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2 minutes to read Posted on Tuesday October 22, 2019

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Georgia Evans

Georgia Evans

Senior Editorial Officer , Europeana Foundation

The Rise of Literacy: bringing 13 cultural heritage institutions together to connect written cultural treasures

Running from September 2017-February 2019, the Rise of Literacy in Europe Generic Service project explored the use of written text in European culture from the 6th to the 20th century to tell the story of literacy in Europe. To celebrate the project’s successful completion, Renata Šolar from the National and University Library of Slovenia - which coordinated the project - discusses its achievements and why it was so important for her institution to be involved.

main image
Aristotle and Alexander from BL Royal 20 B XX, f. 10v
c. 1420 1415 - 1429
The British Library
United Kingdom

The Rise of Literacy in Europe project explored written text in European culture to tell the story of the development of European literacy. Through the project, participating partners selected, digitised, and ingested new textual content on the Europeana platform, and enriched and improved data for material already hosted on Europeana. Highlights of these written cultural treasures included extraordinary illuminated codices such as the Gutenberg Bible, handwritten letters from famous European poets and major European newspapers of the mid-20th century. 

Participating in the project

13 European cultural heritage organisations - mostly national libraries - were part of the project consortium, which encouraged collaboration around the digitisation of cultural heritage. For the National and University Library of Slovenia, participation in, and coordination of, the project was a great privilege and invaluable experience. It was fantastic to be connected with colleagues from all over Europe, and work together on irreplaceable textual knowledge. 

During the project we established strong ties with other partners, which will have a positive impact on future work. It was a great opportunity for exposure, networking and knowledge sharing - which provides motivation for keeping the partnership alive beyond the funding period! The development and application of best practices and the network established by the Rise of Literacy project will support capacity building and the further harmonisation of digital textual collections at a European and international level.

Alongside the Europeana Foundation and the National and University Library of Slovenia, 11 cultural heritage institutions were involved as partners: the National Library of Greece; the Royal Library of the Netherlands; the National Library of Serbia; the National Library of France; the National Library of Scotland; the National Library of Latvia; the National Library of Portugal; the Berlin State Library; the Italian National Research Council - Opera del Vocabolario Italiano; the Central Institute for the Union Catalogue of Italian Libraries and for Bibliographic Information; and the National Library of Wales


Jean de Meun writing in his study from BL YT 21, f. 69v
Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun
c. 1380
The British Library
United Kingdom

High-quality content

In total, an impressive 31,724 objects relating to the theme of the Rise of Literacy (from books to manuscripts, from newspapers to incunabula) were digitised and delivered to Europeana by project partners. They provided an additional 170,205 improved pre-digitised objects for publication on Europeana Collections throughout the course of the project. This high-quality content is mostly available for non-commercial or open reuse, supporting the accessibility of digital cultural heritage objects available through Europeana. 

Contributing to thematic collections 

The material identified by project partners and expert knowledge from consortium partners supported the creation of the queries essential to producing two thematic collections - Manuscripts and Newspapers. 

The Europeana Manuscripts Collection brings together high-quality resources from major European libraries, offering a reference point for researchers and the wider public to explore manuscripts from antiquity to the early print era. To date, it provides access to more than 480,000 documents from over 464 institutions across Europe. 

The second collection supported by The Rise of Literacy project, Europeana Newspapers, is currently one of the largest collections of digitised historical newspapers in Europe, providing access to around four million fully searchable digital historical newspapers content from 50 major national and research libraries in Europe. 


In close collaboration with the Europeana Foundation, the National Library of Scotland coordinated the production and publication of editorials connected with the Rise of Literacy in Europe. At the end of the project, this included 29 blogs, 6 galleries, 19 browse entry points, and an online exhibition - The Rise of Literacy in Europe - which was curated by the National Library of Latvia. Partners contributed content on diverse topics including early modern teaching materials, children’s books, bestsellers, and the history of reading. The exhibition was well received, with 3,000 visitors within its first three weeks of opening, and continues to be available to visitors to Europeana Collections.

A second exhibition is scheduled for 2020, and more blogs and galleries written and curated by the project partners will be published on Europeana Collections.

The Rise of Literacy in Europe Thematic Collection was a Generic Service Action INEA/CEF/ICT/A20I6/1332086/ Action: 2016-EU-IA-0093, co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.