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History, culture and art go digital - 20/11/2008

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EU launches digital library of cultural treasures.

The EU’s new digital library brings vast treasure trove of historical documents, rare and valuable manuscripts and exquisite cultural artefacts to your desk.

Europeana is an ambitious project to showcase European history, literature, arts and science. Three million cultural items – images, texts, sounds and videos – went online on 20 November and millions more will soon follow.

They include the score for Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, the 1789 French Declaration of Human Rights, England’s Magna Carta, Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and the Gutenberg Bible.

Europeana allows internet users, with one query, to search thousands of digitised collections from European museums, libraries, national archives and audiovisual collections — including the Louvre in Paris, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the British Museum in London. France's National Audiovisual Institute alone supplied 80 000 broadcast recordings from the 20th century, including early footage shot on the battlefields of France in 1914.

"We were offered an embarrassment of riches, well over our target," said John Purday, who works for the project. “We wanted 2 million. We got 3 million.” A search for Mozart returns 1 000 hits, including musical scores, his letters and performances of his pieces.

Available in 23 languages, the website is free of both charge and copyright, meaning anyone can download the material for personal use.

"Just imagine the possibilities it offers students, art-lovers or scholars to access, combine and search the cultural treasures of all member states online," said José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, which is co-financing the project.

So far most of the items are from France, the Netherlands and the UK. Other countries — namely Germany, Spain and Poland — are expected to submit works in the coming months.

The library should grow to 10 million items by 2010. And that is just the start – only 1% of the historic works, documents and cultural artefacts located across Europe have so far been “digitised” - converted into a form that can be displayed on a computer screen.

The EU plans to spend €119m over the next two years to make cultural material more accessible online.

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