On Wednesday, the Washington Post published an article about the Next Big Thing in libraries – the World Digital Library. The WDL’s sponsors/creators, the biggest of whom are UNESCO and the Library of Congress, plan to open the site’s doors in late 2008 or early 2009.

The World Digital Library’s goal is to make available the world’s cultural works – not only books, but music, works of art, architectural designs, and more – free in seven languages (English, French, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Arabic). Librarian of Congress James Billington said that “its content is being designed particularly with children in mind.” Here’s the video, featuring a bunch of the proposed 2.0 bells and whistles:

The U.S. portion of the WDL already largely exists – it’s the well-known and heavily used Library of Congress American Memory project, with its wonderful collections of photos, artworks, interview transcripts, and sheet music. From the visuals presented on the WDL site – http://www.worlddigitallibrary.org – it appears that the design of American Memory will be the guide for materials from the great libraries of other countries that will be added.

Of course, one of the big problems of American Memory is that the portion of the LOC collection that can be posted online is largely of materials in the public domain (from 1922 and earlier), which limits its usefulness to students. It will be interesting to see how materials in the WDL will be limited by various countries’ intellectual property laws.

But I say that any time that more materials are published digitally and made freely available, that’s a good thing. And it’s great news for all the kids of the future and their as-yet-unassigned homework assignments.