Tuesday, August 12, 2008

BPN 1187 EU annoyance with the digital library for Europe

The European Commission is not happy with the contributions of the EU countries and the speed of the formation of the European digital library, Europeana. The digital library is supposed be launched on November 28, 2008, but the museums, libraries and digital preservation institutes are slow in bringing their digital collections online. Europeana should be a milestone for the European Union, showing Europe's cultural diversity in books, music, paintings, photographs, and films open to all citizens at the click of a mouse via one portal. (The access ticket is taken from the presentation Europeana in the European context and strategy by Marius Snyders, EU Digital Content and Cognitive Systems Directorate).

In a Communication the Commission called on Member States to raise digitisation capacities to make their collections available for Europe's citizens and to team up with the private sector. The Commission's assessment also shows that in many cases there is a gap between the objects which have been digitised and their online accessibility. For example, only one in four German museums that have digitised material offer online access to it and only 1 per cent of the material digitised by Polish archives is online.

However, further efforts by the EU Member States are needed, said the Commission in a new Communication on making available digital versions of works from cultural institutions all over Europe. Digitisation of cultural works can give Europeans access to material from museums, libraries and archives abroad without having to travel or turn hundreds of pages to find a piece of information. Europe's libraries alone contain more than 2.5 billion books, but only about 1 per cent of archival material is available in digital form. The Commission therefore called on Member States to do more to make digitised works available online for Europeans to browse them digitally, for study, work or leisure. The Commission itself will provide some120 million euro in 2009-2010 for improving online access to Europe's cultural heritage.

The Commission confirmed its commitment to help Member States bring their valuable cultural content online. In 2009-2010 no less than an extra 69 million euro from the EU's research programme will go to digitisation activities and the development of digital libraries. In the same period, Europe's Competitiveness and Innovation Programme will allocate about 50 million euro to improve access to Europe's cultural content. However, the total cost of digitising five million books in Europe's libraries is already estimated at approximately 225 million euro, not including objects like manuscripts or paintings. Realising the vision of a European Digital Library (Europeana) needs substantial investment from national institutions, but at present most countries only provide small scale, fragmented funding for digitisation. The countries are advised to address the following priorities:
- More funding needs to be allocated to digitisation, along with plans for how much material will be digitised.
- Most countries still lack methods, technologies and experience for the preservation of digital material, vital so that content remains accessible to future generations.
- Common standards need to be implemented to make different information sources and databases compatible for and usable by the European Digital Library (Europeana).
- Resolution of copyright issues, above all legal solutions to the problem of orphan works - works whose right holders cannot be found to consent to digitisation (IP/07/508).

Visitors to digital libraries can digitally discover copies of the famous Gutenberg bible – the first real book ever printed – at the British Library's website, the voices of Maria Callas or Jacques Brel at the French Institut National de l'Audiovisuel, or Da Vinci's masterpiece the Mona Lisa at the Louvre - without a ticket. The Dutch museum Mauritshuis has put paintings of the painter Vermeer on internet, while the French National Library is showing the poems of Baudelaire.

The EC however has also praise for some Member States, which 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.

Blog Posting Number: 1187

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