April 13-17, 2010
Denver, Colorado, USA

ATHENA: A Mechanism for Harvesting Europe's Museum Holdings into Europeana

Georgia Angelaki, Europeana, The Netherlands; Rossella Caffo, Ministry of Cultural Resources and Activities, Italy; Monika Hagedorn-Saupe, Institut für Museumsforschung SMB-PK, Germany; and Susan Hazan, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel


Europeana, Europe's multimedia on-line library, museum and archive, currently grants access to the cultural holdings of Europe's twenty-seven member states. It includes more than 5.5 million books, maps, recordings, photographs, archival documents, paintings, and films from national libraries and cultural institutions. Europeana’s goal is to open up new ways of exploring Europe's heritage through free access to the collections and treasures via a single Web portal that is available in all the official EU languages ( doc/factsheets /071-europeana-en.pdf).

Europeana is currently in prototype; the full service will launch later in 2010. The operational Europeana portal will provide improved search functionality and access to over 10 million objects. A follow-up release in 2011 will showcase multilingual and semantic Web features. ATHENA's role is to harvest holdings from Europe's museums and similar collections across the cultural sector, and to facilitate their integration into Europeana.

This paper will discuss this ambitious project from the point of view of the organizational strategies required to coordinate the pan-European, ATHENA Network, as well as the thesauri and multilingual developments that the partners are currently dealing with towards the integration of digital content.

Keywords: Europeana, ATHENA, museums, EDL Foundation, interoperability, multi­lingual

What are ATHENA and Europeana? is the gateway to the distributed European cultural heritage resources, facilitating access to related textual, image, video and sound objects from museums, libraries, archives and audiovisual collections across Europe.

Clearly the European museum landscape is rich in a great variety of standards, necessitating a coherent policy and interoperability of standards. A survey has been carried out by Work Group 3 of ATHENA and the results have already been released; ( a comprehensive publication that is one of the project's milestone deliverables. This survey describes the analysis and comparison of existing dictionaries, terminologies, thesauri, classifications, taxonomies etc. used by museums in a cross-domain perspective. It will then be compared with those adopted by the other sectors of cultural heritage, in order to facilitate the synchronization and integration of cultural holdings across the different sectors as they are ingested into Europeana.

This work is currently being carried out in the different Work Groups in the ATHENA network, led by Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage. These responsibilities include a complex mapping of distributed objects across Europe and the development of technical solutions such as the ingestion tools that facilitate the seamless integration of holdings into Europeana.

The ATHENA Network is represented by the national contact points who have been appointed to provide guidance and to help potential museum providers as well as at coordinating efforts at a national level. Representatives from Europe's museum community come from Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The call is still open, and museums interested in joining the network are invited to contact their National Contact Point.

Since its inception, the European Commission has given significant political and financial support to the project. Europeana v1.0 is a project that is currently putting the organisational, technical and business structures for the operational Europeana service in place. The European Commission has also co-funded a number of European projects –that help the different heritage sectors tackle issues such as, metadata standardization, aggregating content and IPR. The goal is to improve on-line access to the cultural and scientific heritage, and integrate it for delivery through Europeana.

ATHENA is one such project. It mainly targets museums and is concerned to support museums in contributing their content to Europeana in several ways: by distributing and supporting current data standards relevant for museums, by providing tools to allow data mapping and to upload data into the ATHENA repository from where it will be uploaded to Europeana.

The ATHENA Network continues, and extends the best practice-driven scenarios developed by the MINERVA network; both coordinated by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage under the eContentPlus Programme (

Figure 1

Fig 1: Screenshot, Europeana (

Europeana, Europe’s digital library, museum and archive, grants access to the cultural holdings of Europe's twenty seven member states, including books, maps, recordings, photographs, archival documents, paintings and films from national libraries, museums and galleries, archives, libraries, audiovisual collections, and cultural institutions (See as well the Europeana Fact sheet:

As a prestigious portal with a recognisable brand, Europeana showcases cultural content in a European context to an international audience. It adds value to the content by juxtaposing related images, texts, videos and audio items, ‘repatriating’ content that is geographically dispersed into a single, coherent and contextual virtual space. The multilingual interface makes it possible for users to search in their native language and retrieve objects that are otherwise inaccessible to them. Furthermore, deep Web content will be exposed to search engine crawlers through Europeana. Additionally, as Europeana partners active in the different professional networks across the cultural sector, they share knowledge, best practice and technological innovation developed by the network. The critical issues that digital libraries are currently facing include: interoperability, IPR, and the semantic Web. For Europeana, multilingualism is an additional challenge that the partners are committed to resolve where the goal of Europeana is to open up new ways of exploring Europe’s heritage through free access to the diversity of Europe's cultural and scientific heritage integrated in a Web portal available in all official EU languages.

A typical search will produce query results organised into four type categories; texts, images, videos and audio files. Faceted browsing of results also extends to browsing by language, country, content provider or date.

Achieving cross-domain interoperability has been Europeana’s first challenge, and this has been met with the adoption of a low-barrier data model. This is currently ESE, the Europeana Semantic Elements specifications - v3.2.1 ( get_file?uuid=c56f82a4-8191-42fa-9379-4d5ff8c4ff75&groupId=10602), a data model based on Dublin Core with additional Europeana qualifiers that enable portal-specific functionalities. Normalisation of the data is also a necessary step to achieve homogenous access to the content.

IPR restrictions are proving to be some of the more challenging issues with regards to providing on-line access to content. At present Europeana tackles IPR by harvesting and indexing only the descriptive metadata associated with the digital objects as well as thumbnails of the objects, but not the digital object itself. The user is directed to the content provider’s Web site in order to view the object in detail under the terms of use agreed between the provider and the rights holder.

With the aim of providing multilingual access to Europe’s diverse cultural heritage, Europeana currently makes all the main pages, i.e. navigation, search, retrieval and display interfaces, available in all 23 official EU languages: Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Irish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, and Swedish, plus Catalan and Icelandic. However, the searches will currently only retrieve results that match exactly the search keywords – translation on the fly will be developed as part of the next phase of the project. However, dates – 1848 - or names - Mozart, da Vinci – will deliver results in every language. Other functionalities currently include the possibility to save and revisit previous searches, share a result with a friend, and add tags to the object for personal use in 'My Europeana'.

There are other issues, mainly in regard to the composition of the content which is still geographically and thematically restricted. At the launch of the prototype, nearly 50% of the content was located in French institutions, with 77% of the content as images, and only 2.5% was video while 0.5% was audio. The current focus for content ingestion aims to introduce material from European countries represented with less than 1% in Europeana, and in particular video and audio materials. This is outlined in the Europeana content strategy - see: (

Despite these issues, users’ response to the portal was overwhelming from the first day of its launch ,and their testimonials were very appreciative: “Sirs, is a discovery of a new world of culture and the Arts. Europeana is the universalization of the Arts that until now was the privilege of few Europeans. Congratulations.” The first on-line user survey was run between May 6 and 26, 2009; overall satisfaction was reported as very high. Out of the 3,204 respondents, 60% rated features and functions as “good” or “excellent”. Europeana aspires to be a useful resource for all types of users, irrespective of where they come from or their motivation for visiting the portal. The current prototype is the result of an extensive iterative process of design, user feedback and user testing. Logfile analysis, focus groups, media lab testing, and a dedicated user testing panel are instruments Europeana uses to inform the development of the features and functionalities of the portal.

The Europeana prototype was launched by the European Commission President Manuel Barroso in November 2008 during a session of the Council of Ministers of Culture. The soft launch of the first operational portal – the Rhine Release - is planned for summer 2010, for testing over a number of weeks before the formal launch in the autumn. The operational service will have improved search and browsing functionalities and give access to 10m digital objects. An important addition will be the development of a Europeana API infrastructure for embedding Europeana functionality into third party applications.

The next phase of Europeana will be the Danube release in 2011. Its goals include providing semantic enhancement of the metadata, multilingual search in more than one language, and greater personalization. One of the developments underway already is a richer data model than ESE, one that will be able to accommodate domain-specific knowledge and use the richer information to provide enhanced usability of the digital objects. Furthermore, in this release, User-Generated Content (annotations, tags, etc.) will be added, as well a suite of new tools and services such as multimedia annotation tools, e-books on demand, search and location of objects using spatio-temporal elements, etc. A large network of European and overseas academics, researchers and experts are collaborating in these developments. Europeana is firmly committed to Open Source software to enable re-use of code and innovative application development, thus putting publicly funded research results into a broader context.

In order to meet the ambitious goals of Europeana, cross-domain and cross-European collaboration is necessary. The European cultural heritage sector is widely represented in the EDL Foundation, the organisation responsible for Europeana’s governance and strategy. The leading international and European cultural heritage professional associations participate in the Foundation’s Management Board (IASA, ICOM-Europe, European Museum Forum, FIAT/IFTA, CENL, ACE, etc.) and reflect the commitment of the cultural heritage domains to Europeana’s aims and objectives. The extensive networks of content providers are brought together in the Council for Content Providers and Aggregators, which elects members to the Board.

Europeana is particularly dependent on the latter for the harvesting, integration and harmonization of large amounts of metadata coming from hundreds of individual museums, libraries, archives and audiovisual collections across Europe. Europeana is not resourced to take on the process centrally, and it does not have the specialist sectoral expertise. It is more effective to work with a small number of existing or new national aggregators (e.g., culturaitalia) or cross-border domain aggregators (e.g. The European Library). The projects funded by the European Commission are responsible for the harvesting of content and the harmonisation of metadata, and for mapping them to ESE and making them available to Europeana. Thematic content providers include ATHENA, the network primarily established to represent museum content; Europeana Local, to harvest content from regional collections; the European Film Gateway, to represent cinema content and filmographic data; EUscreen to handle TV archives; Archives Portal Europea [APENET] to draw in content from national archives; BHL- Europe to represent biodiversity heritage content; Europeana Judaica ,a network harvesting thematic content to document the Jewish influence in European urban history; and the MIMO Network to represent the musical instruments sector. These projects create their own portals, or in cases such as ATHENA and Europeana Local, build ‘dark’ portals; that is, they harvest, and store the content solely in order to make it available through Europeana.

Collaboration with content providers and aggregators in Europeana is not confined to the collection of the data. Importantly, Europeana coordinates activities across projects and European aggregators in order to leverage resources and propose scalable solutions to the major issues involved with making European content accessible on-line. Shared across all of the networks are the issues of multilingual access, IPR, interoperability, users’ needs, and the underlying business models that will make digitised content accessible in a sustainable way.

Figure 2

Fig 2: Screenshot, My Europeana, items, searches and tags saved in the Europeana platform

ATHENA and the Museum Sector

Of particular interest to the museum community is ATHENA (Access to cultural heritage networks across Europe), an eContentPlus-funded Best Practice Network targeting mainly the museums’ sector and aiming at establishing conditions for lowering the barrier for museums to introduce their content into Europeana. Led by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage, this is the network that supports museums and keeps them up to date on current data and harvesting standards, and provides a tool to map their data with LIDO, a metadata standard for museums based on CDWAlite, museumdat and SPECTRUM. Athena aggregates museum data and facilitates their integration into Europeana. Therefore ATHENA's responsibilities (in tandem with other Europeana networks) included first and foremost a complex mapping of distributed objects across Europe, as well as the development of technical solutions; such as an ingestion tool that facilitates the seamless integration of holdings into Europeana.

Figure 3

Fig 3: Screenshot, ATHENA (

ATHENA's undertaking has been broken down into a series of tasks; each task is managed by members from one of the seven work packages responsible for the different facets of the project.

WP1 - Project management, monitoring and evaluation

This work package develops and maintains ATHENA's administrative and organizational activities and policies. Coordinated by the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali (MiBAC), Italy, this group coordinates with the European Commission to ensure dissemination of information among the partners, implements the ATHENA quality and assessment plan, and develops strategies to recruit museums across Europe.

Contact persons:
Rossella Caffo (Project Coordinator),
Pier Giacomo Sola (Administration),
Maria Teresa Natale (Organisation),
Marzia Piccininno (Organisation),
Giuliana De Francesco (Technical issues),
Andrea Tempera (Webmaster),
Antonella Fresa (Peer reviewer),

WP2 - Awareness and dissemination: extending the network and promoting the service

This work package introduces ATHENA to European museums and other cultural institutions; alerting them as to how they may benefit from the network services; such as sharing best practice, and providing training on how they can publish their own collections in Europeana. Coordinated by the Institut für Museumsforschung der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz (SPK), Germany, and Stowarzyszenie Miedzynarodowe Centrum Zarzadzania Informacja (ICIMSS), Poland, this Work Group develops publications - both print and electronic – that describe ATHENA's actions, including 'how to' scenarios for museums to follow in order to coordinate their own activities with the ATHENA network.

Together with WP1, WP3 and WP7 (described below), this working package organized during the winter of 2010 a series of training workshops for partners to learn how to prepare their collections for induction into the Europenana platform. These workshops were held in Rome - streamed live - and Berlin, and Webcasts were made available on the ATHENA portal so that partners and future partners could follow the steps required in preparing their data and metadata.

In addition, this group promotes the project both in Europe and beyond – including presenting ATHENA at this conference: the Museums and Web conference in Denver, 2010.

Contact persons:
Monika-Hagedorn Saupe (SPK),
Maria Sliwinska (ICIMSS),

WP3 - Identifying standards and developing recommendations

One of the more formidable tasks was undertaken by this work package; to review the different standards in use by museums, to facilitate their mapping to a common metadata standard, and to assess the requirements for the persistent identification of digital objects and collections. Work Package 3 was also responsible for producing the tools needed to support the conversion of museums data into an appropriate common harvesting format for Europeana. The standards group was coordinated by the Royal Museums of Arts and History (RMAH), Belgium, together with the Collections Trust, United Kingdom.

Contact persons:
Chris De Loof (RMAH),
Gordon McKenna (Collections Trust),

WP4 - Integration of existing data structure into the EDL

Coordinated by Michael-Culture (Aisbl), International Association under Belgian Law, Work Package 4 is concerned with the different terminologies used in museums. As there are many institutional vocabularies, only a few common terminologies, and even fewer multi-lingual vocabularies available, the first task of this work package was to conduct a survey on available terminology resources. The next step was to broaden and develop recommendations for future developments for the integration of the various terminology resources used by museums. The members of the group focused on thesauri and multilingual issues and are currently working on possible alignments of terminologies in use by museums. To support their use, the vocabularies are being deployed into SKOS-driven architecture. (See discussion below on standards). Work Package 4 also continues to work on the integration of terminologies and thesauri and continues to develop existing multilingual tools.

Contact persons:
Christophe Dessaux,

WP5 - Coordination of contents

This work package, coordinated by the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali (MiBAC), Italy
Institute of Communication and Computer Systems-National Technical University of Athens, ICCS-NTUA, Greece, manages the digital content contributed by the participating cultural institutions, supporting their different kinds of content and preparing them for their seamless induction into Europeana. ATHENA's policy was to select one or two national organizations per country to manage and support the participation of other content providers in their country. One of the main objectives of this work package was the responsibility for identifying national content, developing a common work flow and ensuring incorporation into the common standard to be used for European museums.

Contact persons:
Marzia Piccininno,

WP6 - Analysis of IPR issues and definition of possible solutions

Coordinated by Packed, Belgium, and Panepistemion Patron, University of Patras (UP), Greece, this work package took on the unenviable responsibility of identifying legal constraints in the national legislations of EU Member States that could prevent European museums from publishing their content in Europeana. Currently there are intense policy discussions taking place across the ATHENA network, and it falls to this group to propose working solutions. In practical terms, and to avoid duplicating efforts and resources, its activities include coordinating efforts with the other Europeana projects working in on IPR issues (with a special focus on "Europeana: the European digital library network" and MinervaEC). The goal is to localize and adapt these models to European museums. The group also investigates emerging standards, collective licensing models, and open access environments. The group is also looking at state-of-the-art technologies for DRM systems, for IPR protection and management by museums and other cultural organizations.

Contact persons:
Barbara Dierickx (Packed),
Dimitrios Koutsomitropoulos (UP) -
Theodore S. Papatheodorou (UP),
Tzanetos Pomonis (UP),
Dimitrios Tsolis (UP),

WP7 - Development of tools to map data from different data structures to a joint data-model and to ingest data

Coordinated by the Institute of Communication and Computer Systems - National Technical University of Athens), ICCS-NTUA, Greece, and the Ministrstvo za Kulturo Republike Slovenije (MKRS), Slovenia, this is the technical Work Group whose work is based on the metadata standard which has been agreed on by WP 3 and the terminologies proposed to be used by WP 4. WP 7 develops practical tools which allow the mapping of data to the metadata standard agreed (LIIDO) and the uploading of data to the ATHENA repository, from where it can be uploaded to Europeana to apply terminologies to the metadata delivered by the institutions.

Contact persons:
Vassilis Tzouvaras (CCS-NTUA),
Franc Zakrajsek (MKRS),

Standards and Tools Which Have Been Developed in ATHENA

Besides the intense discussion currently taking place amongst the ATHENA partners on IPR issues, a major development in Europeana is the support of development to reach consensus on common standards in the museum sector. ATHENA has taken on the responsibility to support the development of a common harvesting standard for museums. Athena's activities are based on the work which has been done in the US by developing CDWAlite, the German museumdat, and the SPECTRUM standard from the UK.

Clearly the European museum landscape is rich in a great variety of standards, necessitating a coherent policy and interoperability of common standards. The survey carried out by Work Package 3 showed that these are the most relevant standards for aggregating metadata into a joined portal, starting with the following standards:


CDWA Lite is an XML schema to describe core records for works of art and material culture based on the Categories for the Description of Works of Art (CDWA) and Cataloguing Cultural Objects: A Guide to Describing Cultural Works and Their Images (CCO) (


museumdat is a harvesting format optimized for retrieval and publication, meant to deliver automatically core data to museum portals. It builds largely upon the data format CDWA Lite developed in the US by the Getty, the Visual Resources Association and others, with a specific focus on arts. museumdat now applies for all kinds of object classes, e.g. cultural, technology or natural history, and is compatible with the reference model of the international documentation committee CIDOC-CRM (ISO 21127). museumdat is an outcome of the work of Fachgruppe Dokumentation des Deutschen Museumsbundes (DMB) (



Within the ATHENA project and in close cooperation with a trans-Atlantic Work Group aiming at integrating CDWAlite and museumdat into one standard and the 2009 newly established CIDOC Work Group “Data exchange and data harvesting” with the UK SPECTRUM, the new standard LIDO is being developed.


(Lightweight information describing objects - currently v0.8) is now in use by ATHENA - to be launched in the spring of 2011.

LIDO, Lightweight Information Describing Objects


LIDO is poised to become one of the central solutions recommended by the ATHENA Work Groups. Within the hundreds of dispersed museums across Europe, and the different kinds of museum, each institution has its own rules on how and which data is recorded about objects. In order to share data with other institutions, the one thing we agree on is that there is a need to agree on a common standard. In order to express, deliver, exchange, and harvest information in machine-readable form and to be able to upload data automatically to Europeana, the decision was taken to use the LIDO-format. The LIDO standard is able to express a wide variety of information that identifies unique objects and understands why a particular object is held in any specific museum.

LIDO stands for “Lightweight Information Describing Objects”: and is a metadata format that publishes core data from museum objects in portals. It is based on CDWAlite – see: ( and museumdat - see ( and has been discussed and enriched with relevant information from the UK SPECTRUM-XML by the ATNENA Work Group 3.

ATHENA partners may map directly to ESE or to LIDO. Like all other content providers and aggregators delivering content to Europeana, ATHENA will make museum metadata mapped to the ESE specifications available at the first stage. Data mapped to LIDO will be made available to Europeana when the new Europeana Data Model is implemented.

By applying the LIDO standard, developed in the museum community, ATHENA will be able to provide museum-quality data that will be richer, and consequently more easily queried in Europeana. Until the Europeana platform is able to accommodate museum data, partner institutions will be instructed to upload their content into Athena, and museum content will be maintained there; with a copy to be transformed into the ESE format for uploading into Europeana. As soon as the new EUROPEANA data format has been finalized, ATHENA will be able to deliver the data in the prescribed format without the partners having to re-send their data - as long as they were mapped to LIDO in the first place.

One of ATHENA's main focuses at the time of writing (January 2010) is the development of the harvesting protocols that will enable museums to seamlessly upload their content into Europeana via ATHENA. A centralized infrastructure has been built by the Technical University of Athens to allow for the harvesting of the metadata, their normalization and harmonization and mapping to LIDO and ESE, and their export to the ESE format via an OAI-PMH repository that handles XML files. The service is Web based, as is the administration interface. Content providers upload their metadata directly into the platform, where they are responsible for the mapping and where they can also visualise how their content will look on Europeana using a simulator tool; the Europeana content checker is also embedded in the central ATHENA infrastructure via an API.

Representatives from Athena's national contact points in each country were invited to join training sessions and will consequently be able to offer support for the uploading process to their own content providers. A Help Desk has been set up for this purpose. Potential content providers are welcome to get in touch with their national contact point where they will receive login information to register for the ATHENA tool.

The next stage is to map the specific museum data set from its current data fields to the LIDO schema according to Athena recommendations. A comprehensive mapping between the two schemas is not necessary; only those data fields from which content will be uploaded need to be mapped. As the content providers are able to see what has been uploaded, they will consequently be able to correct the mapping if it does not display in the way it was intended. The mapping will be maintained in the platform, and if more data is uploaded in the future (and the database has not changed), the mapping process will not have to be repeated.

ATHENA has streamlined the process and will continue to do so by providing full documentation on its portal describing the harvesting tool that explains what can be done with it with it, and how to use it. For regional or national portals, or large institutions, the network recommends first creating a "Parent Organization", which could be a large institution with several museums, or another type of aggregator. This "Parent Organization" can then create several “Child Organizations”. After completing the mapping, content providers will then go to “import”: to upload via http or OAI, where through FTP files data can be uploaded either as a valid XML-file, or a zip-file. Once material is uploaded as an XML-file, the system needs to be informed about how many items have been uploaded. The overview displays how current files have been successfully parsed, and then shows that the upload has been completed (the system reports: status moved to). Mapping only needs to be done once, and once completed and the content successfully staged, the next time data is uploaded, the mapping is automatic. ATHENA sees this as an on-going process, and while the process has been automated, mapping can be modified at any time. ATHENA will provide pre-defined mappings from ESE to LIDO, and, once there is a xslt from Museumdat to LIDO, this will be made available as well.

To enable all these processes, ATHENA has created a series of National Contact Points, each taking on a leadership role in their own country. Currently included are most of the European member states: Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. In addition, Azerbaijan, Israel, and Russia, as associate members, are harvesting their collections into Europeana via ATHENA.


To summarize: ATHENA is an ambitious project tackling IPR restrictions, language diversity and data interoperability in the complicated and inconsistent European landscape of museum standards and practices. By coordinating efforts with the relevant European projects and networks and developing solutions together, ATHENA will make a considerable contribution to the success of Europeana.

Even at this early stage Europeana has already won the Erasmus EuroMedia Award for Networking Europe. Quoting the Erasmus announcement – “The Website is a surprising innovative interactive educational virtual exhibition in the field of the European cultural inheritance in the broadest sense of this container term” – see the Erasmus EuroMedia Award for Networking Europe ( ?page_id=5). With this kind of recognition, Europeana clearly has a head start in harvesting and promoting Europe's rich cultural heritage. With all the teams behind the scenes - each making its own contribution - Europeana also seems to have a very promising future.

The call is still open. Museums interested in joining the network are invited to contact their National Contact Point (

Cite as:

Angelaki, G., et al., ATHENA: A Mechanism for Harvesting Europe's Museum Holdings into Europeana . In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2010: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2010. Consulted