An Internet library aimed to be accessible to surfers around the world is now on line, with its formal inauguration in Paris on Tuesday. This is the latest in growing international efforts to digitalize our cultural heritage.
US Library of Congress played key role
Known as the World Digital Library - and accessible at www.wdl.org - the project is the fruit of contributions from libraries and institutions from 19 countries.
It was developed by the Library of Congress in Washington - with the help of the Alexandria Library in Egypt. It was launched at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
This is not the first international digital information project. Google launched a book project in 2004 and the European Union launched its own world digital library, last November.
Users can access extensive variety of materials
What will the new UNESCO library offer? A treasure trove of books, maps, manuscripts and films from around the world, in seven different languages - with additional material in other languages. It aims to bridge a cultural divide not only by offering people in poorer countries the same access to knowledge as those in richer ones - but also by making available the cultural heritage of non-Western nations.
"Libraries have already been centers for information and knowledge," UNESCO's assistant director-general for communication and information, Abdul Waheed Khan explained. "So the fundamental principle to universal access to information and knowledge is largely meant by digitizing the content and making these contents freely available to every part of the world."
The library is beginning modestly, with about 1,200 documents available. It is designed to have unlimited information on store.