Library of Congress and UNESCO Sign World Digital Library Agreement

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and UNESCO Assistant Director for Communication and Information Abdul Waheed Khan recently signed an agreement at UNESCO headquarters in Paris pledging cooperative efforts to build a World Digital Library Web site.

The World Digital Library will digitize unique and rare materials from libraries and other cultural institutions around the world and make them available for free on the Internet. These materials will include manuscripts, maps, books, musical scores, sound recordings, films, prints and photographs.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Library of Congress and UNESCO will cooperate in convening working groups of experts and other stakeholders to develop guidelines and technical specifications for the project, enlist new partners and secure the necessary support for the project from private and public sources. A key aspect of the project is to build digital library capabilities in the developing world, so that all countries and regions of the world can participate and be represented in the World Digital Library.

To test the feasibility of the project, the Library of Congress, UNESCO and five other partner institutions — 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 — have developed a prototype of the World Digital Library. The World Digital Library will become available to the public as a full-fledged Web site in late 2008 or early 2009.

The prototype functions in the six U.N. languages — Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish, plus Portuguese — and features search and browse functionality by place, time, topic and contributing institution. Input into the design of the prototype was solicited through a consultative process that involved UNESCO, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, and individuals and institutions in more than 40 countries.