Background Archives Portal Europe

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the origins

The origins of the Archives Portal Europe are not only to be found in the start of the APEnet project in January 2009, but point back to the very beginning of the new millennium, when the idea of an "Internet Gateway for documents and archives in Europe" manifested itself in the following major documents published on European level:

  • the "Resolution on archives in the Member States" adopted by the Council of Ministers on 6th May 2003 stressing the importance of archives for the understanding of the history and culture of Europe and for the democratic functioning of society within the framework of the enlargement of the Union on 1st May 2004 [1],
  • the "Report on Archives in the enlarged European Union" submitted by the Commission to the Council of Ministers in February 2005 [2],
  • the adoption of the "Council Recommendation on priority actions to increase cooperation in the field of archives in Europe" of 14th November 2005 [3],
  • the "Commission Recommendation on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation" issued on the 24th August 2006 [4],
  • the related "Council Conclusions on the Digitisation and Online Accessibility of Cultural Material, and Digital Preservation" of 13th November 2006 [5], to endorse the strategic objectives and main elements of the EC Recommendation as well as the vision of a European Digital Library being a common multilingual access point to Europe’s distributed digital cultural and scientific heritage.

In joining the APEnet project, the participating National Archives and State administrations of archives have taken on the challenge brought by this to the cultural heritage domain in general and to the archival domain in particular. Additionally to these institutions’ dedication to the project and its product, the Archives Portal Europe, an important factor of APEnet’s success so far has been its strong connection to the main pan-European archival organisations, namely the European Board of National Archivists (EBNA), the European Archives Group (EAG) and the European Branch of the International Council on Archives (EURBICA).

While EBNA has in a way been the founder of the portal through the stating of five priority actions for the European archival domain - among which the creation of an archival portal -, the EAG has played an important role as EBNA’s counterpart within the European Commission. The active connection to the ICA (the International Council on Archives) furthermore has led to the establishment of the APEnet Liaison Group within EURBICA, that - by explicitly addressing non-EU Member States - has proven to be a major factor in the process of the Archives Portal Europe network evolving towards an inclusive future mainline activity for all European archival institutions.

the APEnet project (2009-2012)

After nearly a decade of parallel and joint activities, a Consortium of twelve National Archives and the EDL Foundation, coordinated by the Ministry of Culture of Spain, has been created within the framework of the eContentplus programme supported by the European Commission. The Grant Agreement for the APEnet project was signed on 9th December 2008 and the project finally started on 15th January 2009 – as a challenge for all involved to create a sustainable and expanding network in order to offer the richest European archival data available via one joint access point and to become a major player in future activities with regard to preservation and online accessibility of the continent’s (digital) archival heritage [6].

Networking worked, not only in terms of the constant awareness that the project has gained in the cultural heritage sector, but especially in terms of more national archival institutions joining the consortium during the project’s lifetime. At the first APEnet General Assembly, held in Lund (Sweden) on 12th October 2009, the National Archives of Belgium and Ireland were approved as new partners, during the 2nd General Assembly, held in León (Spain) on 30th June 2010, the National Archives of Bulgaria, Estonia and the Czech Republic joined the network. Even the 4th and last General Assembly, held in Madrid (Spain) on 12th January 2012, could welcome the National Archives of Croatia and Hungary as partners 19 and 20.

APEnet's first objective has been to build an "Internet Gateway for Documents and Archives in Europe" as a common access point to European archival descriptions and digital collections. This requirement has been outlined and put in practice in form of the Archives Portal Europe version 1.0, which was officially released on the 15th of January 2012, offering its users access to finding aids covering 14.5 million of digitised and not yet digitised documents, descriptive information on the individual documents and more than 63 million digital objects in total through these finding aids, and information about individual fonds and collections and the institutions that house them. In order to meet this first goal, the project's second objective had been the development of a set of converting engines and plug-ins, based on an analysis of existing standards and applications in use by the participating partners. The main result was the launch of the back-end of the Archives Portal Europe, the Dashboard, where all content contributing partners had full control over all single steps in data processing, managing and publication. In order to familiarise with the dashboard's functionalities beforehand, all partners furthermore got access to the Content Checker, a test environment providing the same facilities as the productive system. The core of the system, the local EAD to apeEAD conversion engine, was also made available as stand-alone tool, the Data Preparation Tool, in order to enable institutions thinking about joining the portal to test the compatibility of their content first.

By compiling existing digital content of the participating partners and establishing the technical and organisational conditions for new content providers to join the network, APEnet also had, as its third objective, prepared the way for the possible participation of European archival institutions in the cross-domain portal of Europeana. The project encouraged new institutions to participate by providing a number of dissemination activities like on-site presentations, conferences and workshops, as well as publication in different media. After the three-years-period of the APEnet project, three major partners – the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden – had signed the Europeana Data Exchange Agreement and had provided digitised archival data also via Europeana. By this, the Archives Portal Europe became the seventh biggest data provider within Europeana.

the APEx project (2012-2015)

The development of the Archives Portal Europe and the development of the tools related to this as well as the standardisation and other achievements of the APEnet project were important first steps in getting closer to reaching the aims defined by the EBNA. But they still remained the first steps and there was still work to be done. The most important objective was to give access to as much archival material of as much institutions holding archival content in EU Member States as possible, for as many users as possible and in the easiest possible way. Achieving this would bring about a better appreciation of the archival landscape and the archival heritage of Europe, closer contact between cultural heritage professionals and the general public, a more effective display of the common European cultural heritage through the international sharing of skills in cross-domain projects like Europeana, the wider use of archival resources and the more effective use of professional standards in order to better meet professionals’ and users’ expectations and needs. The follow-up project, APEx, took on that challenge as well as guaranteeing the sustainability of the portal, independent of EU funding [7].

To continue the work of the APEnet project, most of the members of the APEnet consortium applied for three more years EU funding, within the Information and Technology Policy Support Programme (ICT-PSP). The main goal of the APEx project was to expand the Archives Portal Europe and its network horizontally, by getting more countries involved, and vertically, by getting more institutions per country to publish their content in the portal. Already during the writing of the project proposal the horizontal expansion was established: while the APEnet project ended in January 2012 with a consortium of 17 partners, the APEx project started in March 2012 with partners of 32 European countries.

overview partners APEnet and APEx consortia

Next to getting more countries and institutions involved, the APEx project also worked on the improvement of the infrastructure, the availability of more international archival standards (next to EAD and EAG, EAC-CPF and METS were implemented), substantial improvements in the interoperability with Europeana (moving from automatic apeEAD to ESE conversion to apeEAD to EDM conversion), innovation in the usability of the portal's front-end and exploring the introduction of Web 2.0 functionality.

The APEx core team kept in touch with the expanded network via Country Managers, who represented the content providers from their countries and acted as liaisons between the core team and the institutions, as casual testers of new portal functionality and as PR contacts. This Country Manager network, which gathered for face-to-face meetings twice a year, became an indispensable instrument in the dissemination of the project results and furthermore fuelled the knowledge exchange between archives professionals of the different participating countries, thus building an enthousiastic Archives Portal Europe community. The enthusiasm for the Archives Portal Europe initiative among large and small archival institutions in Europe became clear via the overwhelming interest in the two APEx conferences: one organised in Dublin in July 2013 and one organised at the end of the APEx project in Budapest in September 2015.

Last but not least, the APEx project worked on the sustainability of the whole endeavour, which resulted in 2015 in the establishment of the Archives Portal Europe Foundation (APEF) under Dutch law with an office in The Hague/The Netherlands. At the end of the APEx project all APEx partners formally handed over the rights on all the project results to APEF and the official take over by APEF from APEx was celebrated during the Budapest conference on the 7th of September 2015.

the Archives Portal Europe Foundation (2015- )

In October 2015 the Archives Portal Europe Foundation (APEF) started with 8 partners out of the 32 that were collaborating in the APEx project consortium. But that number grew fast and per July 2018 already 20 former APEx and new partners had signed up again to support the portal [8].

The overview of these partners can be found on the APEF website. On that same page you can also find an overview of the members of the two governing entities of APEF: the Assembly of Associates (AoA) and the Governing Board (GB), as well as the members of the staff who take care of day to day business like the maintenance and further development of the portal, assisting the Country Managers and Institution Managers with using the portal and its Dashboard as well as all kinds of PR activities.

Within the first years of its existence the small APEF technical team showed that it could very well take care of the portal and at the same time work on innovation. Next to normal maintenance and bugfixing, the team released an API services, which enables participating institutions to publish their metadata as 'Open Data' for anyone to re-use, but also for them to base their own websites on (in their own 'look & feel'), using the portal's search engine power, thus saving costs [9] and it also started on the implementation of the newest version of its main metadata format: EAD3, in particular for "additional finding aids", which will lead to publication of more meaningful and detailed data for researchers [10].






[6] More on the APEnet project:

[7] More on the APEnet project:

[8] More on the Archives Portal Europe Foundation:

[9] More on the Archives Portal Europe API services, see the API documentation section of this Wiki

[10] More on the EAD3 implementation, see the EAD3 guideline information of this Wiki and this presentation on the EAD3 Additional Finding Aids use case