Wednesday, February 4, 2009


This week I visited Europeana, the digital library created by the European Union with materials from museums, libraries, and archives from throughout the EU's member states.

Europeana's collection is quite extensive. It's creators appear to have followed a collection policy of including not only all of the major art and cultural works that come to one's mind, but also to include less famous works also exemplifying European or colonial culture. Indeed, the promotion of European culture is the goal of the collection and serves as the underlying collection policy. Europeana does a good job describing its goals, collection, and participating partners. In fact, it provides a list of links to partners's sites (e.g. the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam or among many others). One oversight, however, is that nowhere on its website does Europeana explicitly make it known that it is an institution of the European Union. Of course, most of its visitors probably already know its origins, which would clear up any questions regarding ownership authenticity (at least if you believe the EU constitutes a government...) not settled by the list of partners. Since the site is, in fact, maintained by the EU, it does receive proper curation. Sadly, Eurpeana does not seem to be easily accomodating to those with disabilites, although it is only currently in the beta stage. Europeana does respect IP rights, listing the copyrights of its images (e.g. a photo of a relief of Krishna is listed as copyrighted by the British Library Board). Also, Europeana's images are relatively small and would be hard to use in contravention of IP laws. I can't really tell if Europeana, in its beta stage, has mechanisms for measuring usage (although it did crash from heavy use when initially unveiled) or its degree of interoperability. I do think, however, that it integrates into users' own workflows and will be easily sustainable over time. All in all, I would give Europeana strong marks in terms of its collection.

Europeana's metadata appears to conform to the Dublin Core. I found elements including title, creator, description, provider, language, source, rights, subject, date, format, relations, and type. I believe these all correspond to DC elements, which would suggest a high level of interoperability, as well as use of authority control and content standards. At any rate, the metadata of the Europeana does seem sufficient to support the long-term curation and preservation of objects in the collection, as well as providing handy information to Europeana's users.

In terms of its objects, Europeana, for the most part, excels. Europeana possesses objects in text, image, video, and sound, depending on what is being depicted. Furthermore, the formats of these objects support their intended use, namely exposing users to the culture of Europe (including orientalism as objects from former colonies may also be found throughout the collection). One weakness, in this regard, though, is that there is no 3d format for sculpture, which does seem a bit limiting. However, all the objects are clearly named and authenticated, and possess sufficient metadata to be of broad use. I thoroughly enjoyed browsing through Europeana's objects.

From my investigation of the site, I surmise that the EU had two intended audiences in mind. The EU's primary audience seems to be its own citizens. (I can tell this is the primary audience because only the languages of EU member states are available as language options). Europeana allows citizens of Europe to explore their own culture. Furthermore, it allows citizens of one member state get to know the cultures and histories of other member states through those states' artwork. No doubt, the bigwigs in Brussells hope that this will aid unifying feelings and preclude citizens of particular countries from withholding ratifications of future constitutions, as happened last year or so in the Republic of Ireland. On a secondary level, Europeana also seems geared towards promoting European culture to non-Europeans. All in all, Europeana's motto of "think culture" strikes me as very appropriate.

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