There's a new online library venture that's captured my imagination.
IT IS not every library that displays ancient Chinese manuscripts alongside postcards of Sarah Bernhardt, crumbling Iraqi newspapers near maps of the New World, and Rabelais originals next to the voice recording of a 101-year-old former slave named Fountain Hughes.
But then the World Digital Library is not every library. Hailed as an online "intellectual cathedral", it is an unprecedented coming together of some of the world's treasures.
When it is launched at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris this month, the website will be a digital looking-glass through which internet users can view and study tens of thousands of cultural gems from countries as diverse as Sweden, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
Four years after Washington's Librarian of Congress, Dr James Billington, suggested the idea, curators have accomplished the first stage of a truly global library.
With all material free of charge on a website translated into seven languages, the library is expected to be an unrivalled educational tool.
In partnership with leading institutions around the world, including Britain's Wellcome Collection, curators at UNESCO and the Library of Congress have attempted to provide the most comprehensive geographic coverage possible.
"It is very much an ongoing, long-term process," the project's director, John Van Oudenaren, said. "At the moment we have 32 partners. In principle, we could have hundreds. We'd like to have partners … in every country … because only then will we become a genuine world library."
The Middle East is playing a significant role. The National Library and Archives of Iraq are contributing, among other things, a selection of yellowing newspapers and periodicals from the 19th and 20th centuries written in Arabic, English, Kurdish and Ottoman Turkish. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah University and the Qatar Foundation are also taking part. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina, already a leader in the race to digitise cultural treasures of the Arab world, is providing volumes and plates from the Description Of Egypt, a work of scientific observation carried out by French scholars during Napoleon's military foray into the country in 1798.
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Its aim is to focus on the very best of what each country has to offer. The French national library has contributed an illuminated manuscript by Jean Fouquet, early films by the Lumiere brothers and a 1898 recording of La Marseillaise. London's Wellcome Collection is to provide anatomical drawings and scientific texts including Francis Crick's first sketch of the DNA double helix.
What a great idea! Here's their promo video.
The World Library Web site is already up, but not yet operational. You might want to bookmark it now, for when it goes 'live' on April 21st. I can see I'm going to be spending hours there!