This is the ambitious goal of the directors of the new Alexandria Library in Egypt. Robert F. Worth tells us the story in The New York Times (free registration required).
The directors of the new Alexandria Library, which christened a steel and glass structure with 250,000 books in October, have joined forces with an American artist and software engineers in an ambitious effort to make virtually all of the world's books available at a mouse click. Much as the ancient library nurtured Archimedes and Euclid, the new Web venture also hopes to connect scholars and students around the world.
To its supporters, the project, called the Alexandria Library Scholars Collective, could ultimately revolutionize learning in the developing countries, where libraries are often nonexistent and access to materials is hard to come by. Cheick Diarra, a former NASA engineer and the director of the African Virtual University, said he plans to begin using the Alexandria software this year at the university's 34 campuses in 17 African countries.
Right now, the collection of books is still small. And the software is not fully operational, but is about ready to be deployed.
The creators of the new database hope to leave those problems behind by making digital books and scholarly materials more accessible. Users of the Alexandria software will visit the Web site and see a sumptuously illustrated library, with calling cards and stacks, that will link them to online texts much like a standard commercial browser.
Few people have used the software. But Richard Foley, a dean at New York University, said it was more sophisticated and easier to use than Blackboard, a tool to post academic material. "The real trick is not just to post information but to make it usable and interactive," he said. "This is a much less passive approach to information storage, retrieval and transmission."
So, what can we expect in the coming months?
The library has scanned only about 100,000 pages of its own material, mostly medieval Arabic texts, said Ismail Serageldin, director of the Alexandria Library. But it has embarked on a plan to digitize thousands of books over the next several years, most of them Arabic texts, with French and English translations, he said.
The library will also have access to one million books that are now being scanned by Carnegie Mellon University, which is creating its own vast digital archive and is one of Alexandria's partners. And the library has a vast trove of Web material already donated by the Internet Archive, a California partner with similar universal ambitions.
For more information on this project, you also can read "Egypt aims to enter Internet age in one big step."
Sources: Robert F. Worth, The New York Times, March 1, 2003; Elise Ackerman and Joshua L. Kwan, San Jose Mercury News, December 1, 2002
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