Europeana.eu Europe’s cultural treasures under one roof

Latvian rural women at work, 1920
Latvian rural women at work, 1920 | Photo (detail): © pro.europeana.eu

Culture and knowledge without borders: the portal Europeana.eu enables free access to digitalized objects from Europe’s libraries, archives and museums. And the users too now contribute to Europe’s online memory. The version Europeana 3.0 will be launched in June 2014.

Whether Luther’s Bible or Shakespeare’s sonnets, Galileo’s telescope or Darwin’s writings: the greatest achievements of European cultural and intellectual history can now be reached with just a click. “Mozart’s manuscripts are otherwise dispersed through the British Library, the French National Library and various Austrian and German libraries. At Europeana, they are in one spot”, says the speaker for the portal, Jonathan Purday, with understandable enthusiasm.

A question of mass

Under the slogan "Culture.Thinking", the prototype of the project was launched in 2008 with four million digitalized objects. Currently 30 million objects from over 2,300 institutions in 36 countries can already be found through Europeana.eu. Europe’s cultural treasures are moving closer together.

“The first phase after officially going online was strongly geared to finding more partners”, says Dr. Britta Woldering, who has accompanied the development of Europeana.eu for the German National Library from the start. “This sort of service lives essentially from the fact that it has a certain mass.”

At first the partners were mainly large institutions such as the BibliothèqueNnationale de France, which supplied the portal with its digital service Gallica. “But the administration and coordination of partners soon reached its limits”, says Woldering. Instead, Europeana focused on collaboration with so-called “aggregators”. One example is The European Library, the online service for all European national libraries. “These aggregators have themselves many partners, collect metadata on the objects and pass them on as a complete package to Europeana”, explains Woldering. The associations of European film archives now also supply metadata on their digital reproductions.

Collective historiography

With a contribution of over 4.5 million objects, Germany currently provides the largest share of around 15 per cent of Europeana’s total holdings (as of November 2013). France follows with 10 per cent. The idea is that digital copies should be findable not only through the portal itself but should also have the widest possible dissemination. Other institutions and services can now incorporate access to the contents of Europeana through specially developed programming interfaces (APIs). The dissemination of data is one of the essential aims of the portal as formulated in the “Strategy Plan, 2011-2015”.

The users too are being included. “In recent years Europeana has very actively encouraged individual people even to contribute content”, reports Woldering. For example, the project Europeana 1914–1918 invites Europeans to collect and make available in digital form memorabilia in their possession from the First World War, whether field post, war diaries or uniforms. This has created a new kind of collective historiography. “The cultural treasures of Europe aren’t only those objects slumbering in museums, archives and libraries “, emphasizes Woldering.

The black hole of the twentieth century

With a variety of projects, Europeana.eu has accelerated the expansion of available content from all the fields of culture and science. The programme Athena, for example, collects museum content and supports standards for museum digitalization and metadata, building on the Minerva project of the European Commission. “Euro-Photo” will make digitally available historical photographs from the archives of ten leading European news agencies. "EUscreen" compiles television recordings from 18 European audio-visual archives. That these contents have met with a strong interest is shown by Europeana.eu’s statistics. Up to September 2012 alone, Europeana reordered over 3.5 million hits (source: pro.europeana.eu).

Current European copyright law still presents problems. It prevents in many cases the digitalization and linking of work of the recent past. In this connection, Woldering speaks of the notorious “black hole of the twentieth century”. Nevertheless, at the instigation of Europeana, metadata (under which come catalogue entries) are now available without copyright charges. “One of the project’s great achievements”, says Woldering.

Start of Europeana 3.0

The project phase of Europeana 2.0 ran until February 2014. In June 2014 comes the next stage, Europeana 3.0, planned this time for a year’s duration. The Dutch Europeana Project Coordinator Nicole Emmenegger hopes it will be a “final bridge to a sustainable financing”. Up to now the portal has been subsidized by funds of the European Union and grants from national ministries of cultural affairs. Beginning in 2015, financing is to be arranged through the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF). In this regard, however, there are still questions.

But the fundamental doubts have long been dispelled. “What does Europeana have that Google doesn’t?” was a frequent question at the beginning of the project, says Britta Woldering. The answer is easy. For one thing, the superior quality of the data, because in Europeana European institutions have agreed for the first time on a common data model. And for another, the most important European cultural treasures are here under one roof.