Hacking Europe’s Cultural Heritage with Europeana’s New API
Europe’s rich cultural heritage can be found in museums, libraries, galleries, cultural institutes, and archives throughout the continent. And thanks to digitization efforts and Europeana, much of this heritage can also be found online. Europeana is an Internet portal that provides public access to Europe’s digital libraries – more than 15 million cultural objects including paintings, drawings, archival papers, books, letters, radio broadcasts, newsreels, films including some of the world’s most famous cultural artifacts such as the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton’s notes and book about the Laws of Motion. About 1500 institutions have contributed to Europeana, including the British Library in London, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdamn, and the Louvre in Paris.
Anyone can visit the Europeana website to search through the materials. And now, thanks to its newly released API, other applications and services may soon be on the way.
At the beginning of the month, Europeana held its first in what will be a series of hackathons, a way to showcase the potential of the API to data providers, partners and end-users. Europeana’s new API is a search API that lets you search and display collections, metadata, and previews.
The Europeana Hackathon Projects
The Hackathon earlier this month was by invitation only, and currently European’s API is only available to its partner developers. Those restrictions stem, in part, from the agreements that Europeana has had to make with institutions in order to access, search, and display their digitized collections.
Nonetheless, those who did participate in the Hackathon did build some great tools, including at least one that Product Developer David Haskiya says that Europeana will use itself.
One project was component built for the open-source content management system Joomla that includes both a keyword search and a map search. With the latter, you can look up objects in the the Europeana database within a region.
Another project built a wrapper for the Europeana API, helping geo-enable the queries. Then, by interfacing with OpenLayers, you can draw a box on a map, setting a boundary for your search, which will plot the results on a map. (You can view the demo here.)
And just so you don’t restrict your searches solely to the most famous of Europe’s cultural artifacts, one project will help with discovery: a random image explorer.
Why Digital Libraries, APIs, and Hackathons Matter
The debates surrounding the importance of and the obstacles to any sort of national digital library have certainly resurfaced following the recent Google Books decision. Who owns the rights to cultural artifacts? Who can and should be responsible for digitizing these artifacts? Who then stores them? Who can access them, and how?
These debates, of course, aren’t new – in the U.S. or in Europe. In January, a European Union report cautioned its member states against turning over this efforts entirely to the private sector.
While these contentious legal issues are still being worked out, the Europeana API – and the hackathon – point to another important aspect of these sorts of projects. A digital library isn’t simply about the preservation of important cultural material. It’s about making sure that material is accessible. And with an active support for linked data and now with an API, it looks like Europeana is well on its way to moving these sorts of efforts forward.
Image credits: Ton Zijlstra