The European Commission is calling on EU member states to make more effort to provide digital versions of works from their cultural institutions so the dream of a European Digital Library can be realised this autumn.
Europe’s libraries alone contain more than 2.5 billion books, but only about 1pc of archival material is available in digital form.
The Commission stated it would provide some €120m in 2009-10 towards improving online access to Europe’s cultural heritage.
“The European Digital Library will be a quick and easy way to access European books and art – whether in people’s home country or abroad,” said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media.
“It will, for example, enable a Czech student to browse the British Library without going to London, or an Irish art lover to get close to the Mona Lisa without queuing at the Louvre.
She added: “However, even though member states have made significant progress in making cultural content accessible on the internet, more public and private investment is needed to speed up digitisation.”
At present, most countries provide only small-scale, fragmented funding for digitisation.
Meanwhile, some member states have taken exemplary steps to accelerate digitisation of cultural collections. Slovenia adopted a Public-Private-Partnership Act in 2007, to allow private promotion of digitisation projects in public institutions. Slovakia has rehabilitated an old military complex as a large-scale digitisation facility using page-turning robots. And Finland, Slovakia and Lithuania used European Structural Funds to secure extra finance for digitisation.
By Sorcha Corcoran