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In a stand against a deal struck by five of the world's top libraries and Google to digitize millions of books, 19 European libraries have agreed to back a similar European project to safeguard literature.
The European project will be an alternative to Google's online library
Nineteen European national libraries have joined forces against a planned communications revolution by Internet search giant Google to create a global virtual library, organizers said Wednesday. The 19 libraries are backing instead a multi-million euro counter-offensive by European nations to put European literature online.
"The leaders of the undersigned national libraries wish to support the initiative of Europe's leaders aimed at a large and organized digitization of the works belonging to our continent's heritage," a statement said. "Such a move needs a tight coordination of national ambitions at EU level to decide on the selection of works," it added.
The statement was signed by national libraries in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.
The British National Library
The British National Library has given its implicit support to the move, without signing the motion, while Cyprus and Malta have agreed verbally to the text. Portugal is also set to approve it.
US libraries' deal with Google
The move, organized by France's national library, comes after Michigan University and four other top libraries -- Harvard, Stanford, New York Public Library and the Bodleian in Oxford -- announced in December a deal with Google to digitize millions of their books and make them freely available online.
Michigan and Stanford are planning to digitize their entire library collections -- totaling some 15 million books -- while the Bodleian is offering around one million books published before 1900.
The Harvard and New York Public Library contributions are smaller, but the entire project is still expected to take up to 10 years, with cost estimates ranging from $150 million to $200 million (116 million euros - 154 million euros).
French fears of online cultural imperialism
Google's plans have rattled the cultural establishment in Paris, raising fears that French language and ideas could be just sidelined on the worldwide web, already dominated by English.
French President Jacques Chirac has asked Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres and France's National Library president Jean-Noel Jeanneney to study how collections in libraries in France and Europe could be put more widely and more rapidly on the Internet. President Chirac is due to address the question during his opening address to a meeting of EU culture ministers in Paris on Monday and Tuesday.
Future perception of the world at risk, say French
Jeanneney has acknowledged that such a project, comprising some 4.5 billion pages of text, would help researchers and give poor nations access to global learning.
But he added: "The real issue is elsewhere. And it is immense. It is confirmation of the risk of a crushing American domination in the definition of how future generations conceive the world."