'Europeana' ready for maiden voyage

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PARIS -- French President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday launched the first version of "Europeana," the country's contribution to the first online European digital library.

The vast Web-based literary collection became accessible to Internet users Friday as the annual national book fair, Salon du Livre, kicked off in Paris.

The online prototype initiated by Chirac in March 2005 will make more than 7,000 French books available for reference in "text mode," according to National French Library (BNF) president Jean-Noel Jeanneney.

The BNF has a budget of €10 million ($13.4 million) per year to devote to "Europeana," which aims to have more than 6 million works online by the end of 2010.

Twenty-five European national libraries have signed a motion supporting the European Union's response to Google's plans for a global virtual library, a 10-year digitization project aiming to make millions of works available for free online.

The total cost for the EU digital library is estimated at between €200 million and €250 million ($267 million-$334 million).

Chirac hopes France's involvement in the project will help to preserve Europe's cultural heritage and fight against Anglo-Saxon dominance.

"Culture is not merchandise and it cannot be left to the blind forces of the market," Chirac said in a speech earlier this year, "We must staunchly defend the world's diversity of cultures against the looming threat of uniformity."
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