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Brussels, 2 March 2006

The European Digital Library : Frequently Asked Questions

1. Will there be one centralised European digital library?

The Commission aims to achieve not a single database, but rather integrated access to the digitised material of Europe’s cultural institutions. The user will be able to search in different collections of cultural institutions (libraries, archives, museums) through one single multilingual entry point, which will take the form of a web portal. This will obviate the need to know about and visit multiple sites. The contents of the European digital library will grow at the same speed as the underlying digital collections in the participating institutions.

2. Why build on ‘The European Library’ project to create the European digital library?

In their meeting of 14 November 2005, Europe’s Ministers of Culture gave strong support to the EU digital libraries initiative. At the same time, they stressed that the European digital library should not be constructed from scratch, but build on existing initiatives.

The replies to the online consultation indicate that The European Library (TEL) is a very good starting point for the European digital library. It offers an organisational framework in which a number of European libraries already collaborate and have experimented with improving the online accessibility of their digital assets. The European Library service originates from the TEL-project, co-financed under the EU’s 5th research framework programme. At present the TEL portal constitutes a gateway to the catalogues of the collections of European libraries and gives access to some of the digitised resources of the participating libraries.

3. Will only books be available through the European digital library?

The European digital libraries initiative addresses all types of material: books, audiovisual material, photographs, documents in archives etc. Archives and museums will be invited at an early stage to contribute and make their material accessible and usable through the European digital library.

4. What will be the steps to be taken to arrive at the European digital library?

The following steps are envisaged:

  • 2006: full EU-wide collaboration between national libraries in the framework of The European Library (TEL) and the Conference of European National Libraries (CENL).
  • 2008: multilingual access to digital collections of national libraries through the TEL portal. The collections must be searchable and usable. A minimum of 2 million digital works (books, pictures, sound files etc.) should be accessible through the European digital library.
  • 2010: The European Digital Library needs to have expanded to include collections of a number of archives, museums and other libraries, and possibly publishers. A minimum of 6 million digital works should be accessible through The European Digital Library. In practice, this number can be much higher, if cultural institutions of different types and at different levels (national, regional, local) participate.

5. What are the results of the online consultation launched in September 2005?

The Commission has received 225 replies, from cultural institutions (46%), publishers and rightholders (19%), universities/academics (14%), IT firms (8%), citizens (6%) governments and ministries (3%) and others (4%). Organisations and individuals from 21 Member States and from 8 countries outside the EU replied to the consultation. The initiative is generally very well received and seen as an enormous opportunity for making Europe’s cultural, scientific and scholarly heritage more accessible and usable on the Internet. The replies are very rich in ideas to make progress on the digital libraries agenda. A key contentious point, in particular between cultural institutions and publishers, is how to deal with works under copyright.

6. How does your initiative relate to the work of the French ‘comité de pilotage’?

The Commission very much appreciates the importance that the French government attaches to the digital libraries initiative and the concrete efforts to bring the initiative forward. The ‘comité de pilotage’, which brings together the main French actors in the field, is a good example of how the debate between the stakeholders in the digital libraries area can be organised within a Member State. The Commission is very much interested in the final report of the committee, which may be a source of inspiration for the collaborative effort needed at European level.

7. What is the Commission’s contribution to the European Digital Library and what is the role of the Member States?

Creating a virtual library of European dimension will depend on a common effort to move ahead on the following three strategic issues:

  • digitisation of content stored in traditional formats (e.g. text and photos on paper, photographic negatives, films on reels, music on vinyl records or tape, etc);
  • online accessibility of this content;
  • digital preservation – making sure that the digital information will also be available for future generations.

The commitment of the Member States and the individual institutions (libraries, archives) to this project will determine how fast it is carried out. The financial efforts needed for basic digitisation to meet the first targets of the European digital library can be estimated at some 200-250 MEUR over a period of four years spread across all Member States.

The Commission will contribute in areas where there is most European added-value, but will not fund the basic digitisation. 60 million EUR has been earmarked within the eContentplus programme for making Europe’s cultural and scientific heritage more accessible and usable. The research programmes will make considerable funding available to co-fund a network of “centres of competence” for digitisation and for digital preservation.

Public/private partnerships or private sponsorship can be a useful means to complement public funding and will allow some libraries to accelerate digitisation.

8. What is CENL?

The Conference of European National Librarians (CENL) aims at increasing and reinforcing the role of national libraries in Europe, in particular in respect of their responsibilities for maintaining the national cultural heritage and ensuring the accessibility of knowledge in that field. Members of CENL are the national librarians of all Member States of the Council of Europe. CENL currently consists of 45 members from 43 European countries. CENL strongly supports a co-operative approach to digitisation by European national libraries and other major cultural institutions.

9. What will the Centres of competence look like and how will they be selected?

A network of competence centres, co-funded by the European Commission under the research programme could become the cornerstone of European digitisation and preservation. The centres will house the skills and expertise needed to achieve excellence for digitisation and preservation processes. They will integrate and build on existing know-how in technology companies, universities, cultural institutions, and other relevant organisations. The centres of competence will be selected through open calls for proposals following an evaluation of the proposals by independent experts.

10. Is the Commission initiative a reaction to Google’s digital library project?

Google’s initiative is an example that shows the potential of the online environment for making information more accessible for all. The sheer size of the announced operation – 15 million books – appeals to the imagination. The initiative has certainly triggered a reflection on how to deal with our European cultural heritage in the digital age. It is also interesting in that it highlights the possibilities for public/private initiatives in this area. Public/private partnerships or sponsoring by private companies will accelerate digitisation. Given the budgetary constraints on many cultural institutions, initiatives involving the private sector can be a useful means to complement public funding. The Google initiative has also shown that a European Digital Library cannot become a reality without addressing the issue of intellectual property rights protection.

11. Are European citizens interested in a European Digital Library?

Digitisation and online libraries initiatives have to be rooted in demand and use. European libraries have 138 million registered users. Putting the material online will not only increase possibilities for these users, but will also open it up for wider and cross-border use. Until now, the experience with online services is that people do use them. For example, Gallica, the online section of the French national library, gets 4, 000 downloads a day and 1.5 million hits a month. The fact that Google invests so much money in its digitisation project also demonstrates that there are clear commercial expectations.

12. What work has already been done in this area?

Making Europe’s cultural and scientific heritage available online is not a new idea. In recent years, various policy initiatives have addressed digitisation and visibility of collections held by libraries, archives and museums. The EU Member States, supported by the Commission, exchange information and work together on digitisation. An important basis for their work is the Lund eEurope digitisation action plan (which came out of a major conference on digitisation in Lund, Sweden, held by the Commission in 2001). An update of the action plan was adopted under the UK Presidency.

Several EU-funded research projects have dealt with the online availability of Europe’s cultural heritage, some specifically with digitisation. A recent project dealing with the digitisation of Europe’s film heritage is PRESTO-SPACE.

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