The European Library of today has evolved from a number of earlier projects.
Its starting point was in 1997 when the GABRIEL (Gateway and Bridge to Europe's National Libraries) project set out to establish a joint web portal of European national libraries. At a basic level, the portal provided information about each library's collections and access to their online public access catalogues (OPACs).
The European Library exists to open up the universe of knowledge, information and cultures of all Europe's national libraries.
— European Library Mission
GABRIEL was followed by the TEL (The European Library) project, which ran from 2001–2004 and created a framework for access to key national and deposit collections within Europe. The project was part-funded under the Fifth Framework Programme
of the European Commission
. The national libraries involved in the TEL project were those of Finland, Germany, Italy (Florence), Italy (Rome), Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Switzerland and United Kingdom.
This led to the launch of TheEuropeanLibrary.org portal on 17 March 2005.
Between 2005–2007, the TEL-ME-MOR project helped to incorporate 10 more national libraries from new European Union member states as full partners of The European Library. By the beginning of 2008, a further nine national libraries within the European Union and the European Free Trade Association had joined the service.
The European Library took a further step towards its enlargement with the EDLproject, during which national libraries continued to join The European Library. The project also focused on multilingualism, undertook the first steps towards a European Metadata Registry and created a roadmap for potential digitization efforts in the national libraries.