By MATT RAYMOND
Little more than a year into its lifespan, the World Digital Library (WDL)—proposed in 2005 by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and launched with enormous fanfare and worldwide interest in April 2009 in Paris (see Information Bulletin, May 2009)—has attracted new collaborators at a fast clip and added new items online.
A prominent visitor to the Library on May 24 was looking to broaden the WDL’s digital content and make it even more accessible to more audiences.
Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser-Al Missned of Qatar, wife of Qatar’s emir, and Billington signed an agreement to continue current efforts to add Arabic materials to the WDL, with a focus on historical Arab science and technology materials; to increase WDL partners from the Arab world; and to increase the use of the WDL by Arabic students and educators. The agreement also calls for the exploration of “alternative delivery mechanisms” for the website, such as mobile phones.
Sheikha Mozah signed the agreement on behalf of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, of which she is the chairperson. The foundation also had previously committed $3 million to the WDL.
“The World Digital Library, an asset to lovers of learning all over the world, owes its existence to the leadership and generosity of (Qatar’s emir and sheikha) and their ongoing support,” Billington said. “As its digital assets increase, the world’s capacity for understanding will increase as well.”
He remarked that he first “met” Sheikha Mozah virtually when she delivered remarks by video at the WDL’s launch last year in Paris and was now pleased to meet her “in reality.”
The sheikha has made education advocacy a major part of her portfolio. In 2003, the sheikha’s foundation launched Education City in Qatar’s capital, Doha, “a prototypical campus of the future, bringing branches of renowned international universities to Qatar to provide top-class degree programs and to share research and community-based ventures,” according to the sheikha’s website. Several American universities have satellite campuses there.
Sheikha Mozah is also Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education for UNESCO, the United Nations’ educational and cultural agency that is also a WDL partner.
“It’s really a treasure of the whole world, not just ours, but yours,” the sheikha said of the WDL. “It’s time for researchers to see their studies from a different angle so that they can accomplish genuine, authentic analysis for the benefit of generations to come.” The sheikha lauded the website as a tool for “intercultural understanding.”
The World Digital Library, online at wdl.org, has greatly broadened its support in the 13 months of its existence. The site launched on April 21, 2009, with 32 partners from 19 countries. Today that number stands at 78 partners in 52 countries, and WDL officials expect to surpass 100 partners from 75 countries by mid-2010.
The WDL currently has partners from only five Arabic countries, a number the Library and Sheikha Mozah hope to bolster.
Also joining the Qatari and Library delegations at the signing ceremony was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who said she attended to show support for the strong relations between the United States and Qatar and for the sheikha’s dedication to education.
The group, accompanied by an ample security detail and a media phalanx, made a stir among Library visitors as they toured the Great Hall, Main Reading Room and Library exhibits. Pelosi noted that a Great Hall inscription saying “Knowledge Is Power” was appropriate to the occasion.
John Van Oudenaren and Michelle Rago of the WDL demonstrated the website’s capabilities to the sheikha, showing digital items such as a 1740 English map of the Arabian Peninsula with the geographical name “Katara” written where modern-day Qatar is located, and an Arabic book of elaborately illustrated constellations from 1417. The WDL’s interface operates in Arabic, along with six other widely spoken international languages.
The Qataris also examined rare Arabic books and manuscripts from the Library’s collections, with interpretive commentary provided by Mary Jane Deeb, chief of the Library’s African and Middle East Division.
The Qatar Foundation is a founding partner of the World Digital Library, entering into a cooperative agreement with the Library of Congress on March 18, 2009.