By GUY LAMOLINARA
Exactly 207 years after Washington's inauguration in 1789, Reuters America Inc. and The Reuter Foundation, during an April 30 news conference, donated $1 million to the Library's National Digital Library (NDL) Program specifically for the digitization of the papers of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
The project will make it possible, for the first time, to place unique presidential manuscripts from the Library online. The Jefferson and Washington papers will be digitized for inclusion in the National Digital Library's collection of American history materials available at http://www.loc.gov/.
"Today's gift from Reuters will make it possible for the Library to share widely two collections of papers of the Founding Fathers," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "Our manuscript collections of 23 presidents are among the most important in the Library, and the generosity of Reuters will offer Americans everywhere the chance to view these key documents of their nation's history."
The news conference, dubbed "The Founding Fathers Go Digital," was attended by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Rep. Thomas Bliley (R-Va.), Reuters Chief Executive Peter Job, students and a teacher from Evans Junior High School in Washington and St. Christopher Middle School in Richmond, Va., and representatives from "What on Earth," a multimedia project from Reuters.
"Reuters is pleased it is working with the Library of Congress to bring American history to the digital age," said Mr. Job. "Through the application of the latest technology, wider access to historically significant materials has become possible. Scholars, local libraries, classroom students and families in the home - indeed anyone with access to the Internet - will now be able to see and use these materials more readily.
"I congratulate the Library of Congress and thank Speaker Gingrich and Rep. Bliley. We are delighted to be associated with this program."
Rep. Gingrich said that "the Library of Congress is beginning the process of creating, on a world basis, a shared set of information breakthroughs, and Reuters's gift will help remind people of the genius of freedom. ... When you study Washington and Jefferson you are in touch with the fabric that created the world you live in. ... What did they think? How did they pursue their goals? ... Through the Library of Congress, people all over the world will be able to 'touch' these documents, not just read what a historian thinks."
Rep. Bliley added a touch of humor to the occasion by noting that the British burned the Library, then housed in the U.S. Capitol, during the War of 1812. "It is so nice you have come back to help us," he said, looking at the chief executive of Reuters, which is based in London.
"We will compress time and distance in ways we can never imagine. Today is just the beginning," Rep. Bliley predicted.
Providing a demonstration of what is available today from the National Digital Library and what will be possible in the future was Robert Zich, director of electronic programs for the NDL Program. Mr. Zich offered such initiatives as the digitized versions of the Gettysburg Address and political speeches of U.S. leaders, as well as a taste of the Washington papers as they will appear on the Internet. Several of Washington's papers had been digitized just for the occasion. Those who attended the conference viewed the originals in a special exhibit prepared by Gerald Gawalt, Manuscript Division specialist in early American history, who explained the importance of the papers.
Mr. Zich was introduced by Laura Campbell, NDL Program director, who told the audience that the contribution of Reuters will also enable the Library to expand the educational impact of the presidential papers through outlets other than the Internet such as "What on Earth," a cable program from Reuters delivered daily to 1,500 classrooms across the country.
The final part of the program was devoted to a demonstration of "What on Earth," during which students from Evans Junior High and St. Christopher Middle School answered questions from Rep. Bliley relating to the Washington and Jefferson papers. They had learned about the papers from a "What on Earth" program developed by editors Katie King and Janet Walters. Student-reporter Tomicah Tillemann-Dick, 16, had interviewed Dr. Billington and Dr. Gawalt. His work brought a smile to Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and his wife, who are his grandparents and attended the event. Later that day, Reuters held a dinner featuring television's David Brinkley as speaker in the Northwest Curtain of the Jefferson Building's Great Hall.
"We have here on the shelves not only the history, dreams, fantasies and poetic longings of the human race," Mr. Brinkley said. "We also have the mundane, a century or so of the Dow Jones industrial average. All of it is gathered, protected and enclosed here in an envelope of limestone, granite and marble.
"Everything is here, yes," he continued. "But not everything is easily and quickly accessible. ... But there is help. The leadership of the Library of Congress - Dr. Billington leading the way - is creating what they call the National Digital Library."
The goal of the Library's NDL Program, in collaboration with other institutions, is to make freely available over the Internet 5 million items by the year 2000. The Reuters contribution will help the Library meet that goal by providing the funds necessary to digitize the approximately 65,000 items in the Washington Papers and 25,000 in the Jefferson Papers.
The George Washington Papers focus on the first president's career as surveyor, farmer, military leader and politician. Washington's correspondence, account books and other papers are the preeminent source for study of the military aspects of the American Revolution. His correspondence, diaries, journals and meticulously maintained records are unmatched records of the creation of the national government.
The Jefferson Papers reflect the more speculative and philosophical mind of the author of the Declaration of Independence, reformer of the Virginia Constitution and founder of the University of Virginia. Jefferson's web of intellectual communication within the North Atlantic community is clearly seen in his extensive correspondence on subjects as diverse as Native American languages, scientific farming and the best form of government for France and Great Britain. His interest in the early history of Virginia led to the preservation of some of the earliest known records of Jamestown and the Virginia Company of London.
Reuters supplies the global business community and news media with a wide range of products including financial data, access to numerical and textual historical databases, news, graphics, still photos and news video. Reuters maintains an international network of about 1,860 journalists, photographers and cameramen, and some 327,000 clients access Reuters information.