One of main projects I am involved in my new job at The European Library is helping create the interface for an EU project called provide A Gateway to European Newspapers (worth around 5.16m Euros).
It sounds like an obvious and very worthwhile project – taking the OCRd and scanned newspaper collections of the numerous libraries in Europe (including the Netherlands, Germany, France, Austria, Serbia and also Turkey), improving the quality of that OCRd text and then placing them in a centralised index. Instead of having to search over more than 10 different archives, the end user can search over one. The benefits are obvious.
Other excellent websites such as the Australian Trove or the US Chronicling America point the way in creating such an aggregated service; and this is what The European Library is attempting to do as part of this project
However, the actual reality of the situation with the European project is a little different.
Whilst there are considerable technical challenges in marking up articles, refining text and indexing 18 million pages of newspapers, the real issue is political.
For some of the individual libraries that are contributing content to the project, there is the fear that any central service will draw users away from their own national based services for making digitised newspapers accessible.
Thus there is an understandable reluctance on the behalf of the libraries to make their images available elsewhere for cross-searching. For some involved in the project, part of their library’s income from their relevant governments, and possibly even their jobs, depend on the success of their newspaper (or broader digital content) platforms.
So while all interested European citizens, in fact any interested party around the world, would obviously gain much advantage from a sophisticated aggregated interface, allowing full text searching and displaying images from multiple newspaper collections, things may not transpire so easily.
The project is young, having started in February 2012 and due to last three years. There is still time for debate and discussion, and for different approaches to delivering digital content to evolve.
It may be that an increasing push towards libraries exposing their content via APIs may help. Rather than an aggregating service having to centrally store screen resolution versions of the images, it could simply display the images held at the local libraries. This might not guarantee more traffic to a library’s *platform*, but it would definitely guarantee more use of their *digitised content*
We shall see.