The Archives Portal Europe network (APEnet) project
After nearly a decade of parallel and joint activities, a consortium of twelve national archives and the European Digital Library (EDL) Foundation, coordinated by the Ministry of Culture of Spain, was created within the framework of the eContentplus programme supported by the European Commission. The Grant Agreement for the APEnet project was signed on 9 December 2008 and the project finally started on 15 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.
Networking worked, not only in terms of the constant awareness that the project 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 12 October 2009, the National Archives of Belgium and Ireland were approved as new partners, during the second General Assembly, held in León (Spain) on 30 June 2010, the National Archives of Bulgaria, Estonia and the Czech Republic joined the network. Even the fourth and last General Assembly, held in Madrid (Spain) on 12 January 2012, welcomed partners 19 and 20 with the National Archives of Croatia and Hungary joining.
APEnet's first objective was 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 was outlined and put in practice in form of the Archives Portal Europe version 1.0, which was officially released on 15 January 2012, offering its users access to archival finding aids covering 14.5 million of digitised and not yet digitised documents and making the descriptive information of the individual documents searchable from a central access point. The content presented in this first version of the portal furthermore included more general information about individual fonds and collections and the institutions that house them and gave access to more than 63 million digital objects through the archival finding aids.
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 Archives Portal Europe, the dashboard, where all content contributing partners have full control over all single steps in data processing, managing and publication. 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 live 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 (DPT), 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 archival institutions across Europe 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.