Supporting Cultural Heritage Communities Across Europe

Rosalind Johnson
Library Association, UK



Libraries play an important role in providing information for the people of Europe, but until the 1980s this role was usually at a local or national level. As computing and telecommunications technologies, or ‘telematics’, came to be used increasingly by the sector, the European Union saw opportunities for the sharing of resources by libraries on a European level. Its activities led to the Telematics for Libraries Programme.


Telematics for Libraries Programme and the National Focal Points network

The Telematics for Libraries Programme was part of the wider Telematics Applications Programme (TAP). TAP in turn was part of the European Commission (EC) Framework Programmes for research and technological development. The Telematics for Libraries Programme featured in the Third Framework Programme (1990-1994) and the Fourth Framework Programme (1994-1998). Throughout the 1990s, the Libraries Programme part-funded many research projects and actions in a number of areas, including copyright, distance learning, metadata, children’s libraries, and access to library resources for the blind and visually impaired. It provided foundations on which much later research was built, and made a very real contribution to the networking of libraries across Europe.

To facilitate the take-up of opportunities offered by the Libraries Programme, the EC established a network of National Focal Points (NFPs). The NFPs disseminated information and advice on the Libraries Programme within their own countries, and publicised results of projects funded under the programme.

The UK NFP was initially based at the British Library, and in 1995 transferred its responsibilities to the Library and Information Commission. The impact of new technologies can be seen in the information dissemination practised by the UK NFP, where hard copy mail shots were replaced by the lis-uknfp e-list. Lis-uknfp subsequently changed its name to reflect changed use, and continues as lis-european-programmes.


Cultural heritage and the Fifth Framework Programme

The Telematics for Libraries Programme did not continue as a specific programme under the Fifth Framework Programme (1998-2002). Within the Fifth Framework Programme, the area covered by the former Libraries Programme was absorbed into the Information Society Technologies (IST) Programme, also known as the User-Friendly Information Society.

Although the absence of a specific programme for libraries was regretted by the sector, the new IST Programme proposals did contain opportunities for libraries and information services, but now within a new framework, that of digital heritage and cultural content. Cultural heritage organisations, or ‘memory institutions’ included museums and archives as well as libraries, and the IST Programme anticipated collaboration between these bodies.

The drawing together of the libraries, museums and archives sectors was not unique to the European Commission. In the UK, the Library and Information Commission and the Museums and Galleries Commission were replaced and extended in April 2000 by Resource: The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries.

The majority of the NFPs, with additional partners, collaborated on a proposal to the European Commission to continue and extend the NFP network to all memory institutions within the framework of the IST Programme. This resulted in the CULTIVATE network.



The new network sought to establish a European Cultural Heritage Network for the cultural heritage sector, intending to:

Electronic information dissemination at a European level is via:

 Electronic information dissemination at a national level is via:

A subsequent CULTIVATE-CEE measure extended the network to partners in central and eastern Europe.


Other Networks

The European Commission has expressed its support for networking by cultural heritage organisations by funding other networks under the digital heritage and cultural content strand of the IST Programme. These include:

The EC has other initiatives which support or encourage digital networking, particularly the eEurope initiative and the eContent programme, and the TEN-Telecom programme. European level cultural networking is also supported by the Culture 2000 programme.


The future

Digital networks need both digital and non-digital solutions. Technology cannot operate without human commitment and enthusiasm. The creation and maintenance of digital networks often needs to be encouraged by financial support. Content needs to be consistent and reliable.

The proposals for the information society technologies programme of the forthcoming Sixth Framework Programme emphasise user-centred solutions, and stress the role of ambient intelligence in providing technological answers.



Telematics for Libraries Programme archive:

Lis-european-programmes archives:

European Commission Digital Heritage and Cultural Content:

Cultivate Interactive:

CULTIVATE e-list archives:


CULTIVATE document server:




Culture 2000:


EVAN and the EVA conferences:



Sixth Framework Programme and European research beyond 2002:

Cultural heritage in the Sixth Framework Programme: