Europeana, the portal which provides links to cultural artifacts such as paintings, music, films and books from cultural institutions across Europe, has published a new strategic plan which sets out the direction for its development up to 2015. To remain successful, the plan says, Europeana must move to a more distributed model, collaborating with other content aggregators and making its content available in the places where users congregate online, such as social networks and educational sites.
The plan identifies major challenges ahead, including overcoming intellectual property barriers to digitization, speeding up digitization of the cultural and intellectual record, and securing long-term funding. Four strategic areas for development are identified: aggregating content, facilitating knowledge transfer and advocacy, distributing heritage to users wherever they are, and engaging users in new ways of participating in their cultural heritage. The plan forecasts ambitious content growth for the project, from 14 million objects in 2010 to 30 million objects in 2015.
Described by Neelie Kroes, the vice president of the European Commission responsible for the digital agenda, as “a reference point for European culture on the internet (which) reflects the ambition of Europe’s cultural institutions to make our common and diverse cultural heritage more wisely accessible to all.” Europeana launched as a proof of concept in 2008, with 2 million objects from 27 EU countries. During 2009 and 2010 the project ingested a critical mass of data from some 1,500 providers across Europe to create an operational service, and now claims to provide access to almost 15 million objects. The goal is to give access to all Europe’s digitized cultural heritage by 2025.
Underpinning the new plan is a 5 month consultation with stakeholder partners, including users, policy makers, content partners, and market players. The process identified value propositions for each group—among these, for example, users said that they particularly value having access to a trusted source that was easy to use. Content providers and aggregators valued visibility and revenue, and the market valued premium services and brand association.
The plan identifies specific aims within each of the four strategic goals: aggregation, facilitation, distribution, and engagement.
Under the aggregation heading, the plan makes clear that content will be sought from under-represented cultures and countries, and that work will be done to rectify the lack of audiovisual and 20th and 21st century material. This may entail the setting up of alliances with providers of commercial content—for example, partnerships with selected providers of in-copyright material so that born-digital, contemporary content can be integrated with complementary heritage content. Similarly, efforts will be made to include new types of cultural heritage content such as 3D material.
Given that Europeana holds descriptive metadata rather than digitized objects themselves, another important aim is to improve the quality of the metadata itself by developing tools and guidelines for content providers. Europeana states that it is enforcing the clear attribution of rights information, and that agreement must be reached on the use of persistent identifiers. During 2011, the European Data Model (EDM) will be introduced, described as “a new way of structuring data,” which will enable the use of Semantic Web technology, support Linked Open Data, maintain more domain-specific rich information, and allow digital objects from providers to be shown alongside authoritative and curated information from other domains.
Multilingual access to Europeana’s content is also a priority for users, and solutions are being investigated together with partners including Humboldt University and Google.
The facilitation and promotion of knowledge transfer is another important goal for the project, and to this end Europeana aims to speed up the development of tools and service innovation by providing its codebase as open source through Europeana Labs.
Another important theme focuses on orphan works (whose rights holders cannot be identified), which are of particular interest to Europeana because of the “20th Century black hole.” Paradoxically, the “most recorded century” is sparsely documented on Europeana. Europeana will press for solutions to the problem of orphan works, which cannot be digitized and made publicly accessible, by working with the European Commission to look at collective licensing and registries of rights.
Strategies to increase distribution of Europeana content include the use of APIs and widgets, and partnering with public and private organisations such as travel or educational sectors to enable them to interpret and repurpose the content for their audiences. Social media activities are also set to grow.
Among the methods suggested for improving engagement with users is the creation of new virtual exhibitions that juxtapose various pan-European content to open up new interpretations. Tools to encourage user generated content include storytelling, guest blogging, surveys and quizzes, and the provision of spaces for remixing, sampling, and mashups. In addition, Europeana will continue to work with Wikipedia to develop opportunities for collaboration. According to the plan, “Wikipedia’s model of user involvement, multilingual content, range of cultural and scientific coverage and extensive interpretation offers strengths that are complementary to Europeana’s.”
‘Comité des Sages’ Calls for ‘New Renaissance’ in Cultural Heritage
The Europeana strategy comes hot on the heels of a new report from the “Comité des sages” a high-level reflection group that advises the European Commission on the digitization of Europe’s cultural heritage. The recommendations of the Comité feed into the Commission’s broader strategy, under the Digital Agenda for Europe to help cultural institutions make the transition towards the digital age and to search for new and effective business models that accelerate digitization while allowing fair remuneration for rights holders where necessary
Members of the Comité des sages are Maurice Lévy (chairman and CEO of advertising and communications company Publicis), Elisabeth Niggemann (director-general of the German National Library and chair of the Europeana Foundation) and Jacques De Decker (author and permanent secretary of Belgium’s Royal Academy of French language and literature). The report, titled “The New Renaissance,” recommends that the Europeana portal should become the central reference point for Europe’s online cultural heritage, and that Member States must ensure that all material digitized with public funding is available on the site, and bring all their public domain masterpieces into Europeana by 2016. In addition, cultural institutions, the European Commission and Member States should actively and widely promote Europeana
So far, so good. However, as the report notes, “Member States need to considerably increase their funding for digitization in order to generate jobs and growth in the future. The funds needed to build 100 km of roads would pay for the digitization of 16% of all available books in EU libraries, or the digitization of every piece of audio content in EU Member States’ cultural institutions.” In today’s economic climate funds for knowledge and information services are coming increasingly under pressure, as public libraries in the U.K. are currently discovering. According to the report, “The current financial crisis cannot be ignored, but equally cannot be a reason for not acting.” However, it remains to be seen how this will play out over time.
Europeana itself sits alongside wider issues relating to copyright and the European Union, which are covered by the Comité’s recommendations. The “New Renaissance” report urges that works that are covered by copyright, but are no longer distributed commercially, need to be brought online. According to the Comité, it is primarily the role of rights-holders to digitize these works and exploit them. But if rights holders do not do this, cultural institutions must have a window of opportunity to digitize material and make it available to the public, for which right holders should be remunerated.
Orphan works are another cause for concern. The British Library estimates that 40% of its in-copyright collections are orphaned, and it has been estimated that approximately 90% of the photographic record in U.K. cultural institutions are orphaned. The Comité recommends that EU rules for orphan works need to be adopted as soon as possible and defines eight fundamental conditions for any solution which are described in the report.
In addition, the Comité focuses on public-private partnerships as one approach to the digitization of cultural assets. Inevitably this leads to a discussion of Google Books, which has a number of partnerships with European libraries, which have been extensively reported. At the same time, the Europeana report cites both Google and Wikipedia as partners in its future development. While the future vision of making European cultural assets freely available to all seems, on the face of it, laudably simple, there are a number of thorny issues, particularly in the areas of intellectual property and managing the potential commercial benefits of these endeavours that look set to run and run.