Flora Graeca Digitalis: Old Library Stock meets Linked Open Data, Digital Strolling and Mobile Devices


Presenter: Wolfgang Stille

During the last years, more mobile devices have been sold than stationary. With rapidly growing digitization, enormous changes accompany almost all areas of our lives and define fundamentally new ways we deal with information, education, and culture. At the same time, cultural heritage institutions increasingly assume social responsibilities that go beyond the mere mediation of knowledge. For this purpose, they have to break new ground by not only bringing the knowledge to where the recipients are (namely the mobile internet), but also developing new forms of presentation and enrichment of knowledge for a more and more demanding audience that is already used to interactive and participatory forms of knowledge dissemination and information research. – But let’s start from the very beginning: Two years ago, a complete copy of Flora Graeca, a masterpiece of printing, engraving, color and design of the plants of Greece in the late 18th century comprising ten volumes, was discovered by chance in the storages of Darmstadt University and State Library. Encouraged by the overall good condition of the volumes and the almost one thousand finely crafted, hand-colored illustrations, we conducted a high-quality digitization of the whole work in order to make it digitally available to the public at large. The key question was how to reach a circle beyond scientific users, i.e. botanists and historians, and draw the general public’s interest to this wonderful masterpiece. The offer should ideally address our student library patrons, who use the library in hundreds as place of work and communication. Why not making them curious in the libraries treasures while coming here every day? So, the idea was to enrich the illustrations by further information about the botanic illustrations. For this reason, botanists performed an indexing such that each plant could by identified by its current botanical name. This again served as an anchor in order to automatically gather information in the form of linked open data from the semantic web, such that entities could be linked semantically, and the high-quality digital copies could be connected to additional information. In combination with a presentation platform developed in a former project particularly for mobile usage, a virtual edition of Flora Graece was formed, implemented as a semantic web application with responsive design and exploratory search for an intuitive and ludic handling. It allows an exploration of the Flora Graeca not only sequentially as in the book, but semantically by related entities. It presents additional information such as the scientific classification, descriptive texts about the plant and its familiy, and photos. Finally, the digital presentation breaks fresh ground by leaving the classic search and find paradigm towards digital strolling: just like a physical visit to a library or a museum, it allows strolling through a collection, discovering and comparing objects, and getting inspired.