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Web person at the Imperial War Museum, just completed PhD about digital sustainability in museums (the original motivation for this blog was as my research diary). Posting occasionally, and usually museum tech stuff but prone to stray. I welcome comments if you want to take anything further. These are my opinions and should not be attributed to my employer or anyone else (unless they thought of them too). Twitter: @jottevanger

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Back to the start

I've been reading a hell of a lot of documents around Europeana lately as I write the case study for my thesis. And I mean a hell of a lot, many scores of them, including all sorts of work plans, funding agreements, visions, strategies and business plans, meeting minutes, white papers, conference presentations, functional specifications and all the rest. Perhaps the most revealing for me, though, has been to dig back into the prehistory of the service, to look at the documents that reveal its origins and relationship to predecessors such as The European Library and EDLproject (not the same as EDLnet, which itself turned into Europeana). I've had some fascinating discussions and insights from various key parties over the years about the real history, but only now have I actually got around to ferreting out some of the relevant documents published by the European Commission that show not merely the degree of its committment to the project but the sophistication of its ambition from the very start.
In particular it's interesting to note how much of the current vision genuinely was present at the very start. I think people have sometimes assumed that EDL/Europeana were really conceived as a web portal first and a hub for content reuse second, and probably for some motivations that would make the nose of a John Birchian twitch frenetically. But from its very inception it was truly about encouraging interoperability in support of reuse, of stimulating the creative economy, and squeezing more value from the continent's heritage by allowing it to flow to wherever it's needed - at least that's how I read it, and my recent reading matter reinforces that. I won't labour the point any more, I will simply quote extensively from the eContentPlus Work Plan for 2005 (which was actually a plan for work to be done/money spent from 2006, the year before EDLnet kicked off)

Cultural and scholarly institutions, including archives, libraries and museums, are developing or creating digital collections, either by digitising or by acquiring digital resources. Though often described on institutional web-sites, these resources lack visibility at European and global level, because there is insufficient interoperability between existing networks, across types of cultural organisation and collection, and across different types of content. This is aggravated by the range of different legacy systems and practices for describing cultural and scientific resources.

Effective access and re-use requires an infrastructure which can support a range of functions, including: discovery of collections and of individual items; disclosing conditions for and authenticating use; and integrating tools, such as thesauri and ontologies, to enable multilingual/multicultural access and use. Re-use (aggregating and creatively adding to this content) also requires enriched digital objects which can eventually bedelivered through these services, supporting new economic and business models and user communities.

eContentplus aims at leveraging the multilingual availability of significant assets of digital cultural, scientific and scholarly content by supporting the development of interoperable collections and objects - on which multilingual and cross-border services can be built - and by supporting solutions to facilitate exposure, discovery and retrieval of these resources. Actions should increase the opportunities and scope for accessing these resources, tackle multilingual issues, and support the emergence of enriched cultural content. There are two complementary objectives for the work in this area: promoting an enabling infrastructure in support of access and use; and stimulating content enrichment.

[quoted from eContentPlus work programme 2005 p.10]