Library of Congress plans world digital library
Tue Nov 22, 2005 2:14 PM ET
By Eric Auchard
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The U.S. Library of Congress is kicking off a campaign on Tuesday to work with other nation's libraries to build a World Digital Library, starting with a $3 million donation from Google Inc..
Librarian of Congress James Billington said he is looking to attract further private funding to develop bilingual projects, featuring millions of unique objects, with libraries in China, India, the Muslim world and other nations.
This builds on major existing digital documentary projects by the Library of Congress -- one preserving an online record of Americana and another documenting ties between the United States and Brazil, France, the Netherlands, Russia and Spain.
"The World Digital Library is an attempt to go beyond Europe and the Americas...into cultures where the majority of the world is," Billington told Reuters in a telephone interview.
As an example, Billington said the Library of Congress is in discussions with the national library of Egypt to include a collection of great Islamic scientific works from the 10th through the 16th Century in the World Digital Library.
"We are trying to do a documentary record of other great cultures of the world. How much we will be able to do will depend on how many additional partners we attract," he said.
Over the past decade, the American Memory Project of the Library of Congress has digitized more than ten million items to create a documentary record of Americana. A link is located at: http://www.loc.gov/memory/.
These include manuscripts, maps, audiovisual recordings, cartoons, caricatures, posters, documentary photographs, music, and, to a lesser extent, historic books. The World Digital Library would draw on a similar variety of multimedia objects.
A second project, known as the Global Gateway and introduced in 2000, involves collaborations with five national libraries in Europe and Brazil that focus on documenting ties between each of those countries and U.S. culture. (http://international.loc.gov/intldl/find/digital_collaborations.html/)
By contrast, the World Digital Library will focus on creating records of global cultures. The Library of Congress will contribute its own body of works to a blended collection with other countries. More than half of the printed volumes in the Library of Congress are in languages other than English.
"It will deal with the culture of those people rather than with our contacts as Americans with those cultures," Billington said.
Web search company Google has agreed to work with the Library of Congress on developing standards for indexing the digital collections and by providing computer equipment.
The Library of Congress push adds momentum to a variety of competing projects by leading Internet companies and some of the world's greatest libraries to make available online a range of historic literature, audio recordings and film archives.
The plans unveiled over the past year mark the most sustained drive yet to make good on the vision of Internet pioneers to open the world's library collections to a global online audience. The dream suffered from a lack of funding and the distractions of the dot-com era's get-rich-quick schemes.
Among these are a major push by Google with five major academic libraries to digitize their book collections.
Meanwhile, the Open Content Alliance, backed by Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp., the non-profit Internet Archive and other major libraries, is looking to create an online clearinghouse for historic books, audio and films.
The Google Print project has been met with lawsuits by the New York-based Authors Guild and five U.S. publishers who are seeking to block Google's plan to create an online card catalog of copyright works in the collections of its library partners.