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All wisdom of the humankind

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Staff writer ▼ | November 9, 2007
The prototype of the World Digital Library marked a start of one of the greatest enterprises in our history. It will collect data from every corner of the world.
digital world library
digital world libraryThe prototype of the World Digital Library marked a start of one of the greatest enterprises in our history. It will collect data from every corner of the world.

With the advent of computers and spread of IT industry, people around world started to collect everything: From personal pictures to applications to websites. Some of that data will be used frequently, some rarely and some will just sit on a hard disk somewhere in the world. The passion of collecting the data has some attributes of mania. These days the world biggest and greatest project of collecting data has started. It will never finish but its impact on humankind could be tremendous. It is known as World Digital Library.

digital world libraryBack in 2005 Mr. James H. Billington, The Librarian of Congress, US, proposed the creation of digital version of The Royal Library of Alexandria. As the ancient library, the new one will have manuscripts, maps, books, prints, photographs, and sound recordings from every corner of the world.

The United States are frequently criticized of being too aggressive with its culture that spreads mainly via films and music. However, it is less known that 60 percent of US Library of Congress printed materials is in languages that are not English. Following that, Mr. Billington vision was to expand that and to make a world library with a little help from friend from all over the world.

And now, two years after the first idea, the project started to roll. Mr. Billington and UNESCO Assistant Director for Communication and Information Abdul Waheed Khan signed an agreement at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. That means that building of "new Alexandrina" has begun.

UNESCO and the Library of Congress has five partners (the Bibliotheca Alexandrina of Alexandria, Egypt; the National Library of Brazil; the National Library of Egypt; the National Library of Russia; and the Russian State Library) developed a prototype of the World Digital Library. As the time goes by it is expected that librarians, institutions and individuals from all over the world will bring their piece this new achievement. The World Digital Library will become available to the public as a Web site in late 2008 or early 2009, and will be free for all.

digital world libraryWhat will World Digital Library bring to world? We know that advances in information technology are not always good. When printing presses with movable type were invented they contributed to religious wars of 16th century. The printing presses of 19th century helped to spread nationalistic emotions that eventually led to the First and Second World War. In these days of the internet, there are many organizations that use it as a tool for their malicious goals.

But, the new library has could change that and there are good chances for that. The digital divide on planet Earth is big, and almost every conflict arises from misunderstanding. In order to know other culture we must know its history; a history that is recorded differently in different cultures.

digital world libraryThe World Digital Library will try to do just that - connect different cultures. All documents will be available on seven languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish, and Portuguese. The content will be searchable by place, time and topic. More that 40 countries already work on that joint project digitising and cataloguing hundreds of thousands of documents.

A visitor will be able to find all photos from London in 1920s, she will listen to the interview with American slave; the biographies of Geronimo and Mao Zedong will be a click away, one search from old Sumerian manuscript. It will be possible to narrow the search to find the scientific data from 1500s or Egyptian art made in 3rd century. It will also possible to search in regard to media: photos, print or audio media.

The project of the World Digital Library will never finish, as every librarian knows. One of the purposes of the library is to grow and to collect the data that nowadays we produce at high speed. However, it will be free for all, accessible from powerful desktop computers and from OLPC's XO and Intel's Classmate. That way, it could bring tremendous benefit and understanding to the world. The idea of digitising all wisdom of humankind may sound too ambitious but we believe it will be one of the greatest achievements of the humankind.