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The European Digital Library will make millions of books available onlineImage: AP

Europe Ponders Digitalization of Cultural Heritage

DW staff (tt)
June 21, 2006

How should European cultural heritage be preserved in the age of the Internet? What are the implications of new technologies on the European cultural scene? A conference in Salzburg, Austria is looking for answers.


"An Expedition to European Digital Cultural Heritage" -- a two-day international conference on digitalizing Europe's cultural legacy -- opened on Tuesday in the Austrian city of Salzburg.

The conference, organized under the patronage of the Austrian presidency over the European Union, focuses on the strategies of long-term preservation of European cultural and scientific resources and the ways in which technology as well as policy can help in the process of collecting, connecting and communicating our cultural memory.

The conference is meant to contribute to the open debate between research communities and heritage institutions such as libraries and museums, on the one hand, and multimedia entrepreneurs, technology providers and policy makers, on the other.

Making the past available in the future

Komposition von Johann Sebastian Bach
European archives contain a wealth of important, but largely inaccessible documentsImage: AP/Bach-Archiv Leipzig

Recognizing the importance of new technologies, the EU Commission has designed a strategy called i2010 to promote the development of information society in Europe across national and linguistic borders.

The goal of the agenda i2010 is the creation of the so-called common European information space, in which European citizens will be able to access and share on the Internet a wealth of written and audio-visual materials and services, regardless of which country they come from.

Participants in the Salzburg conference will be paying particular attention to the essential part of the common European information space -- the European Digital Library. Two million books, films, photographs, manuscripts and other works should be online through the library by 2008, and the figure is expected to rise to six million by 2010 as more and more libraries, archives and museums plug in.

A cultural utopia

Mozart Salzburg
"An Expedition to European Digital Cultural Heritage" is taking place in Salzburg, AustriaImage: dpa

This titanic project is an attempt to address the cultural paradox of the Internet age: The more data is available, the more difficult it becomes to access it. Estimates show than the amount of new information produced in the year 2002 alone -- 5 billion gigabytes -- is 37,000 times larger than the holdings of the US Library of Congress, the world's largest library.

US Internet search giant Google triggered an international race to build an online library when it announced plans in December 2004 to digitize books and documents from a handful of big libraries.

US Internet and software giants Yahoo, Microsoft and Amazon have since announced separate plans while France, angry that private companies took the lead and concerned about the US-American domination in the field, has pushed for the creation of a public digital library.
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