On December 1 at the UNESCO Paris Headquarters, UNESCO and the Library of Congress will host a meeting to pave the way for the launch of a World Digital Library—an Internet-based repository of knowledge from all cultures and in all languages. Other participants will include national library representatives from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America. They will review major national and regional digital library initiatives already underway and discuss how these initiatives might relate to a World Digital Library
The World Digital Library is to be developed in cooperation with UNESCO and other libraries and cultural institutions from around the world with the aim of promoting international and inter-cultural understanding, expanding non-English and non-Western content on the Internet, and contributing to scholarship. The project will focus on digitizing unique and rare material and making it available freely on the Internet. This material is to include manuscripts, maps, books, musical scores, sound recordings, films, prints, and photographs as well as architectural drawings from libraries and other cultural institutions around the world.
In a message to the meeting, Laura Bush, First Lady of the United States of America, and Honorary Ambassador for the UN Literacy Decade said, “Making all this available free of charge on the Internet will give teachers and librarians a new resource to encourage young people to read and study foreign languages and will advance learning both with and between countries.” UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura declared, “I am pleased that UNESCO, the United States, and other partners continue moving forward on this important initiative. We must encourage all Member States to pool efforts at all levels to protect unique and endangered books, manuscripts, archival documents, and audiovisual materials through the use of state-of-the art technologies.” “For UNESCO, libraries—whether paper-based or digital—have always played a crucial role in fulfilling its mandate to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image and to maintain, increase, and spread knowledge,” said UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information Abdul Waheed Khan in announcing UNESCO’s support for the initiative. Meanwhile, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who first proposed the idea for a World Digital Library in 2005, stressed, “A World Digital Library will promote intercultural dialog and international understanding and increase the volume of freely available high quality content on the Internet. Primary documents of culture have a human appeal that transcends politics.”