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Tuesday, 24 September, 2002, 08:01 GMT 09:01 UK
Tibetan culture finds digital saviour
Books at the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center
The centre has thousands of books
BBC News Online's Alfred Hermida

Thousands of historical Tibetan books are going digital in an attempt to save Tibet's rich Buddhist-influenced literature.

At the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center in New York, a non-profit organisation, workers are scanning hundreds of thousands of pages onto a computer.

The works are being made available on CD-Rom and, eventually, also on the internet, so that everyone can have access to them.

"They represent a history and a wisdom literature that we are just beginning to understand," explained E Gene Smith, founder and director of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center.

Decaying pages

The organisation does not charge for its services, relying instead on private donations.

E Gene Smith
Smith: Encyclopaedic knowledge
It has 12,000 volumes of Tibetan literature, possibly the biggest in the West or even in the world.

Many of them came from refugees who carried them over the Himalayas when they fled from the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s.

The collection includes works of Buddhist philosophy, mathematics, alchemy and ancient exotica.

As there were no printing presses in Tibet, the books were either handwritten or printed from wooden blocks.

"Our project is largely a preservation one because the paper on which they were printed is decaying," Mr Smith told the BBC programme Go Digital. "It's falling apart literally."

Cultural heritage

Scanning the volumes is a mammoth task, so the centre is being helped by other organisations such as the Himalayan Art Project, the University of Virginia and the Tibetan Knowledge Consortium.

Tibetan text
Thousands of texts to be scanned
Mr Smith estimates that by the end they will have 8.4 million individual digital images of the texts.

"What we're doing is creating a database. We will provide it initially on CD-Rom and we hope that we can eventually have a website so that the images are available anywhere in the world," he said.

Mr Smith became interested in Tibetan history and culture in the 1960s. Aged 65 years old, he now has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Tibet's literature.

"There's more interest now in the philosophy and the science that's enshrined in these documents," he said.

"These documents will be of enormous importance, not only to the West but also Tibetans themselves as they reconstruct their culture."

See also:

23 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
23 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
22 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
11 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
08 Sep 02 | Technology
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