BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe’s heritage went digital Thursday when the European Union launched an online library putting famous works such as Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony just a mouse click away.
Europeana (www.europeana.eu) gives multilingual access to two million digitized books and other items of cultural and historical significance held in over 1,000 institutions in the 27 EU states.
“Europeana offers a journey through time, across borders, and into new ideas of what our culture is. More than that, it will connect people to their history and, through interactive pages and tools, to each other,” EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding said in a statement.
Soon after its launch the website froze, its servers overwhelmed by volume of 10 million hits an hour.
“It shows the huge interest of European users in this project,” Reding’s spokesman said.
Europeana’s director, Jill Cousins, says the new portal is not just Europe’s answer to portals such as Google Book Search, but goes a step further.
“If you go onto Google, you don’t always know what you’re getting ... Here you do. The institutions have been here for hundreds of years and they know what they’re talking about and that’s what you’re getting out of it,” Cousins told reporters.
Google welcomed the EU initiative.
“Digitization projects like Europeana send a strong signal that authors, publishers, libraries and technology companies can work together to democratize access to the world’s collective knowledge,” said Santiago de la Mora, head of Google’s book partnerships in Europe.
Last month Google agreed to pay $125 million in a legal settlement with authors and major publishers so that readers can browse millions of copyrighted books online.
Europeana, trying to avoid similar problems, will initially offer access mainly to items in the public domain.
But the European Commission said it was in talks with cultural institutions, rights holders and technology firms about finding ways to add copyright material to its stock.
The online library plans to offer access to 10 million works by 2010. So far, just over half the 2 million items that are accessible are from France.
Editing by Huw Jones and Tim Pearce