Artificial intelligence helps the Royal Library of Belgium quickly catalogue books

Artificial intelligence helps the Royal Library of Belgium quickly catalogue books

Every book by a Belgian author is collected by the National Scientific Library of Belgium (KBR). Many of the books in the warehouse had not yet been entered into the online catalogue, making them effectively invisible to the public. Inetum-Realdolmen built a tool on the Microsoft Power Platform that allowed the library to process and validate the data using Artificial Intelligence. It is a powerful application that allowed KBR to process 19,000 scans of title pages fairly quickly, which would have taken an average cataloguer nearly five years to do.

KBR places a premium on time

KBR collects all Belgian publications and preserves, manages and studies a rich cultural and historical heritage of more than eight million documents. It provides the public access to information, facilitates research and offers cultural experiences. Digitizing is a clear pillar of their vision for the future. They want to integrate new technology and automation into their entire operation in the coming years.

The Bibliographic Information Agency is the body responsible for the creation of descriptions of each work that enters KBR through different sources. They wanted to accelerate the process of describing and digitizing the heritage by completing the online catalogue, thus increasing the number of descriptions included in it. To achieve this, they were looking for a user-friendly application that would largely automate and speed up this large-scale task.

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The power of artificial intelligence

KBR had recently switched to Microsoft 365, with Teams, Exchange and SharePoint. An important condition for the application was that it fit in seamlessly with the existing infrastructure. We chose a Power App, part of the Microsoft Power Platform. The app can also be added in Teams so employees can stay in their familiar working environment. An additional benefit is the accessible AI functionality the Power Platform offers. We initially trained this component with around 30 photos of the title pages. Of course, the model will learn even more over time. The application was therefore set up to read out title pages and place data such as title and author in the correct input fields with as little effort as possible. This ensured that the app would be up and running very quickly, and we built it in just 10 days.

This application taught me that Artificial Intelligence helps to speed up procedures. It's also not as expensive as you might think, because the application is fully integrated into our existing Microsoft infrastructure. Another great advantage of such a Power App is that everything can be customized to fit our needs seamlessly. ~ Hannes Lowagie, Head of the KBR Bibliographic Information Agency

After the data is made available, human validation still follows to ensure that the automatically generated data is correct. Thanks to the photos taken in advance, this validation can now be done from home, which is a nice move towards hybrid working for KBR employees.

The collaboration with Inetum Belgium’s experts was good. We were in daily contact with the developers, so that we could make adjustments quickly. They also helped us to always make the right trade-off between impact and effort. In the end, they always went the extra mile for us. ~ Hannes Lowagie, Head of the KBR Bibliographic Information Agency

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Books are just the beginning

KBR’s rich collections are extremely diverse. The library not only preserves books, but also very different types of documents such as maps, prints and scores. Consequently, the app will also be extended to other types of documents. To do so, the model must be further trained so that other elements, such as the data on death certificates, can also be recognized.

KBR also wants to show the app to other partner organizations, to inspire them to take similar measures. One thing is for sure: this tool has sparked a lot of other ideas. Artificial Intelligence still has enormous potential for all kinds of business processes.

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