November 22, 2005 Library of Congress Launches Effort to Create World Digital Library

Google Is First Private-Sector Partner with Funding of $3 Million

Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara, Library of Congress (202) 707-9217 | Nathan Tyler, Google Inc. (650) 253-4311

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin announced today that Google is the first private-sector company to contribute to the Library’s initiative to develop a plan to begin building a World Digital Library (WDL) for use by other libraries around the globe. The effort would be supported by funds from nonexclusive, public and private partnerships, of which Google is the first.

The concept for the WDL came from a speech that Billington delivered to the newly established U.S. National Commission for UNESCO on June 6, 2005, at Georgetown University. The full text is available at

In his speech, Billington proposed that public research institutions and libraries work with private funders to begin digitizing significant primary materials of different cultures from institutions across the globe. Billington said that the World Digital Library would bring together online “rare and unique cultural materials held in U.S. and Western repositories with those of other great cultures such as those that lie beyond Europe and involve more than 1 billion people: Chinese East Asia, Indian South Asia and the worlds of Islam stretching from Indonesia through Central and West Asia to Africa.”

Google Inc. has agreed to donate $3 million as the first partner in this public-private initiative.

Google Co-Founder and President of Technology Sergey Brin said, “Google supports the World Digital Library because we share a common mission of making the world’s information universally accessible and useful. To create a global digital library is a historic opportunity, and we want to help the Library of Congress in this effort.”

To lay the groundwork for the WDL, the Library will develop a plan for identifying technology issues related to digitization and organization of WDL collections. These might include presentation, maintenance, standards and metadata schemas that support both access and preservation. The plan will also identify resources, such as equipment, staffing and funding, required to digitize and launch an online presentation of a WDL collection.

The Library of Congress has extensive pioneering experience building digital libraries. In 1994 the National Digital Library Program ( was instituted at the Library to offer American historical treasures online; today, more than 10 million rare and unique materials from the Library and those of its partners are available free of charge in the American Memory Web site (

The content of the World Digital Library, like that of American Memory, will be primarily one-of-a-kind materials, including manuscript and multimedia materials of the particular culture.

In 2000, the Library launched its Global Gateway Web site ( to present international collections of the Library and materials from major libraries of the world. Current contributors to the site are repositories from Russia, Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands and France. The bilingual, multimedia presentations in Global Gateway concentrate on the historical intersections and parallels between the United States and the site’s contributing nations. The new World Digital Library will focus the other nations’ own culture and history and will broaden the geographic scope by including non-Western nations and cultures.

The Library’s experience with large-scale digitization projects includes a number of scanning pilots with a variety of vendors, including Google. The Library and Google recently completed a yearlong cooperative digitization of about 5,000 books in the public domain. The pilot developed procedures for handling and tracking fragile material as well as developing specifications for high-quality scanned images. Google will continue its scanning efforts by digitizing works of historical value from the Library of Congress’ Law Library.

In making the announcement, Billington emphasized the little-known fact that more than one-half of the book collections of the Library of Congress are in languages other than English. Like the materials in American Memory, those in the World Digital Library will either be in the public domain or made available with special permission.

“A World Digital Library would make these collections available free of charge to anyone accessing the Internet, and it could well have the salutary effect of bringing people together by celebrating the depth and uniqueness of different cultures in a single global undertaking,” said Billington. “We are grateful for Google’s contribution to this important initiative, and we will seek contributions from other private sector companies with an equally enlightened self-interest.

“Working with UNESCO, we want to encourage other countries to make use of our experiences in developing their own digitization projects. I believe that we have both an opportunity and an obligation as a nation to form a public-private partnership to use the new technology of the Internet to help celebrate the creative cultural variety of the world with which we are increasingly and inextricably interinvolved,” said Billington.

Once developed, the Library’s WDL plan would be made available to libraries, content owners and their supporters. This initiative will complement the large-scale national project that Congress has directed the Library to lead: the formation of a network of institutional partners to build a digital preservation architecture for collecting, preserving and making accessible important material available only in digital form. For more information about this national program, go to


PR 05-250
ISSN 0731-3527