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Online access to Europe’s cultural heritage

This Communication presents the progress made in developing Europeana, the European digital library, which will provide the public with a single access point to Europe’s cultural heritage. The main issues addressed concern digitisation, online accessibility and digital preservation of cultural material.

ACT

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 11 August 2008 – Europe’s cultural heritage at the click of a mouse: Progress on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation across the EU [COM(2008) 513 final – Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

This Communication sets out the progress achieved thus far and the steps that still need to be taken in order to develop Europeana, the European digital library. Particular emphasis is on the actions carried out by Member States to implement the Commission Recommendation 2006/585/EC of 24 August 2006 on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation, which was endorsed in the Council Conclusions of 20 November 2008.

Europeana will be a common multilingual point of access to digitised European material. In 2007, its development received new impetus, especially through the creation of the European Digital Library Foundation that brings together different cultural sectors. The demo site of Europeana was published in February 2008 with the aim that the prototype will be launched in November of the same year. This prototype is to be developed into a fully operational service within the following two years.

The issues yet to be addressed in the development of Europeana include the:

  • incorporation of in-copyright material;
  • provision of multilingual search and retrieval functions;
  • integration of collaborative tools;
  • promotion of Europeana to the wider public.

On the basis of the above-mentioned Recommendation, Member States have progressed on the following:

  • digitisation – Most Member States have established overviews of digitisation activities, as well as strategies and plans for digitisation. However, the overviews are not used in any systematic manner and the strategies and plans do not provide quantitative targets. Further efforts are needed in these areas, as well as in financial planning. While some of the Member States have provided substantial amounts of resources to digitisation, additional funding is needed. This could be achieved through public-private partnerships or through private sponsoring. It is also essential that the output of digitisation continues to rise. To this end, many Member States have established digitisation centres;
  • online accessibility – Many of the Member States have either established or are establishing national portals, which may act as aggregators for Europeana. Most are also working on the standards that are essential for interoperability in Europe. In order to make the availability of in-copyright material possible, some Member States have begun to involve private content holders in their work. With regard to orphan works though, progress seems to be limited. In this regard, some Member States expressed their wish for a European level solution. Similarly, little progress has been made in connection with clearing rights for digitising and making available online works that are out of print or distribution, or to barriers to the use of public domain works. More attention should be given in particular to the latter issue, as it is imperative to continue providing access to such works;
  • digital preservation – Most Member States have begun to formulate digital preservation strategies and some have already established specific preservation plans; yet, the follow-up and financial backing to these remain limited. Multiple copying for preservation purposes is already allowed in most of the Member States, and even the remaining Member States are contemplating the necessary legislative actions. Similarly, the legal deposit legislation is already updated in most Member States, but the differences in materials covered and the deposit criteria are substantial. Many of the Member States have also implemented legislation relating to web harvesting by specified institutions (usually the national library). Otherwise, access to web-harvested material remains restricted due to intellectual property and privacy rights.

Even though Member States have progressed considerably in making cultural information available online, further action needs to be taken in particular with regard to:

  • funding of and quantitative targets for digitisation;
  • support for Europeana;
  • legislative actions and other measures to enable the digitisation and accessibility of orphan works and works that are out of print or distribution;
  • financial and organisational measures relating to digital preservation.

The High Level Expert Group on Digital Libraries, set up in 2006, has given practical assistance to Member States in implementing the above Recommendation. The Group’s work focuses in particular on public-private partnerships, scientific information and copyright issues.

In order to develop the services provided by Europeana, advancements in technical issues are needed, especially to achieve cheaper and better quality digitisation and preservation techniques. The Commission has supported this progress through the Framework Programmes for Research and Development and the eContentplus programme. It has asserted its commitment to continue providing support through policy initiatives and funding programmes for the development of Europeana and other projects that improve the accessibility and preservation of digital cultural material.

RELATED ACTS

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - "Europeana: next steps" [COM(2009) 440 final – Not published in the Official Journal.
This Communication sets out the challenges to come concerning the implementation of Europeana.
Europeana’s results are positive, in that it gives access to more than 4.6 million digitised books, newspapers, film clips, maps, photographs and documents and receives contributions from more than 1,000 cultural institutions.
However, the Communication notes several problems connected with:

  • an imbalance between Member States in terms of the provision of cultural material. France has contributed 47% of the digitised objects, while other Member States such as Poland and Hungary have contributed mainly books;
  • copyright, in that recent works enjoy protection which limits access to them, unlike works from before 1900. It is important to establish collaboration with rightholders in order to improve access to protected works. Another challenge lies in the legal consequences of digitisation;
  • the financing and governance of Europeana.

Further efforts are therefore necessary in order to ensure that citizens can enjoy the services of Europeana fully.

Council conclusions of 20 November 2008 on the European digital library Europeana [Official Journal C 319 of 13.12.2008].
In its conclusions the Council of the European Union expressed satisfaction with the gradual establishment of the Europeana European library and the commitment of Member States to this project. In order for the project to be a success, the Council invites Member States to:

  • continue their strategy of implementation of their national objectives;
  • promote synergies between them in the process of digitisation and increasing online accessibility of cultural material;
  • incorporate digital cultural material in Europeana;
  • facilitate digitisation and online access to orphan works.

The European Commission is invited to encourage the development of Europeana and to promote it in Europe and the world, as well as to encourage the establishment of public-private partnerships to develop it.

This summary is for information only. It is not designed to interpret or replace the reference document, which remains the only binding legal text.

Last updated: 19.11.2009

See also

  • For further information, please visit the Digital Libraries Initiative website on the European Commission “Europe’s Information Society” Thematic Portal
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