For the first time in history, all the significant literary, artistic, and scientific works of mankind can be digitally preserved and made freely available, in every corner of the world, for our education, study, and appreciation and that of all our future generations.
Up until now, the transmission of our cultural heritage has depended on limited numbers of copies in fragile media. The fires of Alexandria irrevocably severed our access to any of the works of the ancients. In a thousand years, only a few of the paper documents we have today will survive the ravages of deterioration, loss, and outright destruction. With no 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 is much larger. With new digital technology, though, this task is within the reach of a single concerted effort for the public good, and this effort can be distributed to libraries, museums, and other groups in all countries.
Existing archives of paper have many shortcomings. Many other works still in existence today are rare, and only accessible to a small population of scholars and collectors at specific geographic locations. A single wanton act of destruction can destroy an entire line of heritage. Furthermore, contrary to the popular beliefs, the libraries, museums, and publishers do not routinely maintain broadly comprehensive archives of the considered works of man. No one can afford to do this, unless the archive is digital.
Digital technology can make the works of man permanently accessible to the billions of people all over the world. J.N.Tata and other great philanthropists, and visionary information scientist like Dr S. R. Ranganathan, in past centuries have recognized the great potential of public libraries to improve the quality of life and provide opportunity the citizenry. A language independent digital library, widely available through free access on the Internet, will improve the global society in ways beyond measurement.
The technological advances today make it possible to think in terms of storing all the knowledge of the human race in digital form by the year 2008.