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UNESCO’s World Digital Library Goes Live

April 20, 2009

Officials at UNESCO headquarters in Paris announced the launch of the World Digital Library on Monday.

The library represents a massive collection of books, films, photographs and other materials from libraries across the globe.

UNESCO’s new library will become the world’s third major digital library, behind Google’s Book Search and the EU’s Europeana.

U.S. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington is credited with establishing the basis of the new digital library during a speech to the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO in June 2005.

Billington said the project could “have the salutary effect of bringing people together by celebrating the depth and uniqueness of different cultures in a single global undertaking.”

UNESCO and the Library of Congress first came together in December 2006 to discuss the project. In October 2007, the partner institutions unveiled the prototype of the digital collection.

“They noted that little cultural content was being digitized in many countries and that developing countries in particular lacked the capacity to digitize and display their cultural treasures,” UNESCO’s Web site reads.

“Existing Web sites often had poorly developed search and display functions. Multilingual access was not well developed. Many Web sites maintained by cultural institutions were difficult to use and, in many cases, failed to appeal to users, particularly young users.”

The WDL will function in seven primary languages – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

The library is the product of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and 32 partner institutions.

Billington will co-chair the launch event alongside UNESCO director general Koichiro Matsuura on Monday.

According to AFP, the collective hopes to develop partnerships with 60 countries by the end of 2009. Morocco, Uganda, Mexico and Slovakia have already signed up to work with the project.

Last year, Google succeeded in getting authors and publishers groups to drop copyright lawsuits after two years of negotiations.

In the past, Microsoft Inc and the European Union have devised rival libraries to Google’s Book Search engine. Microsoft gave up its efforts just 18 months after launching its library in 2006.

The EU’s digital library, Europeana, began in November, and was thrown offline hours after opening due to the influx of visitors. It currently operates via a prototype that draws about 40,000 visitors each day.

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