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Last Update: 2007-11-12   Source: Star Projects
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European Digital Library to contain all knowledge

We are all familiar with the concept of a library: a respected house of knowledge, accumulated over millennia. But in today's digital age, our idea of a book-filled building is set to change. Digitisation grants access to a virtual copy of an object, even when the real-life version is in another corner of the world. With such technology, a continent-wide effort is aiming to create the first European Digital Library.

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Doctoral students at Leuven University in Belgium are working on 3D digitisation. Using a dome scanner, they can produce a digital image of a cuneiform tablet from the 4th Millennium BC, comprised of up to 260 pictures. The virtual image can then be used and manipulated by researchers. As part of the EPOCH Network, Leuven University is improving technology that can be used to preserve our cultural heritage.

Ewoud Sanders is an historian and journalist in Haarlem, in the Netherlands. Using a high speed scanner, he is creating his own digital library and already has a database of 1.5 million pages. Searching the library now just takes a couple of minutes, instead of days.

Ewoud Sanders and Leuven University have a common goal: to create a European digital library. With such an achievement cultural heritage could be preserved forever and become accessible to everyone.

Large-scale digitisation is being conducted by the National library of the Netherlands, in the Hague. Books, manuscripts, photographs and letters can already be accessed through the library's website. Now the library has begun to digitalise their whole 30 million item collection. This includes their 8 million page newspaper collection, dating back to 1618, from which many items are falling apart. Thanks to this digitisation, valuable primary sources of history will live on for further generations. The National library of the Netherlands is even digitising items which are rarely seen by the public.

Quidenus Technologies in Vienna is developing the specialised equipment to assist the digitisation process. Their robotic book scanner can digitise up to 2000 pages per hour without damaging the book. 50 engineers and technicians were involved in the creation of this machine, which automatically turns all the book pages regardless of differing properties, such as paper quality, thickness and weight.

Pictura Database Publishing is managed by Onno Zaman, a former art teacher, in Heiloo in the Netherlands. Every week, thousands of documents and photographs are scanned by Pictura for museums and libraries, including the newspaper collection from the Royal Library of the Netherlands. The success of Pictura shows the growth of digitisation and the massive amount of work that still needs to be done.

But as with all great changes, there is the unsettling side to digitisation. Does this mean the end of books as we know them? No. Ewoud Sanders suggests digitalisation instead gives books a "second life". Yet it cannot replace the original. There will always be a demand for the real thing.


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Jan Hens
European Commission,
Information Society and Media DG,
Information and Communication Assistant,
Information and Communication Unit (S3),
Tel.: +32 2 29 68855

Unit A1 - External & internal communication,
Directorate-General for Research & Innovation,
European Commission
Tel : +32 2 298 45 40