15th May 2021

EU gives free online access to its archives

  • The EU steps up the race with US giant Google in putting books online (Photo:

The EU on Sunday (18 October) used the book fair in Frankfurt to launch its online digital library of official documents issued in the last 50 years.

The EU's so-called digital bookshop puts more than 12 million scanned pages online, to be downloaded for free by anyone interested. The oldest document is a 1952 speech by Jean Monnet which inaugurated the High Authority of the Coal and Steel Community, later to become the EU.

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"The digital library frees the memory of the European Union tied to paper since its beginning," EU commissioner for multilingualism Leonard Orban said.

"The millions of pages now accessible to everyone in the 23 official languages demonstrate the continued commitment of the European Union to preserve and encourage the history of the Union in its linguistic diversity," he added. Apart from the bloc's 23 official languages, some publications are also available in Chinese, Russian and around 20 other languages.

The equivalent of four kilometres of bookshelves were scanned from February 2008 at a cost of about €2.5 million and will also be included in Europeana, a mammoth project aimed at digitising several national libraries and arts museums all over the EU.

The move comes also amid fierce opposition by European publishers to the free online books project of US giant Google.

Also at the Frankfurt book fair, French publisher Editis announced the development of an online book distribution system.

By creating their own digital bookstore, comments The New York Times, French publishers reckon they might be able to keep Google and Amazon at bay, or at least extract better terms in any French settlement modelled after the proposed US deal.

But apart from the Editis project, big French publishers such as Hachette, Gallimard or Flammarion are developing their own online projects, making it hard to provide a united front against the US company.

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