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Europeana - Europe's digital library - guide

18 November 2010
by eub2 -- last modified 18 November 2010

Anyone in the world can now access over 14 million digitised books, maps, photographs, paintings, film and music clips from cultural institutions across Europe through Europe's digital library Europeana. Launched in 2008 with two million objects, Europeana has already passed the initial target for 2010 of 10 million objects. On 18 November 2010 the Reflection Group ("Comité des Sages" - Maurice Lévy, Elisabeth Niggemann, Jacques de Decker) set up by the Commission to explore new ways to bring Europe's cultural heritage online addressed the EU's Council of Culture Ministers and the European Parliament's Committee on Culture. The Comité des Sages' report is due to be published at the beginning of 2011.


What is Europeana?

Europeana is a multimedia library, museum and archive gateway with Web 2.0 features. It offers direct access to digitised books, audio and film material, photos, paintings, maps, manuscripts, newspapers and archival documents that are part of Europe's cultural heritage. Visitors to can search and explore different collections in Europe's cultural institutions in their own language, without having to visit multiple sites or countries.

Europeana was launched by the European Commission and the EU's culture ministers in Brussels on 20 November 2008.

Who is Europeana for?

Europeana offers anyone interested in literature, history, art or cinema a direct route to access European cultural resources. It offers a simple way to find cultural material from across Europe in digitised format. Europeana is also expected to attract students and researchers with its vast virtual collection of material from all disciplines. That said, it is just as easy for school children to use it, for homework or for fun.

How does Europeana work?

Europeana is a multimedia internet portal with content from different sources. The digital objects that users can find on Europeana are not stored on a central computer, but remain with the cultural institution where the objects are in reality, and are hosted on their network. Europeana collects contextual information about the items, including pictures where appropriate. Users can search this contextual information, and a simple click provides them with access to the full content – inviting them to read a book, play a video or listen to an audio recording that is stored on the servers of the respective content contributing institutions. Cultural institutions collaborating with Europeana organise their digitised content so as to make this search possible, while maintaining control over their content.

How does a cultural digital object (book, video, etc.) end up in Europeana?

First, the cultural object has to be digitised. Digitisation is the transformation into digital format of text and photos from paper, films from reels, music from vinyl or videos from tape, so it can be accessed from a computer. For text and photos this involves scanning. Then the cultural institution that has digitised the object has to make it available for search and retrieval through Europeana. To make it searchable from a single entry point, the institution has to add the right contextual information to the digital object, such as the name of the author/creator, the place and date of creation, etc. The selection of content to be digitised and brought into Europeana is determined by EU countries and their cultural institutions in line with their cultural and/or information policies.

How many digital objects are available through Europeana and where do they come from?

Europeana gives direct access to over 14 million digitised items from museums, libraries, audiovisual and other archives across Europe. Over 1,500 cultural organisations from the 27 EU countries have provided material to Europeana.

Are 14 million objects enough?

14 million objects is a very respectable number. It shows good progress compared to 2 million items in 2008 and is well above the Commission's initial target of 10 million works for 2010. To attract more users and to ensure that users come back to the site, the amount of objects searchable through Europeana should grow over the coming years. The speed of this growth depends largely on the pace of digitisation in EU member states.

This can happen if more Member States make their digitised heritage available to redress the present imbalance between the contributions, and if content providers increase the diversity of the types of content, especially audio and video content.

What kind of interesting cultural objects can I find on Europeana?

* Austria: handwritten travel notes by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1769); several back-volumes of 'Dillingers Reise- und Fremden-Zeitung' from the end of the 19th century;
* Belgium: the images of a series of art nouveau buildings in Brussels (also featuring in Europeana's art nouveau exhibition), the works of the 19th century poet Guido Gezelle;
* Bulgaria: a parchment manuscript dated 1221, among the most important witnesses to the history of Bulgarian language; a series of postcards from before WWI showing the city of Varna;
* Cyprus: 'E Asthenes Lyra' (1882), the first poetry collection of the national poet of Cyprus, Vasiles Michaelides; a large scale panoramic view of Nicosia;
* Czech Republic: the 'Chronicon Universale', a codex of the second half of the 12th century; footage of the 1968 Prague spring;
* Denmark: 1907 footage of festivities for the Danish Constitution Day in Haslev; 'Præsten i Vejlbye', an 1829 Danish crime story by Steen Steensen Blicher.
* Estonia: a 1926 History of Estonian Folk Costumes; a luxurious bookbinding in the Art Nouveau style made for the collection of poems (Tartu; 1904) of the Estonian poet Ado Reinvald;
* Finland: a range of 19th century newspapers, an 1849 copy of the 'Kalevala', the Finnish national epic'.
* France: the complete works of Marcel Proust, and his handwritten notes; 'Le penseur' sculpted by Auguste Rodin;
* Germany: the complete works of Goethe and Schiller; handwritten music scores by Ludwig von Beethoven;
* Greece: images of ancient warships from the Hellenic maritime museum exemplifying Greece's seafaring past; a 1588 copy in ancient Greek and in Latin of Aristotle's Techne- re-torike-s;
* Hungary: the first printed Hungarian travel book (1620) written by Szepsi Csombor Márton; Hungarian translations of the classics of world literature;
* Ireland: 'The Tower' by W.B. Yeats, a series of pre-WWI photographs of the Glendalough monastry;
* Italy: a series of videos illustrating how Galileo Galilei did his experiments; 'I promessi sposi' by Alessandro Manzoni;
* Latvia: the 1909 collection of poems 'Klusa- gra-mata' by J. Rainis; an 1894 edition with Latvian folksongs;
* Lithuania: the 'Catechismusa prasty szadei', the first Lithuanian book, published in 1547; a 100 year old recording of the song 'Aspadainnosiu; Oj turiau, dariau';
* Luxemburg: several back-volumes of the magazine "A-Z Luxemburger illustrierte Wochenschrift" from the period just before WW II; documentary material on the signature of the Treaty of Rome in 1957;
* Malta: the front page of the first newspaper published in Malta in 1798; a series of historical maps of Malta and Gozo;
* Netherlands: paintings by the 17th century Dutch painter Jan Steen; the 1395 'Gruuthuse manuscript' from the Dutch National Library;
* Poland: the 'Holy Cross Sermons' the oldest record in the Polish language in the collections of the Polish National Library; the 1898 novel Panienka z okienka by the author Deotyma;
* Portugal: the handwritten notes by the poet Pessoa; a 1325 charter from King Alphonse IV to the city of Lisbon confirming its privileges;
* Romania: a 15th century 'Danse macabre' from the Romanian national library, a collection of Dacian coins from the pre-Roman period;
* Slovakia: a series of images of Bratislava Castle; an amazing collection of ancient Arab, Turkish and Persian manuscripts from the university library in Bratislava;
* Slovenia: a view of 'Triglav in sonc(ni zahod' - the highest mountain in Slovenia and the Slovenian national symbol; the short story 'Mater je zatajil' by Ivan Cankar;
* Spain: The comedies by the 17th century playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca; a wonderfully illuminated codex from 1047 with comments on the Apocalypse made by the monk Beatus, written for King Ferdinand I and Queen Sancha of Castile and León;
* Sweden: the 'Rök runestone' from around 800 AD, which can be seen as the start of Swedish literature; images of the 5th century Eketorp fortress;
* UK: the 1476 Caxton edition of the Canterbury Tales, the first substantial book to be printed in England; several editions of the 'Origin of species' by Charles Darwin. 


Source: European Commission