By Doreen Carvajal
In the early stages of its planning, the European Digital Library held the promise of a counterstrike to Google domination of digital archives through the search engine's vast book search project and powerful alliances with American universities.
But as the European project prepares for its debut early next year, the 80 museums, film institutes and national libraries involved are facing the reality of limited government funding for the enormous task of digitizing material, and they are now developing a new realism about striking a variety of alliances with private companies, including national deals with Google.
"The basic problem is that there isn't enough money to digitize everything we want to," said Stephen Bury, head of European and American collections at the British national library, which is digitizing 100,000 out-of-print books from the 19th century with its partner, Microsoft.
"We're aware that there are some downsides to it because the commercial companies are obviously in it either for shareholder profit or doing it to get a public feel-good factor. We're aware and we're not going to be caught out."
The European Commission has contributed about €60 million, or $85 million, to develop a digital library system that can be shared by a wide number of national libraries and cultural institutions. But it is not financing basic digitization, which the commission estimated would cost €250 million over four years. Some major libraries are still pressing for more public financing, but European officials are clearly encouraging private alliances.