New strategy on European digital libraries unveiled

October 4, 2005

Brussels, 03 Oct 2005

The European Commission unveiled its strategy to make Europe's written and audiovisual heritage available on the Internet on 30 September. Digital libraries are one of the flagship initiatives of Commissioner Reding's initiative 'i2010 - a European Information Society for growth and jobs', adopted by the Commission on 1 June 2005.

Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding explained: 'Without a collective memory, we are nothing, and can achieve nothing. It defines our identity and we use it continuously for education, work and leisure. The Internet is the most powerful new tool we have had for storing and sharing information since the Gutenberg press, so let's use it to make the material in Europe's libraries and archives accessible to all.'

Ján Figel', Commissioner for Education and Culture, added: 'European cooperation is an obvious necessity in this field: it is about ensuring preservation and access to our common cultural heritage for the future generations.'

The communication outlines the Commission's vision of this initiative and addresses in particular the issues of digitisation, online accessibility and digital preservation of cultural heritage.

The creation of European digital libraries was called for earlier this year by the French, Italian, Spanish, German, Polish and Hungarian leaders in a letter sent to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and the then European Council President Jean-Claude Juncker. 'The heritage of European libraries is unequalled in richness and diversity,' stated the Heads of State and Government in their letter. 'But if it is not digitised and made accessible online, this heritage could, tomorrow, fail to fill its just place in the future geography of knowledge.' This plea for a European digital library has received the support of the national libraries of 19 EU Member States.

Meanwhile, in December 2004, Google announced that it is working together with five major libraries (New York public library, and the libraries of Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, and Oxford University) to turn their collections into searchable digital content by scanning millions of books. For texts in the public domain, it will make the full text available as search results via the Google Print service. For texts under copyright, Google will work with publishers and authors to determine how much of the text will be shown. This move raised concerns in a number of European countries on account of the ever-increasing dominance of the English language and of US-based corporations on the Internet and in global culture. In a move designed to allay these concerns, Google recently announced the extension of its Google Print service to six EU countries and languages other than English (Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish). Libraries and publishers in these six countries can now partner with Google to make their books searchable on Google Print.

In a Staff Working Document which provides further background information on the communication, the Commission acknowledges that this 'recent initiative of Google to digitise large collections from several major libraries has raised a series of issues related to the presence of Europe's cultural heritage on the Internet'.

The Commission is aware that making the resources in Europe's libraries and archives available on the Internet will not be straightforward. On the one hand, there is a wide variety of materials - books, film fragments, photographs, manuscripts, speeches and music, while on the other, a selection needs to be made from very large volumes: 2.5 billion books and bound periodicals in European libraries and millions of hours of film and video in broadcasting archives.

The Commission therefore proposes a concerted drive by EU Member States to digitise, preserve, and make this heritage available to all. It presents a first set of actions at European level and invites comments on a series of issues in an online consultation (deadline for replies 20 January 2006). The replies will feed into a proposal for a Recommendation on digitisation and digital preservation, to be presented in June 2006.

The Commission communication sets out three key areas for action: digitisation, online accessibility and digital preservation. At present, several initiatives exist in the Member States, but they are fragmented. To avoid creating systems that are mutually incompatible and duplicate work, the Commission proposes that Member States and major cultural institutions join EU efforts to make digital libraries a reality throughout Europe. Private involvement and public/private partnerships are a key element in achieving this goal.

For its part the Commission will step up coordination work and contribute funding through its research programmes and through the eContentplus programme: 36 million euro available for research on advanced access to our cultural heritage and digital preservation in the fifth call for proposals under the Sixth Framework Programme for research (FP6). Under FP7, the Commission plans that research on digitisation, digital preservation and access to cultural content will be considerably stepped up. Between 2005 and 2008, the eContentplus programme will also contribute 60 million euro towards making national digital collections and services interoperable and facilitating multilingual access and use of cultural material.

The results of the online consultation on digitisation and digital preservation issues (2005) will feed into Commission Recommendation (2006). The results will also be an input for other relevant initiatives such as the review of EU copyright rules (2006) and the implementation of the Community research programmes (2007). A High Level Group on digital libraries will advise the Commission on how to best address the identified challenges at European level. To access the consultation, please visit: http:///europa.eu.int/information_society /activities/digital_libraries/consultati on/index_en.htm

For further information, please consult the following web address:
http:///eu ropa.eu.int/information_society /activities/digital_libraries/index_en.h tm

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities
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