Europe's digital library taking shape

At least 6 million books, documents and other cultural works are expected to go online over the next five years.

At least 6 million books, documents and other cultural works will be made available online over the next five years under a planned European Digital Library.

The European Commission on Thursday released more details about its plans to finance a series of "digitization centers" across the continent and create a framework for protecting intellectual property rights. The centers will house the skills and expertise "needed to achieve excellence for digitization and preservation processes," the EC said.

Viviane Reding, the EC's information society and media commissioner, said in a statement Thursday that technology will "enable you to tap into Europe's collective memory with a click of your mouse."

People will be able to search the collections of libraries, archives and museums through a single, multilingual entry point, which will take the form of a Web portal.

Two million books, films, photographs, manuscripts and other works are expected to become accessible through the library by 2008, rising to 6 million by 2010.

The EC said the final figure would be much higher as "every library, archive and museum in Europe will be able to link its digital content to the European Digital Library."

The Commission noted that Google's digital library project had "triggered a reflection" on how to deal with Europe's cultural heritage in the digital age.

"It is also interesting in that it highlights the possibilities for public/private initiatives in this area. Public/private partnerships or sponsoring by private companies will accelerate digitization," the Commission said. "Given the budgetary constraints on many cultural institutions, initiatives involving the private sector can be a useful means to complement public funding."

Steve Ranger of reported from London.

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