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Broadening representation in the European Digital Library

More than six million books, documents and other culturally significant works should become available online within the new European Digital Library over the coming five years. The IST project TEL-ME-MOR aimed to ensure that the national libraries of the newer EU member states are included in this ambitious objective.

With the project due to end in January 2007, TEL-ME-MOR is well on the way to achieving its objectives. Content from eight out of the ten newly included national libraries has already been integrated into the European Digital Library, and most of these collections are already fully searchable, explains Toomas Schvak, spokesperson for the project.

“The remaining two libraries are in the process of joining the service, and will become official members by the end of 2006," he says. "That means that altogether there will be fifty-two collections in the European Digital Library by January 2007, forty-one of them searchable and thirty-two containing digital content."

TEL-ME-MOR has also succeeded in achieving another of its stated aims – stimulating and facilitating the participation of organisations from the new member states in IST projects. “I think the TEL-ME-MOR project was an excellent example of how well cross-cultural cooperation can actually work, and how people and institutions from ‘old’ and ‘new’ Europe can join forces to build something they all desire,” believes Schvak.

While some technical hitches were anticipated, bearing in mind the disparity between technological infrastructure in older and newer member states, the reality turned out to be quite different, he believes.

“Only two of the libraries had serious issues. One needed to upgrade to Unicode across their collections, in order to be able to display material correctly. The other library was not problematic in itself, but had problems when using its ministry’s servers,” he remarks.

He also notes that internet access itself has not been a problem for national libraries, despite disparities in connection speed. “Although the bandwidth can vary quite a bit in different libraries, in general the national libraries of the new member states have good or at least reasonable internet connections. The amount of online content is another issue, but as TEL-ME-MOR does not fund digitisation, we have focused only on collections that are already available in digital format."

As well as helping the national libraries with the nuts-and-bolts process of putting their digital content online, TEL-ME-MOR has also conducted several studies on issues such as the research and development activities of European national libraries and multilingual online access. The findings of those studies have been made available to the public and have been discussed widely in European forums. Many of them will be implemented in a follow-up project, EDL.

The TEL-ME-MOR project has also been active in promoting exchanges on the future direction of Europe’s online heritage. In October 2006, project researchers organised an international conference in Tallinn, Estonia, to focus on the digital future of cultural and scientific heritage. The event brought together 130 participants from all over the world.

“The most important findings to emerge from the conference point to the potential benefits of closer cooperation between libraries, museums and archives, as well as the urgent need to identify funding for large scale digitisation of cultural heritage,” Schvak says.

With most of the necessary technological structures now in place, what is needed now is a focus on online content, he believes. “Currently the main problem among the newer members seems to be lack of online digital content, not the lack of means to provide access to it.”

He adds that integrating these national libraries into the European Digital Library is another key step in making the common European cultural heritage available via one access point, as well as fostering cross-cultural cooperation and integration at a European level. It will also give European researchers access to more sources for their research.

Other key areas where further EU support could be helpful include research into multilingual searching, and making existing digital content images fully searchable. “The EU should also facilitate building the community of cultural and scientific content holders – in other words, cooperation and interoperability between libraries, museums and archives,” Schvak concludes.

Based on information from Tel-Me-Mor.

Jernett Karensen | alfa
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