The many and varied institutions of Europe can present a confusing and seemingly unending array of unions, councils, commissions, committees, and parliaments. The 25-state European Union may be the best-known governmental entity, but the oldest and largest multinational political institution in Europe is the Council of Europe, which was founded in 1949. This 46-country body includes every European nation (with one exception: Belarus is an applicant country), from Portugal in the west to Russia in the east.
Since 1989 the council had focused most of its work on human rights, assisting reforms in Eastern European countries and promoting awareness of a European identity across different cultures. It is within this cultural remit that the Conference of European National Librarians (CENL; http://www.cenl.org) operates. Members of CENL are the national librarians of the member states of the Council of Europe. The conference currently comprises 45 members from 43 countries. Founded under Dutch law, CENL's aim is to increase and reinforce the role of national libraries in Europe, in particular in respect to their responsibilities for maintaining the national cultural heritage and ensuring the accessibility of knowledge in that field.
Direct Access to Europe's National Libraries
CENL has initiated several cooperative national library projects, including The European Library (http://www.the europeanlibrary.org). The European Library started out in February 2001 as the TEL Project, which aimed to create the foundations for a portal that would provide direct access to the collections of Europe's national libraries through seamless and simultaneous searching of all of their online catalogs. The project was successfully finished on Jan. 31, 2004. During the project, it became clear that the then-existing Web site for European national libraries, Gabriel (GAteway and BRidge to Europe's National Libraries), would be integrated into the new site.
Version 1.1 of The European Library was launched at the end of November 2005. Now, the service offers free searching of 113 digital and nondigital collections from 12 national libraries (Austria, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Switzerland, and the U.K.) and delivers digital objects where available. The operational service, version 1.0, was launched on March 17, 2005. More libraries will be added in stages, with a target of an additional 19 to be added by the end of 2007 and the remaining 13 to be incorporated thereafter.
Funding for the project comes partially from the European Commission's TEL-ME-MOR (The European Library: Modular Extensions for Mediating Online Resources; http://www.telmemor.net) initiative, which is assisting the libraries from the new member states (the 10 Eastern European countries added to the EU in May 2004) in becoming full members of The European Library. Additional EU funding has been applied for under the commission's eContentplus Programme.
The collections are wide and varied. To give just a flavor, among them are The British Library Integrated Catalogue, the Collection of the National Digital Library from the National Library of Portugal, Finnish newspapers from 1771 to 1890, WWII posters from Nazi-occupied Netherlands, scientific journals from Serbia, and many unique treasures such as illuminated manuscripts and ancient maps.
While the next few years will see a steady growth in collections, the attention of the management team, which is based in Holland's national library (the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague), will also be directed at access, particularly multilingual capability, and on encouraging usage.
Following a workshop held in September 2005, The European Library and the DELOS Network of Excellence on Digital Libraries (http://www.delos.info) decided to work together on improving user navigation and tools for multilingual access. …