Europe’s Ana Europeana – Reimagining the Culture in Three Steps

As the new initiative from the European Commission for the Digital Agenda, Europeana is supposed to become a single access point for consulting digital materials from libraries, museums and archives of Europe. “In ancient times, the library of Alexandria was said to contain up to 70% of all human knowledge. The challenge for the digital age is to do even better than that – and make the result last longer,” they reveal at EIS.

Step One: Collaboration

EuropeanaLaunched as a prototype in 2008, while it was overwhelmed due to the unexpected interest from users and had to close, Europeana now provides  free online access to over 14 million digitized books, maps, photographs, paintings, film and music clips from cultural institutions across Europe. It is hosted by the National Library of the Netherlands in Den Haag, it is run by the Europeana Foundation and is 80% financed by the EU. As reported in their press release, digitized photographs, maps, paintings, museum objects and other images make up 64% of the Europeana collection. 34% of the collection is dedicated to digitalised texts, including more than 1.2 million complete books that can be viewed online and/or downloaded. The texts cover thousands of rare manuscripts and the earliest printed books (incunabula) from before 1500. Video and sound material represents less than 2% of the collections. As for the member states, France is the largest contributor (18%), and Germany (17%). Over 1500 cultural institutions from across Europe are contributing digitalized material, among which the British Library in London, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Louvre in Paris.
Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda says: “Europeana is a great example of how cooperation at European level can enrich all of our lives. 14 million objects available online is good news for all internet users who want to have access to cultural material from Europe’s libraries, museums and archives. But Europeana could be even better if more cultural institutions digitised their collections and made them accessible through this European portal.”

Step two: Sharing

Europeana should become one of the main reference points  for education and research purposes.
(Resolution of the European Parliament, 5 May 2010)

As if collecting the relevant data isn’t a demanding venture itself, developing tools for using it presents even a greater challenge. Some of the ideas are currently presented on the exhibition on Growing Knowledge and the Evolution of Research in the British Library, but many are only implemented on the experimental level. Next year Europeana intends to experiment with user-generated content and will invite users to contribute material to Europeana around the theme of World War I. It has already demonstrated its potential for teaching in schools with the embed code which allows students to include content on their own sites. Currently, Europeana has two virtual exhibitions running. ‘Reading Europe‘ presents a rich choice from Europe’s rare books and literary works and the ‘Art Nouveau’ exhibition shows the potential of bringing together cultural material from different countries. Moreover, users can engage in a multilingual space by choosing language from a drop down menu on site. Everyone is welcomed to learn from the assembled collections about the diversity and the abundance of the European knowledge.

art noveau

Step Three: Saving the Public Domain

Much of the material accessible from Europeana is older, with the copyright expired, but since from the 1980s law, nothing falls in the public domain after a certain time, their goal is to save it and to apply different law on digitalized material. They have published the Public Domain Charter, which can be downloaded from their Press Room, in order to clarify the legal issues around digitalization of out-of-copyright material, and to encourage content holders to support the shared resource that is the public domain. “We are launching the Public Domain Mark with Creative Commons to facilitate the display of clear rights status on all content,” they declare. Furthermore, they say, “Europeana is publishing the Charter because the Public Domain is under threat. As Public Domain information is digitised, it is often becoming less accessible to those who own it: the public.”

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