Europe in a library

Interview to EU Commissioner Viviane Reding

, by Domenico Ciccone

All the versions of this article: [English] [italiano]

Europe in a library

The initiative “Europeana is a project of the European Union designed to make accessible online the European cultural and scientific heritage. It includes a library, an archive and a digital museum. More than 6 milions digital items are planned to be available online thanks to the cooperation of the European Community and of several cultural institutions.

Moreover, agreements are on their way to make available also items protected by copyright, out of publishing or no more distributed. Other websites are similar to “Europeana” for the digitalization process but not for their purposes - Google books for istance. Differently from them, Europeana allows to consult the whole book rather than mere parts. Furthermore, the corpus will be more extended, including every work which can be defined as cultural: written, photographic or audio-visual material.

As it were an encyclopedia, the European Union aims at providing material and data in order to improve the degree of education and to make acquired skills more professionally spendable. Hence this project intends to promote not only Europe but also its culture and knowledge. We interviewed Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Media and Information Society, in order to better understand the project and its related issues.

1. How is the development of the project advancing?

[Viviane Reding:] It is growing in terms of audience and in terms of the number of objects to which it offers access. When Europeana was first launched on 20 November there were more than 10 million hits per hour on the site. It had more individual users and hits than its predecessor, ’The European Library’, run by the national libraries, had in a whole year! This showed that there is a much broader interest in Europe and its cultural heritage than anticipated even in the most optimistic scenarios, and it keeps growing: 60.000 new people have asked to be kept updated on Europeana since 20 November.

Now the trick is to keep them coming back for more. Europeana was born with 2 million objects, which is a formidable start, but we expect that new collections will continue to be added from more cultural institutions around Europe. This can only be done through increased digitisation efforts in the Member States, and that is why the European Commission supports and we encourages them to continue the efforts in this area.

Fans of Europeana can also expect the site to become even more multilingual and interactive in the coming years: with features such as zones addressing communities of special interest or the possibility to create one’s “own, personalised” digital libraries, with content chosen by the user.

2. Do you think the time of recess we are living could alter the development of Europeana?

[Viviane Reding:] In general, I think we should see our strong, vibrant and incredibly diverse European culture as a source of growth for the economy because it is through our cultural exchange that new ideas are born which then result in more innovation. Europeana is a great example of this. It will offer anyone interested in literature, history, art or cinema a simple way to find cultural material from across Europe in digitised format and free-of-charge. I am sure it will attract students and researchers with its vast virtual collection of material from all disciplines but it will be just as easy for school children and families to use it, for homework, or for fun. It can be simply a source of inspiration and exchange for everyone interested around the globe.

we should see our strong, vibrant and incredibly diverse European culture as a source of growth

I do not think that any of the people visiting Europeana and generally interested in culture will lose the interest in their own culture just because the economy is not booming. On the contrary, take for example DVD sales – they are rising currently which shows that interest in culture is also increasing. I think Europeana will particularly benefit from this rise, as it can bring the pinnacles of European culture such as the Mona Lisa or pictures of the house and the tomb of the Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo into everyone’s living room.

Europeana can also be seen as a great advertisement for museums, cultural institutions and entire tourist industries of countries with really rich cultures like Italy. So far all the evidence shows a positive relation between Internet presence and the number of people actually visiting cultural institutions. People get interested by what they find on the Internet and then want to see the work in question “live” and not only on their screens.

3. Do you think Europeana could be an answer to american enciclopedism?

[Viviane Reding:] I think Europeana is very much a unique, non-commercial cultural project, as users will discover when they begin to explore it. It creates a multimedia space on the web for everyone interested in European culture, rolling multimedia library, museum and archive into one digital website combined with Web 2.0 features. Europeana will bring together, through one single access point, digitised material (books, documents from archives, audiovisual material, paintings) from different types of cultural institutions (archives, museums, audiovisual archives and libraries).

It will also allow users to put all those different objects into their historical context and see for instance what inspired Leonardo da Vinci during his lifetime. And by bringing together for instance several works from one and the same author which are currently spread all over Europe with relevant archival documents, as well as books written about the author’s life, Europeana really gives you the complete ’picture’. For all these reasons, Europeana is far more specific than the generic search engines or encyclopaedias: it will give fewer hits, but more targeted results.

Other strong features which Europeana can offer you are notably the quality and authenticity of the content, guaranteed by the cultural organisations behind the service, and its openness in terms of cultural institutions that can participate and re-use the material.

Image: Europeana

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