Europe’s digital library open for culture vultures

20 Nov 2008

Europe’s internet users can now access more than two million books, maps, recordings, photos, documents, paintings and films from national libraries and cultural institutions at a single internet site.

Live today, Europeana opens up new ways of exploring Europe’s heritage: anyone interested in literature, art, science, politics, history, architecture, music or cinema will have free and fast access to Europe’s greatest collections and masterpieces in a single virtual library through a web portal available in all EU languages.

But this is just the beginning. In 2010, Europeana will give access to millions of items representing Europe’s rich cultural diversity and will have interactive zones such as communities for special interests.

Between 2009 and 2011, some €2m per year of EU funding will be dedicated to this. The European Commission also plans to involve the private sector in the further expansion of Europe’s digital library. In September 2007, the European Parliament supported, in a resolution voted by an overwhelming majority, the creation of a European digital library.

“With Europeana, we combine Europe’s competitive advantage in communication and networking technologies with our rich cultural heritage,” said José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission.

“Europeans will now be able to access the incredible resources of our great collections quickly and easily in a single space. Europeana is much more than a library, it is a veritable dynamo to inspire 21st-century Europeans to emulate the creativity of innovative forbears such as the drivers of the Renaissance.

Just imagine the possibilitiesm this digital library offers students, art-lovers or scholars to access, combine and search the cultural treasures of all member states online.

“This is a strong demonstration of the fact that culture is at the heart of European integration.”

Over 1,000 cultural organisations from across Europe have provided material for Europeana. Europe’s museums, including the Louvre in Paris and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, have supplied digitised paintings and objects from their collections.

State archives have made important national documents available, and France’s Institut National de l’Audiovisuel supplied 80,000 broadcasts recording the 20th century, right back to early footage shot on the battlefields of France in 1914. National libraries all over Europe have contributed printed and manuscript material, including digitised copies of the great books that brought new ideas into the world.

In 2009-2010 around €69m will be available for research on digital libraries through the EU’s research programme. In the same period the information society part of the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme will allocate around €50m to improve access to Europe’s cultural and scientific heritage.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years