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The Europeana we recognise today launched in 2008 but has much deeper roots.

'Mannen in gesprek over hun adelijke afstamming and De papieren Adel', by Jacobus Buys. Rijksmuseum, public domain.

The story begins with libraries

The first project that joining up national libraries online was the Gateway and Bridge to Europe's National Libraries (GABRIEL). GABRIEL was a guide and showcase to the collections of 43 national libraries and a model for cooperation and networking.

Heads of nations call for a virtual European library

With funding from the European Commission, GABRIEL grew into The European Library - a search engine and open data hub for library collections. The European Library website launched in 2005. From 2005-2009, the TEL-ME-MOR, TELPlus and FUMAGABA projects expanded The European Library with more national libraries and greater standardisation and search capabilities.

2005 saw the call by six heads of state for more European investment. A letter signed by French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, and Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, asked European Union officials to support the project. The national libraries of 19 European nations had agreed to back the plan.

‘The heritage of European libraries is unequaled in richness and diversity,’ the letter read. ‘But if it is not digitalized and made accessible online, this heritage could, tomorrow, not fill its just place in the future geography of knowledge.’

On 7 July 2005, José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, replied to the letter and welcomed the digital libraries initiative. By 30 September 2005, the Commission adopted the i2010: Digital Libraries strategy which outlined the vision for the digital libraries initiative and three key areas for action:

  • Digitisation of analogue collections
  • Online accessibility
  • Preservation and storage

Europeana prototype launches

The Europeana prototype went live on 20 November 2008, a product of the newly created European Digital Library Foundation. Museums, audiovisual archives and galleries joined the libraries, creating a common access point to Europe’s cultural heritage. At launch, Europeana gave access to 4.5 million digital objects. In the summer of 2010, the Europeana prototype became an operational service.

Becoming a European standard

In January 2011, the European Commission released its ‘New Renaissance’ report which endorsed Europeana as ‘the central reference report for Europe’s online cultural heritage’.

And a huge milestone followed in September 2012 when, in the first move of its kind, Europeana metadata was released under the terms of the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication, making the metadata itself freely available for any kind of use, boosting opportunities for digital innovation and creativity.

Fighting for survival

Despite proving successful, Europeana had to contend, as did many other organisations, with swingeing cuts to European funding. The #AllezCulture campaign launched in 2013 garnered strong support from the cultural heritage sector and made a case for Europeana’s continued funding.

Part of the fabric of Europe

In May 2015, the European Commission announced that Europeana was to become one of its Digital Service Infrastructures (DSI). As a DSI, Europeana’s objectives are to innovate the aggregation infrastructure, boost the distribution infrastructure and work towards long-term financial stability through business model innovation. All of this helps make sure that Europe’s businesses and people reap the full benefits of the technological revolution in digital services in culture.

Relaunching as Europeana Collections

In 2015, Europeana’s collection-related websites e.g. its search engine, exhibitions and blog, started to come together in one place, now called Europeana Collections. As of summer 2017, Europeana Collections gives access to 53 million digital objects, with five thematic collections, 30 exhibitions and dozens of curated galleries.