Opening soon: A digital library for Europe
The European Commission is to set up a European Digital Library of literature, music, painting, photography and film. The library, which will known as Europeana, will be launched in November and will contain digital versions of the vast amount of material in museums, libraries and archives across Europe.
"The European Digital Library will be a quick and easy way for people to access European books and art – whether in their home country or abroad. 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," said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "However, even though Member States have made significant progress in making cultural content accessible online, more public and private investment is needed to speed up digitisation. My goal is to have a European Digital Library open before the end of the year."
Experience with digitisation and online library initiatives so far shows that when cultural institutions have made part of their collections available online there has been an overwhelming interest from the public. For example, the online section of the French national library, Gallica, gets 1.5 million hits a month and 4,000 downloads a day. Examples of famous cultural work which is already available in a digitised format include two copies of the 15th century Gutenberg Bible the famous Magna Carta from the British Library, the poems of Charles Baudelaire or the full text of 'Les misérables' by Victor Hugo from the French National Library and the paintings of Johannes Vermeer from the Dutch museum 'Het Mauritshuis'.
Europe's libraries alone contain more than 2.5 billion books, but only about 1% of archival material is available in digital form. The Commission is therefore calling on Member States to do more to make digitised works available online for Europeans to browse them digitally. Over 2009-2010 the Commission will provide €120 million towards digitisation. However, the total cost of digitising five million books in Europe's libraries is already estimated at approximately €225 million, not including other material such as manuscripts or paintings. This means that substantial investment from national institutions will be required. At present most countries only provide small-scale, fragmented funding for digitisation. The Commission today called on Member States to allocate more funding to digitisation and to draw up plans for how much material will be digitised. The Commission has also highlighted the need to resolve copyright issues, above all for so-called "orphan" works - whose right holders cannot be found (IP/07/508).
Some Member States have taken exemplary steps to accelerate digitisation of cultural collections. Slovenia adopted a Public-Private Partnership Act in 2007, providing new opportunities for 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. Finland, Slovakia and Lithuania used European Structural Funds to secure extra funding for digitisation.
For a list of FAQs click here
Communication and assessment of progress on digitisation
The World Digital Library
The European Library