Digital archive plans gain EU support


BRUSSELS -- European Union culture ministers have backed plans to transform Europe's massive film and broadcast archives into digital form and make them available on the Internet.

The ministers, meeting in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday, gave the green light to long-held plans for a European Digital Library that would gather digitized cultural material, including films, broadcasts, music, pictures, books, newspapers and photographs.

The operation is expected to cover millions of hours of film and video in broadcasting archives as well as books and bound periodicals from Europe's libraries.

"There is a real demand for digital content," the ministers said in a joint statement. "Digitization and online accessibility of our cultural heritage can fuel creative efforts and support activities in other sectors."

However, they acknowledged that the actual efforts to develop a European Digital Library had been painfully slow and said that national governments needed a EU coordinator to ensure the process moved faster.

The first challenge for governments is to undertake the conversion of stored content in traditional formats including celluloid film, analog broadcast, photographic negatives and music on vinyl records or tape into digital form. The next step will be to ensure the material is easily available online and that the digital information will be available for future generations.

The move follows a call in April by six EU leaders calling for a virtual European library to make Europe's cultural and scientific records accessible for all. The digital libraries initiative aims at making European information resources easier and more interesting to use in an online environment.

EU officials insist their initiative is not a reaction to Google's digital library project but admit the Internet giant's efforts have shown the potential of the online environment for making information more widely accessible.