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Brussels, 28 August 2009

EUROPEANA – Europe's Digital Library: Frequently Asked Questions

What is Europeana?

Europeana rolls multimedia library, museum and archive into one digital website combined with Web 2.0 features. It offers direct access to digitised books, audio and film material, photos, paintings, maps, manuscripts, newspapers and archival documents that are Europe’s cultural heritage. Visitors to can search and explore different collections in Europe’s cultural institutions in their own language in virtual form, without having to visit multiple sites or countries.

Europeana was launched by the European Commission and the EU's culture ministers in Brussels on 20 November 2008 ( IP/08/1747 ).

Who is Europeana aimed at?

Europeana offers anyone interested in literature, history, art or cinema a simple route to access European cultural resources. For every citizen, it offers a simple way to find cultural material from across Europe in digitised format. Europeana is also expected to attract students and researchers with its vast virtual collection of material from all disciplines. That said, it will be just as easy for school children to use it, for homework or for fun.

How does Europeana work?

Europeana functions like a multimedia internet portal with content from different sources. The digital objects that users can find on Europeana are not stored on a central computer, but remain with the cultural institution and are hosted on their network. Europeana collects contextual information about the items, including a small picture. Users will search this contextual information. Once they find what they are looking for, a simple click provides them with access to the full content – inviting them to read a book, play a video or listen to an audio recording that is stored on the servers of the respective content contributing institutions. Cultural institutions collaborating with Europeana organise their digitised content in such a way that this search is possible. At the same time they keep full control over their content.

How does a cultural digital object (book, video, etc.) end up in Europeana?

First, the cultural object has to be digitised. Digitisation is the transformation into digital format of text and photos from paper, films from reels, music from vinyl or videos from tape, so it can be (dis)played and used from a computer. For text and photos this involves scanning. Then the cultural institution that has digitised the object has to make it available for search and retrieval through Europeana. To make it searchable from a single entry point, the institution has to add the right contextual information to the digital object, such as the name of the author/creator, the place and date of creation, etc. The selection of content to be digitised and brought into Europeana is determined by EU countries and their cultural institutions in line with their cultural and/or information policies.

How many digital objects are available through Europeana and where do they come from?

The Europeana prototype gives direct access to more than 4.6 million digitised items from museums, libraries, audiovisual and other archives across Europe. Over 1,000 cultural organisations from across Europe have provided material to Europeana. The digitised objects come from all 27 EU countries, although for some of them content is very limited at this stage.

Overview of the contribution of EU countries to Europeana in % of the total number of objects (situation end July 2009):

EU countries







United Kingdom




































Czech Republic












Non EU countries





Are 4.6 million objects enough or are they a drop in the ocean?

4.6 million objects is a very respectable number, but this is only the beginning. To attract more users and to ensure that users come back to the site, the amount of objects searchable through Europeana should significantly grow over the coming years. The speed of this growth depends largely on the pace of digitisation in EU countries.

The European Commission's target is 10 million digitised works available online through Europeana in 2010.

What new items have been added since Europeana was launched in 2008?

Since the launch in November 2008, new collections have been added from amongst other countries Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Spain. These include a collection of incunabula (books printed with the earliest printing techniques) from the library of Catalonia, a set of images of the early 20th century covering all towns and villages in Belgium from the University library in Ghent, a series of children's books from the Polish digital library, sound fragments of Mozart's works from the Austrian national library, a collection of historic postcards from Italy, paintings of Romanian artists from the Romanian institute for cultural heritage, and a collection of 18th and 19th century travel books in French, German and English from the state and university library of Göttingen.

Why can't I find my favourite author/painter in Europeana?

Europeana opened on 20 November 2008 and is just at its beginning. 4.6 million digital items are certainly a lot, but not much if compared with the vast and rich European cultural heritage. Currently there are around 2 million digitised books in the libraries and cultural institutions of EU countries. However, only about 5% of these are currently available through Europeana.

If you cannot find the object you are looking for that may be because it has not yet been digitised or the cultural institution that holds it may not yet have brought it into Europeana. The likelihood that you will find what you are looking for will become higher as the amount of content on Europeana grows. In the meantime, why not search by favourite subject and discover new favourites.

Another reason why the book or painting you are looking for is not there, may be related to the fact that the work is in copyright. It may not have been digitised or the rights holder may have decided not to make it available online or to make it available through his own website and not through Europeana.

What functions and services does Europeana offer me?

Above all, Europeana allows you to carry out a single search of thousands of digitised collections. This search can be done by a free text search (typing in a keyword), or by a variety of additional criteria and tools such as a timeline, type of object (image, audio, video, sound). You can also keep a personal MyEuropeana space to store and share saved objects. You can also add tags – descriptive words that help a specific user community find material. In 2010, when the service is further developed, it will have even more interactive zones addressing communities of special interest.

Users also have the opportunity to re-use content that is not covered by intellectual property rights, unless the individual institution that has digitised and holds the content applies restrictions.

How multilingual is Europeana?

The Europeana interface is available in all official EU languages, so users will be addressed in their own language. For now, searches will trawl the languages in which the objects are stored: searching for 'treaty' will only yield English material. In the years to come, the application of semantic technologies will gradually enable cross-language searches so that searching for "treaty" will lead to results with "treaty", "traité", "trattato", etc.

How is Europeana financed?

In its start-up phase Europeana is mainly financed by the EU. From 2009-2011, the EU's e Content plus programme contributes about 80% of its budget needs (€ 2.5 million per year). EU countries and cultural institutions will pay for the rest.

Moreover, the EU also co-funds other projects directly or indirectly contributing to Europeana , as well as research projects that will improve the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material, as well as its digital preservation. In the period 2009-2010, some € 119 million has been earmarked for these actions through the EU's overall research programme (FP7) and its Competitiveness and Innovation Programme.

How is Europeana growing from 2 million when it was launched last year to 10 million items in 2010?

At present less than 1.5% of items in Europe's national libraries are digitised, and other cultural institutions also have a long way to go. The main priority for expanding Europeana is therefore funding digitisation to provide more content. This is a responsibility of the EU countries, several of whom use money from the EU structural funds for specific digitisation projects (for example, Slovakia has rehabilitated an old military complex as a large-scale digitisation facility using page turning robots).

Through the eContentplus programme - and from 2009 the Competitiveness and Innovation programme – the Commission co-funds some digitisation activities, selected on the basis of their cross-border relevance and their contribution to Europeana.

In August 2008, the Commission asked EU countries to step up their efforts to contribute to Europeana, especially by providing more funding to digitisation and putting clearer figures on how much material they would digitise ( IP/08/1255 ). The Commission also plans to involve the private sector in the further expansion of Europe's digital library (public-private partnerships).

Who decides whether a cultural object goes on Europeana?

Whoever holds the material; individual libraries, audiovisual collections, libraries and museums decide what they want to digitise. Their decision will be based on several criteria:

  • What are the most beautiful, historic or highly regarded items which they are most keen to share with the world?

  • What do users most often want to consult or view?

  • Are there hidden treasures – little-known items that could be enormously attractive to users once digitised?

  • Are items too fragile for uses to consult, or to be displayed? Digitisation can help both preserve material and make it accessible to users.

Many countries have digitisation strategies in place to make sure that the same works are not digitised twice. On the other hand, it can be valuable to digitise related collections. For example, if a library digitised the papers (letters, diaries, speeches) of a prominent statesman, and an archive in that country chose to digitise papers relating to his political party (records of meetings, manifestoes, correspondence) from the same era, both sets of material would gain in strength from the shared context.

What are EU countries expected to do to help Europeana?

Europeana is a project implemented by the EU's leading cultural institutions, fully engaged with the objective of bringing Europe's cultural heritage online. The national Ministers responsible for culture and audiovisual affairs have warmly welcomed the creation of Europeana. On 20 November 2008, they adopted Council Conclusions that underline the importance of Europeana for making Europe's cultural heritage accessible for all on the Internet ( MEMO/08/546 ) .

The Commission has asked EU countries to support Europeana in different ways:

  • by investing in digitisation, so more content will become accessible through Europeana, and by setting up national portals that can serve as aggregators bringing content into Europeana.

  • by making Europeana known to the public

  • by making a direct financial contribution to Europeana as a sponsor.

What kind of interesting cultural objects can I find on Europeana?

Internet users will be able to find fascinating cultural objects on Europeana such as the French Déclaration des droits de l'homme of 1789 or 'Les Fleurs du Mal' (1857) by the French poet Charles Baudelaire, the 9th Symphony of Beethoven, and images and manuscripts of the composer ( Germany), the British Magna Carta of 1215 from the British Library in the UK, manuscripts by the Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei, pictures of the house where he lived and of his tomb, several paintings by Vermeer such as 'Girl with the Pearl Earring' from the Mauritshuis in The Hague ( Netherlands), paintings by Jan Van Eyck, such as the 'Madonna met kanunnik Joris van der Paele' of 1436 from the Groeninge museum in Brugge ( Belgium), a 1572 edition of 'Os Lus íadas' by Lu ís de Camo s ( Portugal), the medieval Codex Vysegradensis from the Czech Republic, works by the Hungarian lyrical poet Sandór Petofi from the 19 th century, a series of historical Treaties from the national archive of Sweden, original letters and music scores by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Austria, the manuscript of symphony no. 5 by Jan Sibelius, his picture, and performances of his works in Finland, the handwritten text of 1563 signed by King Sigismund II Augustus (King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania) from the Lithuanian national library, the famous Slovenian folk song 'Sem hodu res zanjo' from around 1940, a 1605 edition of the 'Don Quijote', by Miguel de Cervantes ( Spain) , the manuscript of the ‘preludes’ by the famous Polish pianist Frédéric Chopin, paintings from the Romanian artist Niculae Grigorescu, the cover of the ‘Righas Charta’, the cartographic masterpiece of the Greek enlightenment, by the Greek writer Righas Velestinlis, a Roman mosaic from Paphos in Cyprus, a Venetian map of Malta dated 1689, held by the National Library in Malta, a recording of the 1950 ‘Schuman declaration’, from the Centre Virtuel de la Connaissance de l’Europe in Luxembourg, the 19 th century ‘Levski Ordinance to the workers for the liberation of the Bulgarian people’, the cover pages of the first edition of the Bible in Estonian (1739), a 1755 map of the Kingdom of Denmark and Norway, a ‘Kalendarium’, a unique old book with type setting in red and black dated 1486-1504, held in Slovakia, posters announcing the 1933 Song Festival in Riga and the Latvian exposition of 1934 in Stockholm, the ‘Topographia hiberniae’, a map from the 11 th century, representing the location of Ireland in Europe.

Thousands of other unique pieces of European art, history and culture can also be found on Europeana. Just visit it!

How does Europeana relate to generic search engines and to digitisation initiatives such as Google book-search?

Europeana is a cultural project and not a commercial undertaking. It creates a multimedia space on the web for everyone interested in European culture.

Europeana will bring together, through one single access point, digitised material (books, documents from archives, audiovisual material, paintings) from different types of cultural institutions (archives, museums, audiovisual archives and libraries). Therefore Europeana will be far more specific than the generic search engines: it will give fewer hits, but more targeted results.

Europeana is notable for strong features like the quality and authenticity of the content, guaranteed by the cultural organisations behind the service, and its openness in terms of cultural institutions that can participate and re-use of its material.

Europeana has a broader remit than a service such as "Google Book Search". Europeana will give access to different types of content from different types of cultural institutions, thus making it possible to bring together the works of a painter with relevant archival documents, as well as the books written about his life.

What is the difference between in-copyright content, out-of-print-works, orphan works and public domain material when it comes to digitisation?

Copyright protects works from being reproduced without the permission of the person who created them. It gives creators an exclusive right to the copying of their work so that they can be rewarded for their work and encourages future creativity. When you digitise a work you are reproducing it in another format. This means that to digitise work protected by copyright, you need the consent of the rightholder whether the work is still in-print or out-of-print. However, for some works, especially older or out-of-print material, it is impossible to identify or locate the rightholders and ask for the right to digitise these works, also called orphan works. If the work is not or no longer protected by copyright (the term of copyright protection is 70 years after the death of the author), it becomes part of the public domain and can be digitised freely by anyone.

What was the "High Level Group on Digital Libraries" and who participated in it?

The High Level Group on Digital Libraries is a group of experts set up by the Commission in 2006 to advise it on how best to address the challenges faced at European level on matters relating to the implementation of the digital libraries initiative. It is composed of 20 members from libraries, archives, museums, authors, publishers and content providers, the ICT industry and scientific research organisations or academia appointed in a personal capacity and required to advise the Commission independently of any outside influence. The High Level Group is subdivided in three subgroups to deal in more detail with matters such as copyright, public-private partnerships and scientific information. The current composition of the Group can be found at:

What is the model licence for the digitisation of out-of-print works developed at EU level?

The model license for digitisation of out-of-print works was developed by the Copyright Subgroup of the Commission's High Level Group on Digital Libraries as a tool to facilitate digitisation by libraries and cultural institutions of works that are no longer commercially available. It covers both the right to digitise and the right to make the works available through secure networks or accessible over open networks at the parties' discretion.

What does the Commission's 2006 Recommendation on digitisation and digital preservation recommend be done about orphan works?

The Commission's 2006 Recommendation calls on EU countries to establish or promote mechanisms to facilitate the use of orphan works, following consultation of interested parties, and to promote the availability of lists of known orphan works.

Normally this would imply a change in the national copyright legislation, and an organisational effort to pull all information on orphan works available in the country together.

What is the EU's ARROW project about and how is it funded?

The ARROW ("Accessible Registries of Rights on Orphan Works" accessible at ) project makes it easier to find and get permission for digitisation of orphan works. It is building a network of rightholder and works databases from across the EU. These databases would work together and be accessible by everyone involved wherever they are. It also links rights clearance centres throughout the EU, to speed up the process of getting permission to digitise works.

This project was launched in November 2008 under the eContentplus programme with the involvement of rightholders, collective management organisations and cultural institutions. The Commission funds up to 50% of the costs of the project (a contribution of €2.55 million) as part of its continuous efforts to promote cooperation between authors, distributors, users, ICT companies and public authorities which is crucial for the herculean task of d igitising cultural products like books.

What are the main differences between the US and EU legal systems when it comes to digitisation projects?

The main difference is the exceptions under which copyrighted works may be copied or digitised even when they do not have the rightholders consent to do so. In the EU, under the Copyright Directive of 2001 only those acts explicitly described in a closed list of exceptions are allowed, including digitisation by cultural institutions for non-commercial purposes. The US adopted, in its copyright law and jurisprudence, a somewhat more flexible approach that allows limited non-licensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work without requiring permission from the rightholders when this is considered to be "fair use" (it should be noted that there is still a lot of litigation about the extent of what represents "fair use").

In addition, in the US, all works published before 1923 are deemed to be in the public domain, and can therefore be digitised freely. In the EU there is no such cut-off date and works published in the first decades of the 20th century or even earlier may still be in copyright, and therefore can only be digitised with the consent of the rightholder, who is often not the actual creator of the content.

Can private individuals or commercial companies make content available for Europeana? Can they upload it themselves?

Not at this stage, though there will be a flickr account related to Europeana where people can upload their photographs of, for example, their visits to historic sites and monuments. For the fully operational version of Europeana in 2010 this aspect of the site will be developed: Private collectors or holders of interesting documentary or photographs, for example, will be able to upload them into the Communities area of the site.

How is Europeana organised?

On 8 November 2007, the European Digital Library Foundation was set up formalising the agreement between European archives, museums, audiovisual archives and libraries to work together in the delivery of Europeana. The Foundation is open to content holders (individual museums, archives and libraries) and national and European associations of content holders.

The Europeana office, where the Europeana service is being developed and run, is hosted by the Dutch National Library in The Hague.

How can I access Europeana, search cultural content, and learn more about it?

You can visit Europeana at

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