The European Digital Library - A Project of the Conference of European National Librarians

by Elisabeth Niggemann

The Conference of European National Librarians (CENL) shares the vision of a European Digital Library and has been working towards this goal by creating The European Library service. The Communication published in September 2005 by the European Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding, on her plans for European digital libraries provided the impulse to think in a much broader way of a more comprehensive European Digital Library.

A true European Digital Library should serve all types of user needs: present and future, up-to-date or historical information, science and humanities, education, research and everyday, 'normal' information needs. It must comprise all types of media from the full gamut of Europe's cultural heritage institutions: libraries, museums and archives.

This is a highly diverse universe of knowledge, information and creativity: it exists as print, sound or image; in traditional analogue form or increasingly as 'born digital' or digitized form; and held by institutions with different professional backgrounds and traditions and in all the member states with their different institutional structures, responsibilities and financing. It would therefore be extremely difficult to organize a central, comprehensive super-structure. Instead, a networked structure is required, allowing faster and slower partners to proceed at their own speeds, while all benefit from the process.

The 'hub' of the network should be a central entry point to all the participating gateways. This network of networks must be scalable, and will rely heavily on common rules, standards and procedures. On the other hand, it must be built with diversity and heterogeneity in mind. From the users' point of view, cross-searching of all data and cross-services offered by all or most of the network members is of great importance. From the participating institutions' point of view it is the technical interoperability for limitless data exchange and high-performance access that are critical.

Partner networks need not be homogenized, but can continue to be organized in many ways. They will create among themselves a network of subnetworks, with nodes and substructures, that reflect the diverse needs of the different user communities, media types, institution types, and eventually also reflect legal frameworks.
Since the Europe of the future will be larger than it is now, it is important that all European countries are taken into consideration from the very beginning, not only those that are today's EU Member States. Building a scalable system means not only technical scalability but also functional scalability: this includes all the European languages with their different character sets.

The European Digital Library should also – from the very beginning - try to build bridges to those global or regional networks outside Europe that provide additional resources for Europe's citizens and researchers.

One European gateway built on these principles is already in existence: TEL, The European Library. TEL is an ambitious and pioneering collaboration between European national libraries, supported by the EU and created under the auspices of CENL. It offers a professionally designed and maintained single access point to their holdings, spanning a range of collections in all the partner national libraries. It already allows access to more than one million digital items, as well as millions of catalogue records. Of the 45 CENL member libraries, about thirty will be full partners at the end of 2007, including all EU member states. All 45 CENL members were involved as partners from the start.

CENL believes that TEL is a model platform and model organizational network for building the European Digital Library. As a group, the members of CENL own Europe's cultural published heritage – many of them according to legal deposit, many for the whole period of time of their nation's history. In those cases where sections of their nation's memory are not part of their holdings, they are usually part of a national network of libraries that, as a group, cooperatively own the complete national corpus.

To take up the challenge of creating a European Digital Library, CENL adopted the Resolution on Digitization of European Cultural Heritage at its last annual meeting in Luxembourg in September 2005. CENL aims at examining how best to use the organizational model of The European Library to develop and coordinate, as a common effort, the existing strategies for digitization and digital libraries, including technical, content selection and funding issues. As it is particularly important to focus on content selection, CENL established the Content Working Group which will work on how content for mass digitization in Europe can be selected and created for the European Digital Library.

The next step towards a European Digital Library will be the start of a new EU-funded project where CENL is one of the coordinators. The project will deal with the enlargement of The European Library service by new partners, with multilingual issues and content development. Negotiations with the European Comission are underway and the project should commence in summer 2006: the European Digital Library (EDL).


Please contact:
Elisabeth Niggemann, Chair of CENL, Die Deutsche Bibliothek, Frankfurt, Germany