The European Library is a new discovery service that provides access to the collections of the national libraries of 46 European countries, plus a growing number of research libraries. Content accessible from the new service includes rare books, manuscripts, images, and video. The service allows users to cross-search 200 million records, covering more than 24 million pages of full-text information and more than 7 million digital objects. Users can export records to reference management services such as Mendeley, and from the end of 2012, registered users will be able to download and re-use metadata free of charge. To facilitate further research, links are provided to other websites in the Europeana group.
The new European Library service is the library aggregator for Europeana, the portal which provides links to cultural artifacts such as paintings, music, films, and books from cultural institutions across Europe, and it has been developed in partnership among the Conference of European National Libraries (CENL), the Association of European Research Libraries (LIBER), and the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL). It was originally established in 2005 by CENL, offering access via federated search to national library collections from across Europe.
The portal offers a range of ways to access content. Most users will probably start with a straightforward search that will query content across all 200 million records. A request for information about 20th-century British potter Bernard Leach, for example, generates 181 results, 143 of which are accessible in physical libraries (with links provided to individual library catalogs), and five can be accessed directly online. Results can be narrowed further by searching within searches, or results refined using multiple criteria. The search also signposts and links to items in Europeana itself, which can also be further refined to show photographs of Leach’s work, for example.
In addition to the single search box, content can also be explored in a number of ways: by discipline, which includes humanities (with more than 10 million items), social sciences (6 million items) and natural sciences and mathematics (more than 1 million items); by content language (with 13 million items available in English, nearly 15 million in German, and more than 5 million in Russian); or by contributors (such as The British Library, the National Library of Italy, or the National and the University Library in Zagreb). There is also a timeline feature that allows users to search by date of publication.
Special collections accessible via the portal include Masterpieces of the National Library of Spain and the National Library of Ireland’s digitized collection of historic photographs. The portal will also host a regular program of special exhibitions—currently, the ‘Reading Europe’ exhibit explores European culture via the medium of the book.
The new service ties in with Europeana’s strategic plan, announced in January 2011 (reported in a NewsBreak), which argued that to remain successful, 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. It will be interesting to see how The European Library will feature in this vision for the future.