6th Dec 2022

Member states drag feet on European digital library

  • One problematic issue includes what to do about orphan works (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission has urged member states to step up efforts to make Europe's cultural heritage available to citizens at a mouse click.

Plans for a European digital library containing books, paintings, music, film and photographs are already underway but progress on making works digitally available has been slow with funding problems and lack of technical know-how dragging the ambitious project down.

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According to commission figures, European libraries contain over 2.5 billion books but only around 1 percent of archival material has been made available online.

EU media commissioner Viviane Reding said the online library would "enable a Czech student to browse the British library without going to London, or an Irish art lover to get close to the Mona Lisa without queuing at the Louvre."

On Monday (11 August), the commission said more funding needs to be allocated to digitalisation by the bloc's 27 member states calling efforts so far "small scale" and "fragmented."

For its part, Brussels promised €69 million of EU money for 2009-10 for digitalisation of works and €50 million for improving access to cultural content, although it pointed out that around €225 million has been needed just to digitise 5 million books.

There are also big discrepancies between member states progress towards the goal. While countries such as Slovenia are making "exemplary" headway on the project, only one in four German museums that have digitised material offer online access to it. In Poland, just one percent of digitised material is online.

Another more general problem that remains to be solved is the issue of copyright, particularly for orphan works where the artist cannot be found to give consent to digitisation.

At the moment famous works available at the click of a mouse include the Gutenberg bible and the voices of opera singer Maria Callas and Belgian singer Jacques Brel.

Despite the foot-dragging by member states, the commission said it is determined to push ahead with plans for a European Digital Library by the end of 2008.

"My goal is to have a European Digital Library, called Europeana and rich in content, open to the public before the end of the year," said Ms Reding.

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