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European Digital Library - guide

29 November 2007
by eub2 -- last modified 29 November 2007

A high level group on digital libraries met European Commission officials in Brussels on 27 November 2007 to discuss progress towards launching the European digital library. A European digital library foundation has recently been created. This formalises the agreement of European archives, museums, audiovisual archives and libraries to work together and to provide a common access point to Europe's cultural heritage online.


What is the European Digital Library?

The European Commission is promoting and coordinating work to build a common European "digital library". In practice this means a common multilingual access point to Europe’s cultural heritage. Through this access point, users will be able to search in their mother tongue different collections in Europe’s libraries, archives and museums without having to visit multiple sites.

When will the European Digital Library be launched?

A prototype of the European Digital Library will be launched in November 2008 and will give direct access to at least 2 million digitised objects. It will show the potential for combining books, maps, archive records, photographs and audiovisual material from cultural institutions in different countries. In the years after the launch the number of objects will rapidly grow as more archives, libraries, museums and audiovisual archives join the Library. By 2010 there should be far more than the 6 million originally expected objects.

What is the role of the foundation for the European Digital Library?

The foundation formalises the collaboration between libraries, archives, museums and audiovisual archives in the delivery and sustainability of the European Digital Library. It also increases the European Digital Library independence - for example in hiring staff or seeking sponsorship. The foundation was established on 8 November 2007.

What organisations can join the foundation?

The foundation is open for membership to all those cultural institutions, and their European associations, that can bring in a substantial amount of content into the European Digital Library. Amongst the first members are: the Conference of European National Librarians, the Association des Cinémathèques Européennes, the International Federation of Television Archives, the European Museums Forum, and the European Branch of the International Council on Archives.

Who is the European Digital Library aimed at?

The European Digital Library will offer everyone a simple way to access European cultural resources. It is aimed at informed citizens who want a powerful and simple way of finding cultural material from different Member States. Moreover, it is expected to attract researchers as there will be a vast virtual collection of material from all disciplines.

Once digitised, our cultural heritage can also be used for new creative efforts and for a wide range of information products and services. It can for example play a key role in the future growth of sectors such as education and tourism.

How can different material from different domains be presented coherently?

The European Digital Library network project is bringing together cultural institutions from across Europe to look practically at how to overcome traditional differences between the different domains (museums, archives, audiovisual archives, libraries) in describing and presenting their material. User needs are the guiding principle in this approach.

Will all material in Europe’s libraries, museum and archives be covered?

We are dealing with potentially huge volumes of data. European libraries hold over 2,500 million books and bound periodicals. Not all of these books are unique, but even digitising all the unique material would be practically impossible. European archives also contain enormous amounts of documents and audiovisual material. European museums hold substantial numbers of objects, artefacts and artworks. Choices will have to be made as to what can be digitised, and of course copyrights have to be respected.

What needs to be overcome to create the European Digital Library?

The collaboration between Europe's cultural institutions in making their digitised content accessible is an important step forward. But to reach critical mass it is essential to find solutions for two issues: funding for digitisation (by Member States or private partners) and ways to make copyright material accessible through the European Digital Library.

Public-private partnerships for funding digitisation and pragmatic ways to deal with orphan works (copyrighted works whose owners are very difficult or impossible to locate) and out of print works are two of the issues discussed in today's High Level Expert Group on Digital Libraries.

What is the High Level Expert Group on Digital Libraries?

The High Level Group on Digital Libraries brings together experts from cultural institutions, publishers and other rights holders, IT industries and academia. The aim of the group is to discuss and find solutions for key challenges in making Europe’s cultural and scientific heritage available online such as access to scientific publications and copyright in a digital environment. Members are appointed in a personal capacity and have a two year renewable mandate.

What is the discussion on access to scientific publications about?

The changes brought about by the digital environment have led to intense discussions between the research community and scientific publishers on the most efficient models to distribute scientific articles. The aim is to guarantee wide access, while at the same time rewarding investments in the scientific publishing system. The analysis of the state of play and of the best way in which to proceed is controversial. Publishers have different views to scientists, libraries and funding bodies on issues such as open access and self-archiving in open repositories after an embargo period. On 14 February 2007, the Commission adopted a Communication on these and related issues.

What is the Commission’s contribution to the European Digital Library and what is the role of the Member States?

The commitment of the Member States and the individual institutions (libraries, archives, museums, audiovisual archives) to this project will determine how fast it is carried out. The financial effort needed for basic digitisation to meet the first targets of the European digital library is estimated to be about EUR 200-250 million over four years across all Member States.

The Commission contributes where there is most European added-value. EUR 60 million is made available through the eContentplus programme for making Europe’s cultural and scientific heritage more accessible and usable. The framework programmes for Research and Development co-fund relevant research activities, including a network of “centres of competence” for digitisation and for digital preservation.

Source: European Commission