Fri, Nov 21, 2008 - Page 6 News List

EU unveils online library to compete with Google Book

AGENCIES , BRUSSELS

The EU launched its Europeana digital library yesterday, an online digest of Europe’s cultural heritage that aims to draw together millions of books and other items.

Inspired by ancient Alexandria’s attempt to collect the world’s knowledge, the project will use the latest technologies to allow users anywhere access to films, paintings, photographs, sound recordings, maps, manuscripts, newspapers and documents as well as books kept in European libraries.

From its opening, users will be able to find major literary works like Dante’s Divine Comedy, or masterpieces such as Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring or the manuscripts of composers including Beethoven.

The Internet and digitalization techniques will “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,” said Viviane Reding, EU commissioner responsible for new technologies.

Europeana is a chance to “give greater visibility to all the treasures hidden deep in our libraries, museums and archives,” said Reding, and “compare masterpieces until now spread around the four corners of the globe.”

With 14 staff members and at an annual cost put at around 2.5 million euros (US$3.15 million), Europeana — which can be found at www.europeana.eu — is set for humble beginnings.

Soon after its launch the Web site froze, its servers overwhelmed by the volume of 10 million hits an hour.

The prototype contains around 2 million digital items, all of them already in the public domain, as the most recent items are plagued by problems linked to copyright and their use online.

By 2010, the date when Europeana is due to be fully operational, the aim is to have 10 million works available, an impressive number yet a mere drop in the ocean compared to the 2.5 billion books in Europe’s more common libraries.

The process of digitalization is a massive undertaking.

Around 1 percent of the books in the EU’s national libraries are now available in digital form, with that figure expected to grow to 4 percent in 2012. And even when they are digitalized, they still have to be put online.

The size of the task proved daunting even for Internet giant Microsoft.

The US computer firm launched its own online library project at the end of 2006, but abandoned it 18 months later after having digitalized some 750,000 works.

Google, one of the pioneers in this domain on the other hand, claims to have 7 million books available for its “Google Book Search” project, which began in earnest at the end of 2004.

Indeed Europeana was first seen as the 27-nation bloc’s response to Google. Based on a proposal from France, several nations came together in 2005 to call for the creation of such a library at the EU level.

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