In a project that I am sure is close to David’s heart, Europeana opened on November 20. Here is the object of the site, as stated on its Web site:

Europeana – the European digital library, museum and archive – is a 2-year project that began in July 2007. It will produce a prototype website giving users direct access to some 2 million digital objects, including film material, photos, paintings, sounds, maps, manuscripts, books, newspapers and archival papers. The prototype will be launched in November 2008 by Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Information Society and Media.

The digital content will be selected from that which is already digitised and available in Europe’s museums, libraries, archives and audio-visual collections. The prototype aims to have representative content from all four of these cultural heritage domains, and also to have a broad range of content from across Europe.

The interface will be multilingual. Initially, this may mean that it is available in French, English and German, but the intention is to develop the number of languages available following the launch.

There is an excellent article about the background leading up to the site in this article in The Guardian, from which the following is taken:

"It is unique," said Jill Cousins, Europeana’s executive director. "A search engine cannot do what we can. For example, a search [on Europeana] for Mozart brings together letters he wrote to his father, musical scores, and film and sound recordings of his music."

She said she was grateful to Google for setting a precedent. "Part of the reason our site exists is because Google Book Search kicked off a debate about the presence of European cultural heritage on the web. That allowed us to mobilise."

One of the people most incensed by Google Book Search was the former French president Jacques Chirac, who started a race with the Anglo-Saxons to digitalise French content led by institutions such as the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. France accounts for around a half of the content of the Europeana site, followed by Britain and the Netherlands. Other countries will slowly add more content. Currently there are around 2m items available, and the site is expected to reach 10m items by 2010.

However, the site is now down due to its popularity. As stated at the URL in the beginning of this article: We launched the site on 20 November and huge use – 10 million hits an hour – meant it crashed. We are doing our best to reopen in a more robust version.


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