EU digital library collapses amid huge demand[de]
The creation of 'Europeana' was a key goal of the digital libraries initiative adopted by the European Commission in 2005.
National governments were asked to contribute content and funding, while a high-level group of experts from the public and the private sector, including cultural institutions, the ICT industry and right holders, were consulted. The European Parliament approved the project in September 2007.
'Europeana' is 80%-funded from the EU budget (€2m), with the remaining 20% coming from national governments and cultural institutions.
€69m of EU funding will be allocated to research on digital libraries from 2009-2010 via the bloc's research programme, while a further €50m will be allocated to the information society aspect of EU competitiveness and innovation policies "to improve access to Europe's cultural and scientific heritage".
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The 'Europeana' website , launched yesterday by Commission President José Manuel Barroso and French Culture and Communication Minister Christine Albanel, gives access to hundreds of thousands of books, many of which are rare or out-of-print altogether. It seeks to provide a "common access point" for Europe's digitised resources
In total, some two million 'digitised objects' from all 27 member states were put online, including paintings, music, maps, manuscripts and newspapers to complement the books. The Commission believes the amount of content online at the beginning is "respectable", but admitted for some countries only "very limited" material was available. The Europeana website is available in all the official EU languages except for Maltese and Bulgarian, which the Commission said would be added "in the coming months".
After initial success…
Speaking yesterday morning, EU Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding described the launch as "an extraordinary success," saying the website received "at least ten million hits per hour" in its first morning. "We could not have imagined such a run to Europeana," she said.
…'Europeana' taken offline
But the site has since been taken offline after its servers proved unable to cope with "overwhelming interest". "We are doing our utmost to reopen Europeana in a more robust version as soon as possible [and it] will be back by mid-December," reads a statement on the site's landing page, which today (21 November) provides links to a development page instead.
Asked yesterday why the Europeana site collapsed shortly after launch, Commissioner Reding's spokesperson, Martin Selmayr, said the website's three servers could not cope with demand in the region of ten million hits per hour. "We re-lauched the site on six servers instead," he said.
In the longer term, it remains to be seen whether the portal, which will receive €2m per year of EU funding over the period 2009-2011, will meet the challenge of providing enough content. At present, 1,000 cultural institutions have committed to uploading material.
Commissioner Reding wants ten million objects to be available on the website by 2010, but the move might be hampered by copyright considerations. It is up to the holder of the material to decide what to include on the portal, while member states have been asked to set up national portals to serve as Europeana content aggregators.
For his part, President Barroso stressed at the launch event that Europeana had "the potential to change the way people see European culture," making it easier for Europeans "to appreciate their own past" and "become more aware of their common European identity".
In addition, it would allow the rest of the world "to see the important contributions that Europe has made" to literature, art, politics, history, science, architecture, music and cinema, while "preserving Europe's cultural heritage for future generations," Barroso said.
Welcoming the launch of Europeana, Santiago de la Mora, responsible for European partnerships at internet search giant Google, said "the more there are of these projects, the easier it will be for readers and researchers around the word to be able to search books and other materials that are now scattered throughout the globe and difficult to access".
Indeed, Google itself last month settled copyright claims from US publishers over the similar Book Search website, which it hopes Europeana will complement.
The company believes the Book Search project, which features the full text of over seven million books, will create new markets for out-of-print books.
Describing Europeana as a "digital doorway to Europe's culture in all its glorious diversity," European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the website would "gain in importance over the coming years as it continues to expand".
Barroso continued: "With Europeana, we combine Europe's competitive advantage in communication and networking technologies with our rich cultural heritage. Europeans will now be able to access the incredible resources of our great collections quickly and easily in a single space […]. Just imagine the possibilities it offers students, art-lovers or scholars to access, combine and search the cultural treasures of all member states online. This is a strong demonstration of the fact that culture is at the heart of European integration."
"Europeana offers a journey through time, across borders, and into new ideas of what our culture is. More than that, it will connect people to their history and, through interactive pages and tools, to each other," said Viviane Reding, EU commissioner for information society and media, calling on "Europe's cultural institutions, publishing houses and technology companies to fill Europeana with further content in digital form".
Expressing hope that Europeana would "strengthen expression of a common European identity," French centre-right MEP Marie-Hélène Descamps (EPP-ED), Parliament's rapporteur on the European digital library, said the site would "give citizens access to Europe's cultural heritage, as well as spreading it beyond our borders and preserving it for future generations".
But she warned that it is "essential" to ensure that the digitisation, uploading and storing of this "rich and diverse heritage" takes place in strict respect of copyright law.
Elisabeth Niggemann, director-general of the German National Library and chair of the European Digital Library Foundation, the organisation behind Europeana, said: "Europeana makes cultural bodies more relevant to the Web 2.0 generation – a generation that expects to be able to read text, see video, hear sounds and view images all in the same space and time. By offering young people a complete multimedia experience it will connect them to Europe's culture, past and present."
"Digitisation projects like Europeana send a strong signal that authors, publishers, libraries and technology companies can work together to democratise access to the world's collective knowledge," said Santiago de la Mora, responsible for European partnerships at internet search giant Google.
"As we move ahead with Google Book Search, we look forward to finding new ways to collaborate on initiatives such as Europeana, and taking part in what could become the biggest technological leap in disseminating knowledge since Gutenberg invented the printing press," de la Mora continued.
- Mid-Dec. 2008: "More robust version" of Europeana to be launched.
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