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Neelie Kroes

Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda

Opening up Europe's cultural treasures to the online world

Education, Youth and Culture Council

Brussels, 29 November 2011

Our shared culture is a unique asset within Europe. With the Recommendation on Digitisation, we can both improve access to culture for everyone, and turn our cultural heritage into a lasting asset for the economy.

The recent report of the "Comité des Sages" is clear on this point: making all culture digital is investing in the future. We need to respond to that and take up this opportunity.

Fortunately, we have already started to respond to this challenge, with the creation of Europeana, our European digital library. Europeana is already a global source of inspiration. The United States plans to build a Digital Public Library of America to be launched in 2013. The two digital libraries will collaborate in order to ensure interoperability and to make their content available to the widest possible public.

We want to go further. We are asking you to do three key things.

  • First, to step up digitisation, and improve planning.

  • Second, to get the private sector involved in digitising cultural material, in a fair and balanced way.

  • Third, to make that material available through Europeana, to give Europe's digital library a critical mass.

By 2015, I want Europeana to hold 30 million objects. That should include all material digitised with public funding, and all Europe's masterpieces no longer protected by copyright. To ensure EU balance, we have set indicative targets per Member State.

In addition, we need more in-copyright material online. If we don't make out-of-commerce works digitised and accessible, on a large scale and across borders, there will be a "20th century black hole" on the Internet.

Finally, Member States should improve how they preserve digital material for the long term. Otherwise our collective memory will be lost for future generations.

In ancient times, so they say, the library of Alexandria contained 70% of all human knowledge. These days, we have a lot more knowledge out there. But we also have online a "library" with a huge capacity. We should make use of it.

Without digitisation, our cultural heritage — the artefacts in Europe's libraries, museums, galleries and archives — is like gold lying in a vault somewhere. We need to give ordinary people the key to access it. They can come up with so many creative re-uses: in apps, education, tourism, or as a source for further art. Overall, through sparking new applications and new innovations, they can provide the source for future growth and development.

That's why I am urging you to look at this recommendation: if we make Europe's cultural heritage digital, searchable, accessible to all, we can make the most of Europe's unparalleled assets, and boost productivity and prosperity for the longer term.

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