archives of Estonia, Latvia and Russia.
There are other initiatives in the field of digitalisation, such as technical administration of the library information system – Aleph500 and the State Integrate Library Information System. The National Film Centre in collaboration with the state agency Cultural Information Systems has made Latvian films available free of charge in all public libraries all around Latvia. With the support of EU structural funds, the archives of public radio and TV are to be digitalised and made available through the network of public libraries. During the years 2009-2011, an integrated information management system was elaborated to unify information about cultural institutions.
In addition, the project “Creating a Multilingual Corps and Machine Translation Infrastructure to ensure the availability of e-services” has been launched with the support of ERAF and in cooperation with the Centre for Cultural Information Systems and the language technology company Tilde. Technology currently provides automatic translation for Latvian, English and Russian languages, providing high security for personal data. The service is available on the www.hugo.lv website.
Many new technology projects and culture related internet portals are supported by the State Culture Capital Foundation.
Cultural developments and digitalisation
Digitalisation has left a significant impact on production models in several sectors (for example the audiovisual and publishing sector). In addition, digitalisation has changed management practices, such as online ticketing systems, mobile apps or audio guides. Development of artistic products, especially in museum exhibitions, have also benefited from digital advancements. However, the most significant impact of digitalisation is on communication models and the interaction with audiences in Latvia.
Access to internet was available in 82% of households in Latvia in
2018, according to the information provided by the Central Statistical Bureau.
A culture consumption study of 2018 (Latvian Academy of Culture, available in Latvian) suggests that the
computer and internet is one of the most popular leisure time activities among
Latvian population (as mentioned by 44% of the respondents). Meanwhile, only
22% of the respondents use internet to look for information related to cultural
activities, 14% are followers of social network profiles and 9% check websites
of the cultural institutions. This may indicate that cultural operators do not
sufficiently use opportunities offered by digital technologies.
The same study informs about digital cultural consumption patterns in Latvia in 2018. In total, 62% of respondents use internet for digital cultural consumption. The most popular activities include watching films online (34%), listening to music online (32%), buying tickets online for cultural events (23%), searching information about cultural events (22%), watching cultural broadcasts (19%). (See also the study Digital cultural heritage market research, “Corporate Consulting”, 2017, available in Latvian.)