By / April 9, 2014

Europe’s cultural heritage online

The European Union (on the basis of article 167 TEU) supports the goal of online accessibility for Europe’s cultural heritage…

© European Union
Europe's cultural heritage online
© European Union

The European Union (on the basis of article 167 TEU) supports the goal of online accessibility for Europe’s cultural heritage by helping to create the conditions for digitisation, accessibility and preservation of cultural content. It fosters collaboration between Member States and cultural institutions, and also between these cultural institutions and other stakeholders. Thus it helps consolidating Member States’ strategies and targets, the organisation and provision of funding for digitisation and improving the framework for online accessibility of cultural material. It does that mainly by contributing to the further development of Europeana as the single point of access and by monitoring the process with the help of a Member States Expert Group. Europeana provides access to over 30m objects (18m images, 12m texts, 489k sounds, 228k videos, 15k 3D objects) from more than 2,300 European galleries, museums, archives and libraries from 36 countries. As of November 2013 Germany is the largest provider of objects with a share of 15%, followed by France with a share of 11% (see Europeana facts & figures page). At the same time (Europeana traffic & usage section) the site has 872k visits with 715k unique visitors and almost 3m page views per quarter of a year.

Since its launch in November 2008 Europeana has grown steadily. Parliament has been accompanying the development with questions and two resolutions, in May 2010 (P7_TA(2010)0129) and in September 2012 (legislative resolution on the digitisation and online display of orphan works (P7_TA(2012)0349)).

With the aim of fueling the process created by the “Digital Agenda” and i2010 (see COM (2005) 465 final) initiatives the European Commissioners for the Digital Agenda and Culture in April 2010 set up a Reflection Group (“Comité des Sages”). The group’s task was to make recommendations to the European Commission on ways and means to make Europe’s cultural heritage available on the internet and to preserve it for future generations, looking in particular at funding sources, at how cultural organisations and the private sector can interact in the digital age, and at solutions for digitising material. After extensive consultation with stakeholders and the public the group presented its report “The New Renaissance” on 10 January 2011. The report asked EU Member States to strengthen their efforts to put online the collections held in all their libraries, archives and museums. It stressed the economic benefits of making Europe’s culture and knowledge more easily accessible. The report endorsed Europe’s digital library Europeana.

As a follow up of the report the Commission’s introduced a recommendation C(2011) 7579 final and the resp. working document (SEC (2011) 1274) to the Council. The latter adopted its conclusions in May 2012 on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation. Therein it underlines that digitisation turns cultural material into a lasting asset for the digital economy, creating opportunities for innovation and creativity . In the annex to the conclusions (p.7 ff) Council presents an indicative roadmap with priorities for the work of member states until 2015.


The Commission presents a useful timeline of events leading to Europeana in its present state. In their summaries of legislation pages the it also provides an overview of the i2010 Digital Libraries initiative. Activities on the level of the EU in the field of the digitization of Europe’s cultural heritage can be found on one of the Commission’s respective Digital Agenda pages.

Europeana Essentials presentation, a regularly updated powerpoint presentation prepared by the Europeana foundation.

The EP’s Research Services have published a Briefing on Orphan works in the digital era and a keysource on Digitisation and Online Display of Orphan Works.


There is a considerable amount of publications on Europeana, from political analysis to assessments of its technical architecture. The following list is a small selection. For further information sources you may run a search on the EPRS website by clicking this link.

The “New Renaissance” report provides a pertinent overview as well as an analysis of costs for digitizing Europe’s cultural heritage and a technical audit of Europeana and presents stakeholder opinions (see also the Commission’s press release and an EPRS summary).

The professional section of the Europeana website provides access to publications about its Strategic Planning until 2015 and its annual business plans as well as its annual achievements.

According to the Enumerate Survey Report on Digitisation in Cultural Heritage Institutions of May 2012, only about 20% of all collections, have been digitised so far. While 57% still need to be digitised, there is no need to digitise the remaining 23%.

The Political Background of Portal / Dušan Miletić. in: СИНТЕЗИС СТУДИЈЕ БАШТИНЕ II/1 (2010), p.137-150: The paper examines Europeana’s political background from multiple perspectives, as a reaction to the Google Books projects. It suggests that Europeana is not a regular digitized heritage portal, arguing that a new kind of supranational identity requires a new kind of cultural institution to support it.

A view on Europeana from the US perspective / Ricky Erway. in: Liber Quarterly 19 (2) p.103-121, December 2009: Erway from OCLC looks at Europeana from many vantage points: mandate and funding; branding and public relations; learning from others; aggregation; cooperation; content; rights; metadata; technology; access; user feedback; and sustainability.

Uncovering cultural heritage through collaboration / Cousins, J., S. Chambers, and E. Meulen. in: International Journal On Digital Libraries 9 (2008), no. 2: 125-138: The article describes the history of The European Library from project to operational service. It concentrates on the collaborative organizational model that has contributed to its success to date. This success has led to the European Union making available funds and backing The European Library as the horse to lead the European Digital Library Initiative, called Europeana.

Stakeholder views

Results of the online stakeholder consultation on the Commission’s communication “Europeana – Next steps” (COM (2009) 440 final and attached working document SEC (2009) 1124 final) [due to ongoing restructurations of the Commission’s webpages you have to scroll far down the page to see the content]

EU programmes and projects

A list of 22 current projects funded via the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP)’s Information and Communication Technologies Policy Support Programme (ICT PSP) can be found on the Commission’s Digital Agenda pages. In particular there are:

3D-Icons3D Digitisation of Icons of European Architectural and Archaeological Heritage- proposing to digitise a series of architectural and archaeological masterpieces of world and European cultural significance and provide 3D models and related digital content to Europeana.

APEX – aiming at expanding in quality as well as quantity the delivery of digital archival content to Europeana.

DM2E – with two primary aims: to enable as many content providers as possible to get their data into Europeana and to stimulate the creation of new tools and services for re-use of Europeana data in the Digital Humanities.

Europeana Newspapers – aiming at the aggregation and refinement of newspapers for The European Library and Europeana.

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