Afghan President Hamid Karzai Receives Digitized Cultural Treasures in State Department Ceremony

Afghan President Hamid Karzai Receives Digitized Cultural Treasures in State Department Ceremony

Library of Congress, World Digital Library, Carnegie Corporation of New York Make Possible “Virtual Repatriation”

In a ceremony at the U.S. Department of State with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – joined by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and Carnegie Corporation of New York President Vartan Gregorian — announced the gift of a collection of digitized treasures from the holdings of the Library of Congress relating to the culture and history of Afghanistan to libraries and universities in Afghanistan. The gift was made possible by a $2 million grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York in support of the World Digital Library, a cooperative international project led by the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress will add Afghan treasures to the WDL as well as provide copies of these treasures toAfghan institutions. These include the National Library of Afghanistan, the American University of Afghanistan, Badakhsan University, Balkh University, Bamiyan University, Herat University, Kabul University, Kandahar University, and Nangarhar University.

The collection presented includes manuscripts, rare books, maps, and photographs. It is the first part of what will be many thousands of items from and about Afghanistan and neighboring countries with which it has interacted over the centuries.

The project is an example of the “virtual repatriation” that is made possible by digital technologies and that is one of the key objectives of the WDL. “Making cultural treasures of global value available to all the people of the world is one of the greatest gifts the digital age has given us,” Billington said. “The World Digital Library has made it possible for people of all cultures to look at the gems of each other’s learning and art in any of seven languages, and this vehicle of understanding is available 24 hours a day.”

“As Secretary Clinton prepares to leave her post at the helm of the State Department, it is fitting that one of her last official acts is this important gesture of our country’s goodwill and friendship toward the Afghan people,” Gregorian said. “These digitized manuscripts serve as the living expression not only of Afghanistan’s history but also the heritage of its people. With this treasure-trove of knowledge, Afghans will be able to travel through the record of their civilization, its triumphs and failures, and experience its legacy of intellectual, scientific and artistic achievements.”

“We hope this compendium of knowledge will serve as a guide to the Afghan people as they continue their efforts to reconstruct their country and secure its future. I would like to salute the legacy of Hillary Clinton, our great Secretary of State; James Billington, our devoted Librarian of Congress, and Zahir Tanin, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the United Nations, for his assistance in our effort.”

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 155 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its website at

The World Digital Library is a website, accessible from anywhere in the world, which presents in digital form documents of cultural significance, free of charge, about all countries and cultures. The concept was first proposed by the Librarian of Congress and the site was launched in 2009. WDL partners currently include more than 160 libraries, museums and archives from 77 countries, makes available online the world’s historic treasures. The WDL now features items in 91 languages and about all 194 United Nations member states. Resources available on the site – which presents its information in a user’s choice of seven languages – include manuscripts, maps, rare books, sound recordings, films, prints and photographs.

Carnegie Corporation of New York was created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding. In keeping with this mandate, the corporation’s work focuses on the issues that Andrew Carnegie considered of paramount importance: international peace, the advancement of education and knowledge, and the strength of our democracy.

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PR 13-009
ISSN 0731-3527

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