Digital Libraries Initiative :: Cultural Heritage
The objective is to make the collections held by Europe's libraries, archives, museums and audiovisual archives available online – vast numbers of books and periodicals (there are some 2.5bn items in Europe's libraries alone), and millions of hours of film and video covering the whole of Europe's diverse history and culture.
Once online, this material could be used for a variety of purposes – developing new products and services in the creative and information industries, producing new digital tourist services or creating teaching materials, for instance.
Digitisation of analogue collections
So far only a tiny fraction of the works held by Europe's cultural institutions are available in electronic format. Since 2005, EU countries have been investing more in digitisation, but faster progress is needed to reach a critical mass of digitised content.
Various copyright issues need to be resolved before material can be
put online, e.g. how to deal with out-of-print works and what to do when the
copyright holder cannot be found (“orphan works”) One solution would be to
only include material already in the public domain – but that would rule out
most of the 20th century’s output.
Europeana functions as a single, user-friendly access point for the collections, and is available in many languages. To make it work, cultural institutions need to address a number of organisational and technical issues together (e.g. compatibility of databases, multilingual access).
Preservation and storage
Like books and paintings, digital materials have to be managed and maintained, otherwise:
- Files may be unreadable when the hardware and software used to store them becomes obsolete
- Material will be lost when storage devices deteriorate over time (some CD-ROMs have a lifetime of just 10 years)
- Our storage systems could be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new and changing content.
Most EU countries have no clear policy on digital preservation, though the issue is now being given more attention. National authorities agreed to step up their efforts following the Commission’s 2011 Recommendation on digitisation and digital preservation.
Further information and quick links
- Who does what?
- Policy Background
- Who does what?
Building a rich European digital library presupposes that the right conditions are in place for digitisation, online accessibility and the preservation of cultural content. To this end an intensive collaboration between Member States and between cultural institutions is necessary. It is also essential that these cultural institutions collaborate with other stakeholders.
The European Commission:
- Fuels the policy debate and brings stakeholders together to improve the framework conditions for digitisation and digital preservation.
- A High Level Group on Digital Libraries worked between 2006 and 2009 bringing together cultural institutions, publishers, technology firms and academics to agree on ways forward for key questions related to digital libraries.
- Works together with cultural institutions to create Europeana.
- Co-funds research and deployment actions that provide real European added value and scope: through the Seventh Framework Programme for Research an Development (FP7), the eContentplus programme, and the CIP - ICT - PSP Programme.
The Member States:
Provide most of the funding for digitisation as part of their policies for culture and for the information society. They contribute to the policy debate and implement decisions taken jointly at European level.
- A Member States' Expert Group has been set up to monitor progress across Europe and to exchange best practice.
Are driving the creation of Europeana and providing digitised content.
- eContentplus programme: from 2005 to 2008, € 60 million have been made available for digital libraries. After 2008, the co-funding of digital libraries will be taken up by the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme.
- Seventh framework programme for research and technological development (FP7): from 2007 to 2008, some € 40 million have been invested in technology projects related to digital libraries, including a network of centres of competence for digitisation.
- Europeana. In November 2007 Europe's cultural institutions created a foundation that will organise Europeana's services. A demonstration site of Europeana was presented in February 2008. A prototype was launched in November 2008. In 2012, Europeana provides access to about 23 million digital objects.
- Strong political support. Both the European Parliament and the Member states have given strong support to the initiative.
- Agreement on measures for cultural heritage. In November 2006, Member States unanimously agreed on a set of measures to make their cultural heritage accessible online and a calendar for implementation. They reported on progress in March 2008 and 2010. Since the launch of the initiative much more money has been allocated to digitisation.
- Communication of 30 September 2005, "i2010: digital libraries". The Communication provided an overall strategy on digital libraries, and described the barriers for digitisation, online accessibility an digital preservation. It also announced the actions the Commission would undertake to improve the situation, including the available financing.
- Recommendation of 24 August 2006 on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation. The Commission urged Member States to take measures varying from tackling copyright related issues, to establishing clear plans for digitisation and digital preservation, and stimulating public/private partnerships for financing digitisation.
- Council Conclusion of 13 November 2006. National ministers responsible for cultural welcomed the 2006 Recommendation and stressed their willingness to work together on the identified issues. They also set a clear timeline for implementing the actions.
- Online consultation (September 2005 to January 2006). The aim of the consultation was to get the opinion of stakeholders on key topics for the Digital Libraries Initiatives ( funding, intellectual property rights).
- Recommendation of October 2011 on the digitisation and digital preservation.