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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 May, 2005, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Support for EU 'digital library'
Boys in a library
Ministers fear for Europe's cultural heritage for future generations
A plan to create a vast digital library to preserve Europe's cultural heritage has received strong backing from European Union (EU) culture ministers.

Six EU nations said they supported the initiative at culture talks, which were also attended by more than 800 artists.

It would be similar to search giant Google's global virtual library plans.

It is planning a 10-year digitisation project to make works from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford university libraries freely-available online.

EU officials and cultural commentators have voiced concern that Google's ambitious plans could result in important European literary works missing out and being lost to future generations.

Putting 4.5 billion pages of key works from Europe's libraries online would benefit researchers, as well as give disadvantaged nations access to global learning.

But Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker warned the Comedie Francaise meeting that such a massive project would only be possible if sufficient funding was made available.

Currently, 0.12% of the EU budget is channelled into culture, which he criticised as "mediocre" and "insignificant."

At the close of the meeting in France, culture ministers signed a declaration to make culture more of a priority.

Cultural dominance fear

Six EU members - France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Spain - have asked the EU to launch its own virtual library initiative, which was proposed by France's Jacques Chirac.

Nineteen national libraries have already signed a motion which urges action from the EU in response to Google's plans.

Rare manuscript
Thousands of Oxford's rare books will be made available online
"We have to act," Mr Juncker, whose country is the holder of the EU presidency, told the meeting of culture ministers, artists and intellectuals who gathered to come up with a European charter for culture.

"That's why I say 'yes' to the initiative of the French president (Jacques Chirac) to launch a European digital library. I say 'yes' because Europe must not submit in the face of virulent attacks from others," he said.

In January, the head of the French national library, Jean-Noel Jeanneney, said that Google's plans could lead to a US-centric record of great literary and cultural heritage, neglecting diverse works in different languages.

Google's $200m (£110m) plans were announced in December. It aims to put 15 million volumes online from four top US libraries - Stanford, Michigan, Harvard and New York - and from the UK's Oxford University, by 2015.

Among the works held by the libraries are a 1687 first edition of Isaac Newton's The Principia, at Stanford, and Charles Darwin's 1871 work, The Descent of Man, which resides in Oxford's Bodleian library.

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