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The European Commission has been active in the libraries area for a number of years. The principal context of these activities has been the EU's Third and Fourth Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development and more specifically, the Telematics Programmes of which Libraries have been a part.

The European Parliament first drew political attention to the importance of libraries in the Community in 1984. In 1985 the Council of Ministers adopted a Resolution which called for action by the European Commission in this area. A series of exploratory activities were then initiated in order to establish the size and impact of the library sector, to identify areas where libraries experience difficulties in adapting to the new conditions of the Information Society, and areas where co-operative European actions would most contribute to the better use of resources.

The mobilising years 1990-1994

The Libraries Programme was launched in 1990, based on the results of these exploratory actions, extensive consultations and early pilot projects. The first work programme placed emphasis on developing innovative library services and tools as well as on the bibliographic resources and library networking infrastructures which underpin such services. The work programme was structured around the following four complementary action lines:

Computerised bibliographies: which aimed to create, enhance and harmonise machine-readable bibliographies and catalogues in Europe, thus contributing to the efficiency of libraries and improving resource sharing between them;

Library networking and interconnection of systems: which aimed to help set up networked services between libraries by ensuring that technical opportunities available through new telecommunications services and progress in open systems interconnection (OSI) were fully investigated and exploited;

Innovative library services: which aimed to enable libraries to offer more cost-effective library services through the use of advanced information and communication technologies;

Technology-based library products and tools: which aimed to provide a stimulus to the European market by encouraging the private sector to work with libraries to produce commercially viable telematic products, services and tools designed specifically for libraries.

The immediate goals of this first programme were to create a process of change which could acquire a momentum of its own and to stimulate awareness of the benefits and implications of European co-operation among libraries. These goals, which we believe have been achieved, were set in the framework of longer-term objectives of promoting the availability of modern library services throughout the Union, the cost-effective use of technology, standards and the emergence of coherent library policies.

Between 1991 and 1994, three Calls for Proposals were published and over 80 actions were launched - including 51 mainstream co-operative shared-cost projects, a range of key concerted actions or "platforms" and feasibilities as well as many studies (now published). These addressed practically all the areas of concern to libraries at the beginning of the decade with respect to the application of information and communication technologies, including those of the emerging Internet. They have involved over 200 organisations across Europe, with some taking part in more than one project. During that same period, national programmes and policies were developed in many EU Member States which, even if independent of the Commission's actions, can generally be said to be moving in the same direction.


Consolidation and integration 1994-1998

The next Libraries work programme covering the period 1995 to 1998, implemented under the Fourth Framework Programme, built upon the results and on-going activities of the Third Framework Programme whilst at the same time moving into important new areas.

Increasingly, information is being created, distributed, accessed and used entirely in electronic form. Libraries have a central role in managing these information flows and introducing users to new ways of working and information use. This programme therefore highlighted libraries as key participants in the move towards an electronic information infrastructure.

The added value of libraries to society could only be realised by creating a Europe-wide libraries infrastructure, and the programme, therefore, aimed to support the development of interlibrary networks to optimise resource-sharing and as a way to link less-advanced libraries to the resources and services of more advanced libraries. The programme aimed also to encourage a more market-oriented approach among libraries, and to harmonise practice in the predominantly public sector libraries with that of information providers in the private sector.

The focus was thus more ambitious and more integrated than that of the previous programme. The work programme structure in fact reflects the different interlocking levels at which libraries operate: the library itself; the `traditional' information chain of which the library forms an integrated component; and the emerging world of networked information.

Thus, there were three Action Lines:

Action Line A: Network-oriented internal library systems: focused on the continued development of tools for effective services such that their local systems are hospitable to networking. Furthermore, work was required for the specific development of systems to manage and provided services in a variety of electronic formats. Libraries need to be able to acquire and handle materials in electronic form and to convert existing resources so that they are available through telematics systems. This Action Line also continues the collaboration with private sector initiatives to develop appropriate applications for libraries in support of cost-effective and modern library services.

Action Line B: Telematic systems for library co-operation and networking : focused on the move from collection-based to access-oriented libraries. Enhanced co-operation both between European libraries themselves, and with suppliers and publishers, can significantly increase the range, quantity and quality of resources and services available to the individual library user. Interlibrary networks, linking libraries both nationally and across borders, will greatly facilitate resource development and resource sharing between libraries, and provide integrated services to their users. Libraries also need to extend their interconnections to publishers and distributors as user demand for electronic distribution of published information becomes more common-place. The shift towards electronic information leads to changes in the way products and services are marketed, distributed, authenticated and paid for, and libraries have a central role to play in this proc ess.

This Action Line was the keystone of the libraries work programme and aimed at the consolidation, integration, and upward scaling of the results of interconnection projects under the previous programme.

Action Line C: Library services for access to networked information resources: focuses on the value-added and mediation role of libraries in the networked information world. The traditional role of the library has been to provide access to resources they themselves collect and store. While to a certain extent this will remain the case, even where electronic documents are concerned, increasingly libraries are required to offer access to networked information resources. These resources include file archives and data sets (documents, software, images, statistical surveys, etc.), as well as interactive services. Libraries are well positioned to play a very important role in the organisation and distribution of networked information and to act as the intermediary between the end-user and the resource, providing they mobilise effort to contribute to the developments which are needed.

Two Calls for Proposals were published. Thirty-six co-operative R&D; projects and fourteen concerted actions (or platforms) and other measures were launched. Together these projects and actions cover all the topics identified in the work programme.

Horizontal or support actions, some of which had already started under the first programme, addressed broader issues common to clusters of projects (for instance, awareness of the copyright issues in an electronic environment; performance indicators and management of information; implementation of networking protocols such as Z39.50); or created a common platform for key players to define co-operative actions and strategies (for instance, bringing together national libraries; public libraries; players from the music arena); or focused on dissemination, awareness raising and exploitation. These support actions contributed to consolidate what the programme had already achieved and at the same time should optimise the success of future projects.

The programme was also opening to the needs of Central and Eastern European countries and quite a few of the new projects and actions involve Central & Eastern European partners or are focused on these countries.



In any initiative such as these programmes, aimed ultimately at users and their applications, it is neither expected nor intended that major advances in pure technology will be the main objective. Rather it is the wider and more effective use of existing technology which is the primary goal, some of that technology, although, established, being nevertheless quite advanced.

Nevertheless, we can identify certain areas were the programmes have had a great impact:

Technologies : In an initiative such as this one, aimed at applications and ultimately at users, the primary goal has been the wider and the more effective use of existing (advanced) technologies rather than developing entirely new ones. One of the general achievements has been to improve familiarity with the application of these technologies - which are proving to be key constituents of the evolving library role.

European co-operation : A major achievement was to sensitise library communities in all the Member States to the European dimension of library networks and services in the evolving Information Society. The establishment, within the programme, of different common interest groups (national libraries, public libraries, etc.) reflected this new dimension which is further reinforced by the practical experiences of co-operation in the projects themselves.

Partnerships and alliances : The work programmes succeeded in creating a constructive balance of project partnerships, bringing together libraries of all types, software houses, publishers and communications companies.

Standards : Several flagship projects promoted the implementation and use of high-level networking and format standards (Z39.50, EDIFACT, UNIMARC) in libraries and in the information community at large. The European Forum for Implementors of Library Applications has been instrumental in catalysing widespread collaboration on networking standards. New issues were addressed in the latest projects such as those related to metadata.

Copyright : A considerable amount of experience in dealing with IPR issues in the electronic environment was gained from project work. Furthermore, the European Copyright User Platform (ECUP) was provided a forum for exchanges of ideas on strategies and approaches in the library context and a libraries "voice" in other fora where these issues are discussed.

Provision of new services : Prototypes for a range of innovative services in the areas of document delivery, imaging, education and training and access to networked library resources paved the way for concrete developments of marketable products. Indeed, the key action lines for projects under the libraries component of the Third Framework Programme coincided very closely with the move towards integration in the current Telematics Applications programme. These new services had the potential for a wide user-base, including: student users and specialist researchers in both cultural and scientific/technical areas; users with special needs, such as visually disadvantaged people, library users in remote rural areas; and distance learners.

Political impact : The programme had a marked influence on library automation and networking policy in a number of countries and fostered European collaboration at all levels of the decision-making process.

General results

There are also some quantifiable results for these 8 years of work:

  • 5 Calls for Proposals were launched;
  • 820 proposals were submitted, with a total of 3023 participants;
  • 82 shared costs R&DT; projects were launched;
  • over 100 actions were funded;
  • 624 participants in these actions;
  • of which 431 were individual organisations; and
  • 23 technical studies.

This data gives us an idea of the scope and dimension of these programmes.

In 1999, PricewaterhouseCoopers was invited by the European Commission to assess the impact of the Libraries Programme under FP4. The report provides an integrated presentation of results and related findings.


The Future

The EU's work hasn't stop here. In 1999 the 5th Framework Programme for Research and Development started with a specific support for "Creating a User-Friendly Information Society" (IST). One of the key goals is to develop widely accessible services based on multimedia content. Libraries, with other public institutions such as museums, galleries and archives, have a new role to play, namely that of strengthening the emerging knowledge and culture economy by providing mediated access to these rapidly evolving resources. This work will be carried out under the Digital Heritage and Cultural Content area of the IST Programme.

About this site

This site provides core information on the work carried out by the European Commission in the libraries field under both the Third and Fourth Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development, Telematics for Libraries, from 1990 to 1998. It is divided in to the following sections:

Projects , containing the synopses of all projects supported by the EC under the Libraries sector and links to their web pages

Support Actions , containing the reports on concerted actions, workshops and concertation meetings in support of our sector objectives.

Publications , containing the list of Libraries publications available from the Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, the list of Libraries publications by commercial publishers on behalf of the EC and the list of available unpublished studies and reports

Support documentation , containing supporting documentation and guidelines

Policy , containing the documents and information used in the preparation of the Green Paper on the Role of Libraries in the Information Society

Statistics , containing the statistical data of the results of the programme from 1990-1998.

Public libraries , containing information on the work carried out in the field of public libraries

Music libraries , containing information on the work carried out in the field of music libraries

Distance learning , containing information on the work carried out in the field of distance learning

Metadata , containing information on the work carried out in the area of metadata

C&EE , containing useful information about library co-operation will Central and Eastern Europe

Software , containing information on available software products by projects funded by Telematics for Libraries

(email removed) , containing the contact details of the Commission department that is in charge of the programme.

Test sites , containing the list of the Telematics for Libraries list of potential test sites.


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