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Website of the Week — Universal Digital Library

Time again for our Website of the Week, when we showcase interesting and innovative online destinations. Our web guide is VOA's Art Chimes.

This time it's an online library with a rather ambitious goal.

SHAMOS: "Universal Digital Library is a project started at Carnegie Mellon more than 10 years ago with the unabashed objective of digitizing all published works of man and making them freely accessible over the Internet at any time, any place, for anybody."

Professor Michael Shamos of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh is a director of the Universal Digital Library at When he says "published works," he's not just talking about books. The library will eventually also include newspapers, magazines, photographs, and other media.

Institutions in China, India and Egypt are also involved, with books being scanned in 50 centers around the world. The library has digitized more than 1.5 million books so far in about 20 languages. Most of them are older works, no longer under copyright.

That sounds like a lot, but Shamos notes it's less than two percent of all books ever published. The priority for adding books to the digital library is pretty much based on what's available. Not every university library is willing to lend out thousands of books for months at a time while they are scanned.

SHAMOS: "We had many debates about this early in the project. Do you convene a committee of scholars to pick the million most important things there are on Earth? I don't think we could ever do that. So instead of doing that we said, look, the ultimate goal is to digitize everything. If you're going to do that, it doesn't matter what you do first."

Shamos says the Universal Digital Library will equalize opportunities for those who don't now have access to a great library or the means to buy lots of books.

SHAMOS: "If there happens to be some brilliant kid who lives in an impoverished town in India, and he doesn't have access to educational materials, he will never be able to develop into the kind of genius that he might be. And so, this is critical for dissemination of information to those who don't have access."

But you don't have to be a budding, young genius to use the Universal Digital Library. All you need is an Internet connection to, or get the link from our site,