By JENNIFER GAVIN
Hailing from all over the globe, partners in the World Digital Library (WDL) met in Washington in June to explore the expansion and enhancement of the website packed with world cultural treasures in digital form.
In addition to the two-day meeting of WDL partners at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, which featured national library directors and officials and an address to the guests by U.S. Rep. John B. Larson (D-Conn.), the Library of Congress hosted a day-long meeting with several prospective WDL members. That group represented 11 nations of the former Soviet Union—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. They sought to identify important documents and collections from those countries that should be added to the WDL, and to identify the personnel and infrastructural needs those nations must fulfill to participate in national and international digital library projects. Representatives of Russian libraries already participating in the WDL took part in the Monday meeting as observers.
“Capacity-building is a crucial element of the WDL, which is far more than just a very high-tech website,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who conceived of the World Digital Library and proposed it to the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) five years ago. “The World Digital Library not only educates and fascinates users, it also helps them understand each others’ cultures and value to humankind.”
Under a $2 million grant awarded by Carnegie Corp. of New York, the Library of Congress has completed the first stages of a three-year effort to enable cultural institutions in sub-Saharan Africa and the countries of the former Soviet Union to join the WDL.
The World Digital Library is an award-winning project initiated by the Library in cooperation with the UNESCO to provide free, multilingual access to important cultural and historical documents from all 193 UNESCO member states. The WDL now has 94 partners from 60 countries. More than 10 million users from every nation in the world have visited the WDL at wdl.org since its launch in April 2009.
With the funding from the Carnegie Corp. of New York, the Library of Congress provided digitization equipment and software to the National Library of Uganda and helped the institution in Kampala recruit a dedicated digital conversion staff. That staff was trained by a five-person team from the Library of Congress in content selection, preservation, digitization and metadata creation. Gertrude Kayaga Mulindwa, Director of the National Library of Uganda, addressed the WDL partner meeting on her institution’s experience in establishing the digital conversion center and the experience gained and lessons learned for capacity-building in other developing country libraries. Future activities planned under the grant include efforts to build capacity at libraries in South Africa so they too can contribute collections to the WDL.
“We are very grateful to Carnegie Corp. of New York for its support in these two important regions,” said Billington. “In order to ensure participation by all countries that wish to share their cultural heritage with the world via the WDL, we need to assist them with training, equipment, and software. The Carnegie grant makes this possible.”
“Libraries are as old as civilization. They are the diaries of humankind,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corp. of New York. “They preserve the heritage of the entire human race, recording both its triumphs and failures, protecting and cherishing the legacy of the intellectual, scientific and artistic achievements of men and women around the globe and across time and distance,” Gregorian said. “The library represents humanity’s collective memory and it is the university of universities.”
Gregorian continued, “Carnegie Corp. is proud to be a supporter of the World Digital Library project, which expands on Andrew Carnegie’s vision of opening the library doors of the world even wider and increasing access to knowledge and wisdom for all.”
Jennifer Gavin is the senior public affairs specialist in the Library’s Public Affairs Office.