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European Commission report on Cultural Heritage: Digitisation, Online Accessibility and Digital Preservation

This report reviews and assesses the overall actions and progress achieved in the European Union in implementing the Recommendation (2011/711/EU) which is one of the main EU policy instruments on digitisation, online access and digital preservation of cultural heritage material.

A mix of images representing different kinds of cultural heritage: artwork, architectural, traditional costumes

Copyright free

Various cultural heritage types: artwork, architectural, traditional costumes

Objectives of the report

The objective of the report is to monitor and track the implementation progress in each Member State in the five areas addressed by the Recommendation (2011/711/EU), which takes a holistic approach to the digital lifecycle of cultural heritage. A secondary objective of this report is to provide a comprehensive overview of Member States strategies and policies on digitisation of cultural heritage; to highlight best practices and opportunities for economies of scale; and to serve possible synergies with initiatives at the EU level, including the implementation of the Declaration of cooperation on advancing digitisation of cultural heritage signed at the Digital Day 2019. 

In the Foreword of the Cultural Heritage: Digitisation, Online Accessibility and Digital Preservation report, Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society drew attention to the importance of Europe’s cultural heritage and use of digital, saying:

Europe’s galleries, libraries, archives, museums and audiovisual archives have vast and rich collections that represent Europe’s cultural diversity but also our shared history and values. We have a lot to cherish, share and safeguard. That is why the Commission monitors progress in terms of digitisation, online access and digital preservation through the implementation of the Recommendation (2011/711/EU).

Main highlights from the report

While library and archival materials remain the priority group of cultural resources for digitisation, followed by museum collections, and sound and audiovisual heritage, Member States have also begun to digitise on a larger scale immovable cultural heritage, signalling a possible rising emphasis: more than 1/3 of Member States reported funding programmes for digitisation of monuments, historical buildings and archaeological sites. In this context, 3D digitisation has also seen increased activity.

Immovable cultural heritage such as monuments, historical buildings and archaeological sites are particularly vulnerable to threats difficult to predict or prevent. The recent fire at Notre Dame that broke out on 15 April 2019 served as a reminder of this fact. Threats such as accidental damage, as well as natural disasters, pollution, mass tourism and erosion due to exposure over time can put Europe’s historical sites at risk. In this context, it is an important new trend to highlight that eleven Member States reported funding programmes for digitisation of immovable cultural heritage, four of which reported 3D digitisation in particular. This new trend not only signals that Member States are increasingly working to make the most of digital technologies to record, document and preserve Europe’s cultural heritage and make it available online, but that immovable cultural heritage is an important part of Europe’s cultural resources that requires national and EU level attention.

Best practice examples during the 2015-2017 timeframe in the area of 3D digitisation of immovable cultural heritage, include:

  • In Bulgaria, the Digital Cultural and Historic Heritage of Plovdiv Municipality Project led to the establishment of a digital centre equipped with digitisation equipment including scanners for creating 3D models of buildings, city areas and items. The digitised 3D models are also accessible online.
  • Poland reported the ZABYTEK.PL  project described as a modern way of sharing information about Polish monuments and historical buildings, along with descriptions, photographs, interesting digital materials (e.g. 3D models of the buildings, point clouds), as well as the location of the buildings.

To read more about how Member States plan, organise and monitor digitisation strategies and funding across all areas of cultural heritage from library and museum archives to historical buildings, refer to the first chapter “Digitisation: Organisation and Funding” in the report.

More than 2/3 of Member States promote preserving public domain* status  of cultural heritage after digitisation through various initiatives, however, uncertainty and limited knowledge in the sector regarding this topic remains an important issue in the cultural heritage sector. Nevertheless, there is a positive trend and progress towards broader application of the principle of preserving public domain status after digitisation.

*The Public Domain status means that material does not have copyright protection and can be used without restriction either because copyright protection has expired or because works were not covered by copyright at a first place.

In terms of digitisation and online accessibility of cultural heritage in the public domain, preserving public domain status after digitisation is an important factor in making such materials accessible for use and re-use online. Regarding access to and use of digitised public domain material, twenty-five Member States reported actions most of which highlight examples of access and non-commercial re-use, and only three highlighting commercial re-use examples.

Best practice examples during the 2015-2017 timeframe in the area of commercial and non-commercial use and re-use of digitised cultural heritage, include:

  • Greece reported initiatives such as the National Archive of PhD Theses (EADD) providing wide access to more than 37,500 PhD theses from all Higher Education Institutions in Greece as well as PhD theses awarded to Greek scholars by foreign higher education institutions and certified by the Hellenic NARIC, or an ePublishing suite of services that aims to disseminate scientific output with Open Access principles.
  • Estonia reported that a portal called E-varamu for access to national cultural heritage was opened in 2016. The digitised ethnographic patterns available through this portal have been widely used in commercial design, for example the design of clothes, or jewellery.

To read more about the progress made by Member States over the 2015-2017 timeframe in terms of digitising cultural heritage and making it available online in the public domain as well as in-copyright, refer to the second chapter “Digitisation and Online Accessibility: Public Domain Material” as well as the third chapter “Digitisation and Online Accessibility: In-Copyright Material” in the report.

Member States remain supportive of the development of Europeana, the European cultural platform providing access to a wide array of digital content from Europe’s libraries, archives and museums, as the quantitative targets for content made available on the platform have already been largely achieved, and a focus from quantitative targets to managing quality has emerged: more than 1/3 of Member States actively encourage their cultural heritage institutions to submit high quality content and metadata to Europeana.

Europeana has developed a publishing framework that outlines content quality groups under four tiers: approx. 15% of total content from the EU Member States is in the high quality Tiers 3 and 4. Spain, followed by Sweden, had the highest number of objects in the Tier 3 and 4 range available on Europeana. They are followed by Netherlands, UK and Germany, which all have under one million such objects available on the platform (data subtraction: August 2018).

Furthermore, more than 2/3 of Member States have reported a national cultural heritage aggregator during the 2015-2017 timeframe, enabling and supporting cultural heritage institutions in sharing their content with Europeana. Also, approximately 2/3 of Member States have participated in EU funded aggregators with a thematic and domain focus. In order to promote high-quality content in Europeana, the EU funded aggregation projects have begun to include quality criteria. In order to further promote high quality content in a consistent manner, the report shows that there is a need to strengthen the ecosystem of aggregators and coordination between national and local aggregators.

To read more, refer to the fourth chapter “Europeana”, which covers wide-ranging topics related to the EU-wide initiative and progress made by Member States overall from content contribution, to making use of Europeana standards and permanent identifiers, and raising awareness of Europeana among the general public. The final chapter of the report “Digital Preservation” reveals that overall, the majority of Member States report a variety of mixed and combinations of action plans, strategies and initiatives for the long-term preservation of digital material – please refer to the fifth chapter for more information.

Background info on the report

The Recommendation (2011/711/EU) calls on Member States to inform the Commission 24 months from its publication, and every 2 years thereafter, of action taken in response to it. The Cultural Heritage: Digitisation, Online Accessibility and Digital Preservation report consolidates national implementation progress reports that were submitted up until March 2019 by Member States from EU 27 and Liechtenstein, for the 2015-2017 period. The consolidated report follows two previous rounds of consolidated reports available together with all the country progress reports on the Digital Culture dedicated webpage.

Related documents

The report on Cultural Heritage: Digitisation, Online Accessibility and Digital Preservation

Related links:

Expert Group on Digital Cultural Heritage and Europeana (DCHE)
The Declaration of cooperation on advancing digitisation of cultural heritage (2019)
Ten years of Europeana: bringing Europe’s cultural heritage into the digital age