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Universal Digital Library: Find your books online

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DQW Bureau
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Imagine a Universal library, which would foster creativity and free access to human knowledge - a library with free-to-read, searchable collection of one million books, available to everyone over the Internet. 

Until now, the transmission of our cultural heritage largely depended on limited number of copies in fragile media. The fires of Alexandria irrevocably severed our access to any of the ancient works. In 100 years, only a few of the paper documents we have today would manage to survive the ravages of deterioration, loss and outright destruction. With not more than 10 million unique book and document editions before the year 1900 and perhaps 100 million since the beginning of recorded history, the task of preservation becomes much larger.

And this is the mission of the Universal Digital Library project undertaken at the University of Pune (UoP). Since digital technology can make the works of man permanently accessible to billions of people over the world, it is believed that the universal digital library, widely available through free access on the Internet, would improve global society in ways beyond measurement. The Internet can house a universal library that is free to the people.

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UoP is one of the eight select partners in India for international information network project, commissioned by the US-based Carnegie Mellon University with the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, appointed as the nodal agency. The mission is to create a Universal Library, which would foster creativity and free access to all human language. 

As a first step towards realizing this mission, it is proposed to create the Universal Library project with a free-to-read searchable collection of one million books, primarily in the English language, available to everyone over the Internet. It is estimated that the collection would grow to 10 million books in the next decade. The result would be a unique resource accessible to anyone in the world 24x7, without any regard to nationality or socio-economic background.

Said Dr SK Patil, librarian and head, Department of Library and Information Science, UoP, " The first major project of the Universal library is the Million Book Digital library project. Jaykar library has a collection of over four lakh books and therefore was the obvious choice for the project. Of the 10,000 books intended to be digitized, we've already completed work on 200."

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The total number of different titles indexed in OCLC's WorldCat is about 48 million. One of the goals of the Universal library is to provide support for full text indexing and searching based on Optical character recognition (OCR) technologies where available. The availability of online search allows users to locate relevant information quickly and reliably thus enhancing student's success in their research endeavors.

Center for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) is developing the software program for optical character recognition in Devnagari. This is to facilitate the digitizing of Marathi books in the project. Patil said that in the absence of an apt OCR program for Devanagari script, the five-member team was finding it difficult to digitize Marathi books. And therefore the department turned to C-DAC for a way out.

This ambitious project involves participation from many countries including USA, China and India. In USA, Prof Raja Reddy of Carnegie Mellon University is the overall international coordinator for this project. Prof N Balakrishnan, chairman, Division of Information Science is the coordinator for the Indian effort. A similar project is already underway at China and the US to create a network of information on books that can be accessed on website and downloaded for practical application. 

The Carnegie Mellon University has already donated a couple of state of the art scanners each costing Rs nine lakh, for facilitating scanning. The ministry of communication and information technology has given Rs 4.44 lakh for purchase of computers, UPS and other maintenance work. Along with the UoP, libraries of IISC, Bangalore, Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad, Goa University, Arulmigu Kalasalingam College of Engineering, Shanmuga Arts, Science, Technology and Research Academy, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanas, Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation, Mumbai are part of this project. The project is likely to be extended to another eight centers in India.

Nanda Kasabe


CNS

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