Libraries and Technology in the European Union: Soldering the Connections

Article excerpt

The United Kingdom is capitalizing 07z its strong links with both Europe and the English-speaking world to participate in multinational research-and-development projects that should facilitate the connections between the two communities and overcome the linguistic, cultural, and technical barriers to information flow. Thus the British Library is leading the Computerized Bibliographic Record Actions (CoBRA) initiative to stimulate cooperative research projects with other European national libraries and organizations active in the bibliographic arena under the auspices of the European Commission. Key projects that will promote the international exchange of bibliographic information are identified.

Participation in transatlantic programs such as the Anglo-American Authority File and MARC format harmonization are bringing the United Kingdom and North America closer together, which in turn narrows the gap between North America and continental Europe. International access to electronic documents will be the next growth area, and some British Library projects to realize the digital library are highlighted to illustrate the potential benefits to international scholarship.

There has been much hyperbole about networking breaking down international barriers, and one can point to a fair number of examples, but simply connecting to the global information superhighway in its present and future manifestations is not enough in itself. There are many other barriers--practical, cultural, and linguistic--that must be dismantled or circumvented before dialogue can thrive and we can make a quantum leap in expanding the interchange between nations. There are also more links that have to be forged than telecommunications interconnections. The aim of this paper is to give an indication of the activity going on to span the divide between libraries within the European Union (KU) and between the EU and North America.

The EU has been concerned for several years that it could be left behind in the information society. Its diverse association of million states with their different languages, cultures, governmental systems and institutions means that, unless conscious action is taken, it will remain as a loose collection of small information markets whose development is slow and which are prey to domination from outside forces. In the same way that customs barriers have been removed between EU countries to create a single market, the aim is to create a single information market, a market that has the critical mass to stimulate and sustain development. Such a market would be of similar size to that in the United States, which provides a powerful example of the synergy between technology and information and of the paramount role that information plays in innovation and wealth creation.

The European Libraries Programme

To realize the aim of a single information market, the European Commission has funded a series of research programs in the area of "Telematics," which covers telecommunications, computer hardware and software, translation systems (a major goal for a multilingual society), and information. Libraries were recognized as key repositories of information that could form the nodes of the information society; they could make their contents much more accessible, thus stimulating the demand for, and the application of, information to the solution of social problems in education and learning and for innovation. The commission therefore created the European Libraries Programme as part of its much larger Framework Programme for Research & Technological Development. The European Libraries Programme is a scheme whereby libraries and other players in the information market are invited to submit proposals to carry out research, undertake feasibility studies, or develop demonstrator and pilot projects. Commission funding must for the most part be matched by the partners participating in the projects.

The Programme was divided into four action lines:

* Action line I: Computerized bibliographies

* Action line II: International interconnection of systems

* Action line III: Provision of new library services using information and communication technologies

* Action line IV: Stimulation of a European market in telematics products and services for libraries

Cross-boundary partnerships are an essential element of the program, and proposers are strongly encouraged to include institutions from European countries with less well developed information services. …