When I recently blogged about European plans to speed up the digitisation of cultural heritage, little did I suspect that only a few days later a key piece of this heritage would be under threat. While the damage caused by the fire at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris on 15 April appears to be less catastrophic than was initially feared, the restoration process will still be long and complicated.

photograph of Notre-Dame showing fire damage and scaffolding

Restorers will no doubt draw on many different sources of information, which may well include laser scans carried out by the late art historian Andrew Tallon to create a detailed 3D image of the cathedral. As this shows, 3D technologies are now advanced enough to contribute to the digital preservation of sites and objects and, as I explained in my previous post, they have many practical applications in cultural heritage, from online engagement to academic research and preservation and conservation aid. Tourist-focused businesses and start-ups can also use digitised cultural heritage materials to broaden their appeal to customers. However, they are not used as much as they should be. Institutions may be unaware of the possibilities, or lack resources to put a digitisation strategy in place or to store 3D content. Heritage professionals may not have been trained in the specialist skills required. More generally, there is a need for open, interoperable formats and metadata standards to ensure that digitised cultural material is easy to access, share and reuse across Europe and beyond.

As the first step in a long-term strategy to promote the digitisation of cultural heritage, the European Commission is planning a call to launch a first competence centre for the preservation and conservation of monuments and sites, under Horizon 2020. The aim of the competence centre will be to assist cultural heritage institutions in adopting and making innovative use of digital technologies, and to help them to develop necessary skills. It will also support institutions by sharing best practices on technical, legal, and online publishing requirements, as well as increasing cooperation in the sector, with a special focus on 3D technologies and corresponding standards. We all have a role to play to support the preservation not only of Notre-Dame but of all the monuments and sites that constitute our wonderful European heritage.