Web Magazine for Information Professionals

European Libraries Programme

The European Libraries Programme - instant cash for libraries who can hitch a ride on the Euro gravy train? Or another limited budget R&D programme for those content to live on bread and water? Rosalind Johnson of the UK National Focal Point for the European Libraries Programme explains all.

The European Libraries Programme - more properly, the Telematics for Libraries Programme - was conceived in the early 1980s with noble aims. The wealth and diversity of Europe's information resources were seen as considerable, but it was clear that these resources were not readily available to European citizens. Through the projects funded by what has now become the European Libraries Programme, new technology would be the tool that would be adopted to make this access possible, and therefore the European Parliament adopted the Schwencke Resolution calling for action by the Commission in the libraries sector. In 1988 the Plan of Action for Libraries in the European Community finally went live, being consolidated into the workplan for the Libraries Programme, and became part of the European Commission's Third Framework Programme (1991-1994) of research and development. The Third Framework has now given way to the Fourth Framework Programme (1994-1998). The European Libraries Programme is one of huge number of programmes going on under the auspices of the Commission of the European Communities and its various Directorates General. DG XIII has the responsibility for the Telematics Applications Programme, which is divided into various Areas. Area B: Telematics for Knowledge includes the Telematics for Libraries programme.

Telematics logo Farmers may be rumoured to be able to shake the Euro money tree at will, and it is probably unlikely that you will ever see a starving MEP, but libraries have not been so lucky in the ECU lottery. The procedure for submitting a proposal under the Libraries Programme is complex, and requires significant investments of time with no guarantee of success - because of the limited budget for each Call, not all eligible proposals can be funded. Project proposals can only be sent as part of a formal Call for Proposals, issued periodically by DG XIII, although wise libraries do as much planning as possible in advance of the opening of a Call - information is usually available from DG XIII in advance of the formal Call dates. The last Call opened on 15 March 1995 and closed on 15 June 1995. The next Call is expected to be issued on 15 December 1996, with a closing date of 15 March 1997. This is subject to confirmation, and should not be regarded as a definite Call date. Calls can only be issued in the months of March, June, September or December.

As this is a European Libraries Programme, there must be evidence of a European dimension to each proposal. There must be partners from at least two member states, though not all partners need be from the libraries sector. The project proposal must address one of the "Action Lines" of the Libraries Programme - failure to do so is a common reason for proposals being unsuccessful. In the last Call three Action Lines were identified: modernising library systems to offer improved network-based services; improving co-operation and resource sharing; building and extending information resources and services mediated and delivered by libraries. Within each Action Line are a number of Call Topics addressing more specific themes. The application of new technology is a part of every theme, and each project should be capable of wider application once its pilot phase is over, although there is no obligation to do so.

The Libraries Programme was originally allocated 30 million ECU under the Fourth Framework Programme, but the amount of money available for the Libraries Programme under this Call is still under discussion. Full funding for projects is never given - the projects are officially "shared cost". Involvement in the Programme should be seen as an investment, rather than a quick source of ready cash. So what is in it for libraries?

Though it takes time and effort to put forward a successful proposal, libraries who have achieved the status of having a proposal accepted have found the experience worthwhile. A glance at DG XIII's web site - see Telematics for Libraries at http://www2.echo.lu/libraries/en/libraries.html - shows the wide range of projects and innovative ideas supported by European funding. Under the 1995 Call for Proposals, proposals funded included a project to provide catalogues and digital documents for blind and visually handicapped readers (TESTLAB); a project to develop multimedia for children's libraries (CHILIAS), and one involving digital encryption (TOLIMAC). Libraries involved in the Programme are at the frontiers of technology as it applies to their projects, and this information is available, via the Web, to all - even libraries without the resources to participate in the Programme thus benefit indirectly. The Programme also fosters pan-European cooperation and development, not only between leading librarians and library researchers in a particular field, but between the staff of those institutions, and between the other organisations involved, such as software firms. The European Commission is keen to support small and medium sized enterprises; and the Programme can provide an opportunity for libraries to work in real cooperation with the commercial sector. Finally, the projects are increasing user access to library resources across Europe. As librarians, we should be concerned to increase access to information, and the Programme is designed to provide the funds to facilitate projects towards that end.

It is anticipated that the next Call will be the last for the Libraries Programme under the Fourth Framework Programme, so what is the future for UK libraries seeking funds for European projects? Following the Fourth Framework Programme, there will be a Fifth Framework Programme, again covering all areas of research and development in the European Union, and due to start in 1999. Initial discussions are underway, and the European Commission is expected to launch a formal proposal in the spring of 1997. It has already been decided that the Fifth Framework cannot simply be a continuation of the Fourth, and this may affect the future of the Libraries Programme in its current form. However, the Preliminary Guidelines suggest, as one of three priority topics, the creation of a user- friendly Information Society, giving European citizens easier access to information and education throughout their lives, helping to share cultural heritage, and preserving linguistic diversity.

Making sense of all this for the library and information sector and other interested partners is the job of the various National Focal Points for the Libraries Programme. There is an NFP in each of the Member States of the European Union. The NFPs provide information and advice on the Programme, disseminate other information as appropriate, and refer potential proposers to other sources of information if necessary. For example, an NFP can provide information on partner finding, or refer libraries to more appropriate sources of funding. For several calls DG XIII has provided funds for consultancy, administered through the NFPs. Some NFPs themselves provide consultancy for drafting proposals, and may be project partners, but this is not part of the remit of the UK NFP, which has a policy of neutrality.

The UK NFP has established its own open electronic discussion list, hosted by Mailbase - the only NFP to have initiated such a list in Europe. The list acts as a dissemination forum for information on the Libraries Programme, and aims to alert list members to other opportunities within Europe for funding opportunities, such as INFO2000, ARIANE and RAPHAEL. To subscribe, send an email to mailbase@mailbase.ac.uk. Leave the subject line blank, and in the body of the message type, Join lis-uknfp firstname lastname. Send the message. Mailbase will respond with an automatic message welcoming you to the list.

In September 1995 the UK NFP become part of the Library and Information Commission; it is the Focal Point for the whole of the United Kingdom. For further information, contact:

Rosalind Johnson,
UK NFP, Library and Information Commission,
2 Sheraton Street, London W1V 4BH.
Tel: 0171 411 0058;
fax: 0171 411 0057;
email: rosalind.johnson@lic.bl.uk