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World Digital Library to offer the world's cultures online

Two years ago, James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, proposed a global digital library.

Two years ago, James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, proposed a global digital library. The vision may be realized over the coming years, The Washington Post reports. The World Digital Library -- comprised of international librarians, computer scientists and U.N. officials -- unveiled a prototype for the project in Paris on Wednesday.

"The capacity to search in the various ways that will be possible in the World Digital Library will promote all kinds of cross-cultural perspectives and understanding," said James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, who proposed the project two years ago. The ability to cross-reference information pulled from "the deep memories" of cultures is "an exciting frontier possibility for the world," he said in an interview.
According to the group, the website will feature original documents, films, maps, photographs, manuscripts, musical scores, recordings, architectural drawings, and other resources from the world's cultures.
"In essence, what they are doing is building an intellectual cathedral, and it may never get finished," said Paul Saffo, a long-time Silicon Valley technology forecaster. "But this is a good effort even if it fails, because it is going to inspire a lot of other efforts, and if it succeeds it will be a wonderful resource."

"The challenges here aren't technological," Saffo said. Financial hurdles might be considerable, and the project could be criticized as too grandiose, or its model might be considered too closed. But all those problems will probably be resolved, he said. "For me, the issue is the will to make it happen. The people involved in this -- will they really see this through?"

The site allows users to search for certain years and countries, as well as types of media.

"The memory of different cultures is preserved in different ways," Billington explained. "This is an attempt to take the defining primary documents of a culture" and make them interactive with other cultures, he said.

The site "has an enormous educational potential," Billington said, noting that its content is being designed particularly with children in mind. "It has the capacity both to inspire respect for other cultures and their histories and stories, but at the same time to establish critical thinking."

The WDL is being developed by the Library of Congress in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which officials said would broaden the program's reach and appeal.