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THE LIBERTY OF HAVING ACCESS TO EUROPEAN CULTURAL HERITAGES WITH A MOUSE-CLICK: EUROPEANA, THE FREEDOM OF NON-MOVEMENT

pdf mise en ligne :19 01 2009 ( NEA say… n° 59 )

COOPERATION JUDICIAIRE PENALE > Programme de La Haye

 On the 20 November it was finally presented the new frontier of cultural sharing in Europe. Europeana will be the new on-line library initially containing some 2 million digital objects, including books, manuscripts, photos, film material, paintings, sounds, newspapers. It will allow Europeans and people from all over the world to access a huge amount of cultural material without moving from home

 The project is now available and easy accessible to the public but we shouldn’t forget the enormous and praiseworthy work that stays behind it and the intricate network of national libraries which has made possible the establishment of Europeana.

The project becomes reality
After a long period of efforts towards the gathering of all the necessary agreements and the storing of a sufficient amount of material, finally Europeana was created.
The gladness of the Commissioner Viviane Reding and the President Barroso is clearly visible. They launched Europeana on the 20 Novemeber in the Royal Library of Belgium.
As Barroso emphasized Europeana will give a radical change in the way Europeans see their own culture and their common european identity. Moreover Europeana will cut the virtual barriers in order to allow people reaching the culture of the other european countries. All that, just remaining at home, simply sparing the journey abroad to find some unobtainable material. The advantage for the single citizen is gorgeous. Its possibilities are enormously enhanced. Barroso makes some simple but brilliant examples: “…Imagine the book-lover from Bulgaria who can gaze at illuminated manuscripts from medieval Irish monasteries without travelling to Dublin or  the music-lover from Malta who can study the original score of Mozart’s Requiem written in the composer’s own hand (thanks to a digitalization)…”. Indeed Europeana can be seen as a sort of non-movement or better as the implementation of the right of movement, enjoyed in a virtual way. Let’s think to all those who are lovers of the culture or of a specific cultural field and unfortunately they have difficulties to move (for financial reasons or even more for disability reasons). Now they all have a new tool for accessing foreign material without leaving their home. That sounds like an extraordinary step forward. It’s in a certain sense rather than the right of free movement, the right to be reached by information.

Europeana’s tasks
Established with a Commission funding (eContentplus Programme) and with the help of the European Digital Foundation, Europeana takes advantage from more than 1,000 libraries, archives and museums which have already furnished on-line material. At the present stage the new european digital library has some 2 million digital objects, but Viviane Reding has indicated 10 million objects as target for 2010. The huge library works thanks to the coordination which takes place in the Dutch Koninklijke Bibliotheek (NL) of The Hague. Besides the actual exploitation of the library by users all over the word, Europeana will also be an important instrument for the preservation of Europe’s cultural heritage for future generations. As underlined in the website of the i2010 policy (FR) (EN), in ancient times the Library of Alexandria had more or less the 70% of all human written knowledge. We must do even better and make the result last longer. In other words our work, our effort of gathering and storing shouldn’t be lost.
This target of preservation of a  rich heritage such as the european cultural one could be favoured also in another way. The digitalization of original copies of manuscripts or rare books helps avoiding the exploitation, the transfer and the dangerous exposition of delicate opuses. President Barroso stressed: “.. digital versions of old works not only reach a wider audience without causing any risk to the original copy, they also guarantee their survival”. Helping the old works survive, then, in order to be able to “deliver” them to future generations.

Too much interest brings the website down!
Paradoxically Europeana lived only one day. What did happen? It was certainly expected a large number of visitors but it was unthinkable to have the website overwhelmed by about 10 million hits per hour in the very first (and unique) day!
The website slowed several times during 20 November and finally the day after the experts of The Hague decided to close the site. It has been calculated that during only 4 hours the website had more hits than the previous site of The European Library (see below) had in an entire year. So, the crash was unforeseeable. Even the augmentation of the number of servers in The Hague has not been sufficient. After all it is a good fact. The interest of european citizens to the EU initiative is unequivocal. Let’s hope that it is not only curiosity, but real interest in a cultural dissemination tool. We must also notice from the statistics (for  all the statistics see  MEMO/08/733) that a certain interest has been shown by United States citizens. All that is a positive feedback from the global public. Anyway Europeana is  available again.


       Fabio Putortì
University of Florence (Italy)


Europeana website (EN)  (FR).
More info about Europeana (EN only).
Foundation Conference of European National Librarians (EN).
Website of the European Library (EN) (FR). All European official languages available.