Digitisation rocks while Europeana crashes

While news of a major redirection of Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy towards stewardship rather than overproduction rightly takes the limelight, the opening of an equally epoch-making European resource Europeana went live on 20 November with less of a fanfare.  Nonetheless the extent of the demand was overwhelming.  With over 10 million hits an hour yesterday, the new site crashed and so only the project development site is available at present.

European cultural projects have always been something of an also-ran in the funding lottery, but this time the Commission has achieved something that will be a fantastic resource containing 3.5 million digital items (a number that will rise as more partners making their digital content available).

Europeana is run by European Digital Library (EDL) Foundation and is based at the national library of the Netherlands, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek.  It builds on the project management and technical expertise developed by The European Library which aims to OCR over 20 million pages of content in many European languages by 2010 (hardly a rival to Google’s ambitious book search plans for US libraries – especially after its recent settlement with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers – but the only viable European alternative).

In the words of Horst Forster, Director of Digital Content and Cognitive Systems in the Information Society Directorate:

‘Europeana is ambitious in its scale and scope. It’s making the connections between the whole network of cultural heritage digitisation programmes in Europe, and promises to be a very powerful service. It will enable citizens to explore how ideas were transmitted between countries, how political or social trends developed, how artistic movements influenced the whole continent.’

The launch video is rather less than exciting (hmmm) but the concept is bold.  I only hope that Europeana doesn’t try to dumb down the material by presenting too many pre-assembled and ready-made links and searches, but instead offers straightforward, easy access to the material and encourages (i.e. funds) partners to digitise more of their heritage contents.

The British Library is one Europeana‘s partners.  The results of its own digitisation project were originally going to be made available through Microsoft’s Live Search Books website, but this was scrapped in May this year.   However, as is clear from its draft strategy document for 2008-2011, digitisation is still very much on the agenda:

“Increasingly researchers expect everything to be available on the web immediately, permanently and preferably free of charge at the point of use.”

It goes on to list current projects:

  • 20 million pages of 19th century literature [approximately 80,000 books];
  • 1 million pages of historic newspapers in addition to the 3m already digitised;
  • 4,000 hours of Archival Sound Recordings in addition to the 4,000 hours already digitised;
  • 100,000 pages of Greek manuscripts.

A cornucopia of delight!

As for the Bodleian Library, the Oxford-Google Digitisation Project (one million items alone) is by far the most ambitious of any of the UK’s research libraries. Whether or not the Bodleian will consider taking part in Europeana remains unclear – I doubt whether the terms of its agreement with Google would permit it!