By JOHN VAN OUDENAREN
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO and the Library of Congress convened a conference at UNESCO headquarters in Paris in December to discuss the Library's initiative to create a World Digital Library.
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington first proposed the project for a World Digital Library in a speech to the U.S. National Commission in June 2005. He called for cooperation among the Library of Congress and other national libraries and cultural institutions to create a repository of significant primary materials representing cultures from across the globe. Key goals of the World Digital Library will be to promote international and intercultural understanding and awareness, provide resources for use by teachers and students, and expand the volume of non-English and non-Western content on the Internet.
In December 2005, the Library of Congress received a $3 million gift from Google, Inc., to finance the development of a comprehensive plan for the project. The meeting at UNESCO was part of the planning process. The meeting was hosted jointed by the Librarian of Congress and Abdul Waheed Khan, UNESCO's assistant director-general for communication and information, and chaired by Claudia Lux, the incoming president of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. Other participants included Saber Arab, chairman of National Library and Archives of Egypt; Jean-Noël Jeanneney, chairman, Bibliothèque nationale de France; Dady P. Rachmananta, director of the National Library of Indonesia; Muniz Sodré, president of the National Library of Brazil; Vladimir Zaitsev, director general of the National Library of Russia; and representatives of other libraries and academic institutions in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North and South America. Ambassador Louise V. Oliver, permanent representative of the United States to UNESCO, hosted an opening dinner for conference participants at the historic Hôtel de Talleyrand facility of the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
The meeting began with a review of the major national and regional digital library initiatives already under way in different parts of the world and a discussion of how these initiatives might relate to a World Digital Library. Library of Congress staff previewed a mock-up of a future World Digital Library site (above) that will offer multilingual search, retrieval and display options and will feature time lines, maps, audiovisual presentations by scholars and curators, and other tools designed to facilitate access to the digitized material and to stimulate cross-cultural exchange and learning.
The meeting concluded with agreement to establish a number of working groups that will carry forward planning for the project in such areas as content selection, system architecture, and standards and best practices. More information about the project can be found at www.worlddigitallibrary.org.
John Van Oudenaren is senior advisor for the World Digital Library initiative at the Library of Congress.