National Library wins UNESCO award for pioneering digitisation work

'Jikji' award

The Czech National Library has just been presented with UNESCO's new "Jikji" Memory of the World award. The Library won the prize for a pioneering project in which old manuscripts are turned into digital form, or digitised. But is the system under threat from the internet giant Google?

The Czech National Library was presented with UNESCO's Memory of the World Prize at an award ceremony in the South Korean city of Cheongju last weekend.

Adolf Knoll: "The Jikji award is given by UNESCO for safeguarding and preserving of and access to documentary heritage, specifically to the documentary heritage that it's in danger of disappearing."

Says Adolf Knoll of the Czech National Library, who was in South Korea to receive the award.

"We developed technology of digitisation of historical collections that is one of the first in Europe, and we shared a lot of our knowledge with neighbouring countries and also with some Asian countries.

Czech National Library
"I think this fact, that we shared the knowledge, and we trained a lot of people abroad, in many countries, is appreciated a lot in UNESCO. And maybe it was one of the decisive factors when the international advisory committee for the Memory of the World Programme decided to choose us."

The Czech National Library was one of the first institutions in Europe to transform manuscripts into digital form, starting in 1992. Since then the Internet website Google has also got in on the act, and has made a deal to digitise millions of books for some of the world's top universities. But many leading European libraries oppose the creation of a global virtual library by Google. Where does Adolf Knoll stand on the issue?

"It's no competition. We have two special programmes that concern old and endangered documents. Google targets mostly what we call modern literature, which also means 19th century literature.

"This is an area on which we would also like to concentrate in my country, but it means slightly different technology to enable fast digitisation. That means automated scanners that can browse pages to give high output.

"Nowadays it's said mostly that it's a kind of challenge coming from Google for Europeans to do something in this domain."

Nineteen European national libraries - including the Czech National Library - have actually agreed to work together to put European literature online, but the project is still in its early stages.