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Digitizing the World's Biggest Library

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Published on Nov 13, 2009

Bright lights and wires are part of a new look at the United States Library of Congress. This machine is one of several web servers that put information from the Library of Congress on the Internet.

JANE MANDELBAUM: All the data on our Web site is here.

Jane Mandelbaum is responsible for information technology services at the Library of Congress.

For years, the library has been called the worlds largest library. That is because of its many books and documents. Officials estimate the Library of Congress has more than one hundred twenty million books and thirty-six thousand movies. It also has a large collection of music sheets and recordings, documents and pictures. Yet only one percent of all this has been digitally reproduced.

Thomas Youkel says the library makes electronic copies of four to six million objects a year. A lot of those images and sounds are put on its Web site.

The library is making digital versions of its collection mainly for safety reasons. Officials are worried about books and documents breaking down. Making digital reproductions is a long and costly process. This is a document from the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. The Library of Congress has sixty-five million documents.

The librarys James Hutson says the creative process of documents is getting lost in the computer age.

The library is making digital versions of more than five million maps. Some, like this map of Africa, were painted on cloth more than a century ago. Books require a different technology. This map was hand-painted in the sixteen hundreds.

Colleen Cahill leads the digitizing team. She says people can freely use materials found on the librarys web site. Cahill says we are looking at more than one and a half hectares of maps and mapping materials.

The Library of Congress has put nearly one million five hundred thousand images on its Web site. But a big problem is changes in technology.

THOMAS YOUKEL: If you think in terms of changing technologies, you go from this to this. This holds approximately one hundred times as much information as this one.

Workers continue making copies of the Library of Congress collection in an effort to guard against ever-changing technology. Im Mario Ritter.

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