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Coordinating digitisation of European cultural heritage

"European libraries and archives contain a wealth of material - including books, newspapers, films, photographs and maps - representing the richness of Europe's history, and its cultural and linguistic diversity. The online presence of this material from different cultures and in different languages will make it easier for citizens to appreciate their own cultural heritage as well as the heritage of other European countries, and use it for study, work or leisure."

i2010 Digital Libraries , an initiative of the European Commission (Sept. 2005)

Why digitisation?

Digitisation is recognised as instrumental if Europe is to exploit its rich cultural and scientific resources in today's digital world and for keeping the past and the present alive for the future.

  • Digitisation and online distribution of cultural assets allows for the creation of new educational resources and of new experiences in cultural tourism, by opening new ways to access and to interact with our patrimony. This means new opportunities for the creative industry, for the content market, for researchers and students, and for the public at large.
  • Moreover, digitisation is a contribution to the conservation and preservation of cultural heritage, since analogue material deterioriates with time, especially in the audio-visual sector.

Why coordination?

Considerable efforts and resources are being invested in digitisation projects across Europe, but these activities are highly fragmented and financial and organisational obstacles jeopardise their success and economic sustainability.

These obstacles include:

  • cost: digitisation is labour-intensive and expensive
  • the risks associated with the use of inappropriate technologies and inadequate standards
  • the technical and organisational challenges related to long-term preservation of and access to digital objects
  • the lack of consistency in approaches to intellectual property rights (IPRs)
  • the lack of synergy between cultural and technology programmes

Therefore, better awareness of activities in other countries (and within countries) at policy and project level, the development of best practices and guidelines, and the promotion of standards supporting interoperability contribute to improving the effectiveness of digitisation initiatives.

EU initiatives for the coordination of digitisation

The European Commission first called for measures to stimulate the development and use of digital content in the eEurope 2002 Action Plan (2000). This action plan also encouraged the Commission and the EU Member States to 'create a coordination mechanism for digitisation programmes'.

As a first step towards EU-wide coordination of digitisation programmes and policies, the European Commission organised an expert meeting with representatives from all Member States in Lund on 4 April 2001. The conclusions and recommendations derived from this meeting are known as the Lund Principles and were further developed in the Lund Action Plan , aiming at establishing an agenda for actions to be carried out by Member States and the Commission. The actions proposed range from bottom-up involvement of cultural institutions, for instance in determining cases of best practice, to top-down policy initiatives. In 2005, the EU Presidency presented a new action plan. More...

Recent development

On 24 August 2006, the European Commission adopted a Recommendation on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation in the context of the i2010 Digital Libraries Initiative . The Recommendation calls on EU Member States to set up large-scale digitisation facilities, so as to accelerate the process of getting Europe's cultural heritage online. The Commission also recommended action in various other areas, ranging from copyright questions to the systematic preservation of digital content in order to ensure long term access to the material.

On 22 March 2007, the European Commission adopted a Decision setting up the Member States' Expert Group on Digitisation and Digital Preservation . The tasks of the new group are to monitor progress in implementing the Recommendation of 24 August 2006 and to exchange good practices. It takes over the work of the National Representatives Group.

The National Representatives Group (NRG) was a result from the Lund meeting in 2001 which had endorsed the creation of a steering group on digitisation policies and programmes. The NRG met regularly from 2001 to 2006.