The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and 32 partner institutions from around the world recently launched the World Digital Library (WDL) – a website that allows visitors to access unique cultural materials, such as manuscripts, maps, rare books and films, from libraries and archives from around the world.
One of the world's oldest civilizations, the People's Republic of China, joined the World Digital Library due in part to the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) cultural delegation to China in 2007. As a PCAH member, Librarian of Congress Dr. James Billington addressed an audience at the Ministry of Culture saying, “There is no activity that is more important for long-term international relations of the U.S. than carefully crafted, people intensive cultural and educational exchanges.” A year later the PCAH and the Library of Congress hosted the new Minister of Culture Cai Wu and a small Chinese cultural delegation at a PCAH meeting. At the meeting, several cultural accords were signed, including one signed between Dr. Billington and the Director of the National Library of the People's Republic of China, which made China a founding partner of the World Digital Library program.
The project was first proposed in 2005 by Dr. Billington as a means of promoting world cultural understanding, and of bringing people together. The website, http://www.wdl.org/en/ provides unrestricted public access, free of charge, to its various materials, and functions in seven languages. It aims to expand the volume and variety of cultural materials available on the internet, as well as provide educational resources to teachers, students, and general audiences.