Europeana: A Central Portal for Millions of Historical Digital Objects

[tweetmeme source=”Intellogist” only_single=false]In a past post, we looked at the European Library website as a possible source for non-patent literature, since patent searchers sometimes need to scour the earth for prior art during an exhaustive search when other, more traditional resources haven’t provide the needed references. The European Library portal is the library aggregator that allows users to cross-search the collections of national and research libraries in 48 countries, and it is part of the Europeana family of services.  Europeana is a free online portal that allows users to access “millions of books, paintings, films, museum objects and archival records that have been digitized throughout Europe.” The site is an initiative “endorsed by the European Commission,” and currently over 20 million objects from more than 220 institutions over 34 countries are accessible through the portal.

Europeana made a bit of a splash in the information technology word this September when it released the metadata for its dataset of over 20 million cultural objects under the Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain Dedication.  According to the Europeana press release, this means that “anyone can use the data for any purpose – creative, educational, commercial – with no restrictions.”  This data is all freely accessible through the Europeana website, so I decided to take a quick look at the search options available through the Europeana portal.

Continue reading for an overview of the Europeana search portal, where you can access descriptive data and links to millions of historically and culturally significant digital objects.

Basic Search Options

The Europeana portal interface is available in a number of languages, which the user can select from a drop-down menu in the upper right corner of the site. A simple keyword search form is provided at the top of each page in the portal, and this search form accepts Boolean operators (AND/NOT) and phrase searching through the use of quotations. Auto-completion and spelling suggestion features are also incorporated into the search form.  Additionally, the help section on the Europeana site describes how the following commands can be entered in the search form to narrow your query:

  • Enter who: followed by a name of an actor, author, architect, etc., in the search box and your results will display only items, where the name you are looking for is listed as creator.
  • Enter what: followed by a type or a subject of the items you are interested in and your search results will display only items of the requested type or on the requested subject.
  • Enter where: followed by a name of a town, city or country within Europe or around the world, and your search results will display only items which were created, published or depict the place you are searching for.
  • Enter when: followed by a date (e.g. 1945) or a period (e.g. Roman or Medieval), and your search results will display only items, where the date is listed in the item’s date field.

The hit list for a query includes a thumbnail image and title of each result. Mouse over the result to view additional metadata, or click on the result to view the full record. A filtering menu is available to the left of the hit list, where users can filter results by media type, language, date, country, copyright, provider, and an option to view content contributed by users. A legend at the bottom of the filtering menu depicts various icons displayed beside results that indicate the media type (image, video, sound, text, or 3D). From the hit list, users can also refine their search by entering queries to search only within the result set. At the bottom of the hit list, users can choose to change the list view to timeline or map view.

Search results on Europeana.

The full record for an item includes a thumbnail image, bibliographic and descriptive data, the option to view the digital item at the source website, and a list of similar content displayed at the bottom of the page.

A full record view on Europeana.

Other Search Tools

From the main horizontal drop-down menu at the top of each page on the portal, users can choose the “Explore” option to search or browse Europeana through a number of methods:

  • Europeana Remix – This is an interactive platform based on the film “Otto & Bernard”, with a focus on World War 1.
  • Europeana Exhibitions – Browse through a selection of digital exhibitions covering a variety of cultural and historical topics.
  • New Content – View a list of links to the latest contributions from “partner museums, archives, libraries and audio-visual collections.” Users can subscribe to an RSS feed to be updated when new content is added to Europeana.
  • Providers – View a list of all providers to the Europeana collection, organized in descending order by number of objects provided. Select a provider to view a list of participating institutions associated with the provider, and select an institution name to view a list of objects provided by that institution.
  • Timeline – Enter any query in the search form and view results automatically in timeline view, which displays results from various periods within a timeline format. Select a result from the timeline to view the full record.

Timeline results view.

  • Map – Enter any query in the search form and view results automatically in map view, which displays results grouped on a map of Europe (with larger purple dots indicating a larger set of results). Only 1,000 items at a time are displayed on the map. Select a purple dot to view a list of results from that particular area.

Map results view.

Users can create a free “My Europeana” account to access the following features:

  • Save this search: Keep up to date on a particular topic in Europeana by saving a search, so you can easily perform it again in future.
  • Add a tag: Label you favorite items in Europeana with tags that mean something to you. You can then see all objects you have tagged, sorted by the keywords you have chosen, in the My Europeana interface.
  • Save to My Europeana: Store your favorite items for later viewing.


The Europeana portal provides multiple search and browsing options through a simple interface that also provides more advanced filtering tools within the result set.  One downside of the Europeana portal is that it doesn’t provide expert or advanced fielded search forms for more experienced searchers.  The portal seems designed for easy use by searchers of all experience levels, so the lack of advanced search tools is understandable.  Prior art searchers probably won’t be using Europeana on a regular basis to locate non-patent literature, but the service does provide users with fast, free access to both digitized historical objects and European library records that may be difficult to locate otherwise.

Do you know of other free search portal for historical or cultural digital objects?  Let us know in the comments section!
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This post was contributed by Joelle Mornini. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company Landon IP, a major provider of patent searches, trademark searches, technical translations, and information retrieval services.


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