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Global net library planned

By Jim Kelly, Education correspondent
The Financial Times 2 Apr 2000

Six of the world's leading educational institutions will on Monday announce plans to create a global public library on the web offering access to materialranging from the Magna Carta, archive interviews with Frank Lloyd Wright, and an interactive tour of Amiens Cathedral.

Columbia University, the London School of Economics,Cambridge University Press, The British Library, The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and the New York Public Library are the founding partners behind -with initial investment over the next year estimated at $80m.

The idea is to combine access to knowledge with online educational offerings and innovative partnerships between the institutions. Users will be able to buy knowledge products and courses through as well as using free content checked by the partnership's Academic Council.

"Generally what's free in the real world will be free in the virtual world," said Dr Ann Kirschner, CEO of Fathom. Small charges could develop to cover some rarer materials. She said Fathom could go public if the partners felt it met their objectives and the market was right. Initial extra investment will come from venture capitalists. Fathom is the latest move by traditional educational organisations to claim a stake in the developing online market. "It is important that we seize this space. This could be the category killer," said Neil Gregory, head of research and project development at the LSE.

"This is not This gives us a platform to disseminate knowledge created here to a much wider community," said Prof Stephen Hill,Pro-Director of the LSE. He said was in essence an enterprise designed to further the interests of the six mainly not-for-profit organisations.

Online enrolment in educational courses is expected to increase in the US alone at annual rate of 30-35 per cent. The current higher education market inthe US is $750bn. However the founding partners see in broader terms as fulfilling their mission to spread information widely.

"We see an enormous need developing for this new "Interactive knowledge category," said Steven Friedman, a member of Fathom's board and formerchairman of Goldman Sachs. The Academic Council will be chaired by Dr Jonathan Cole,Provost of Columbia University.

The wide model for is designed to attract learners from outside the classroom environment. "We want to ignite the desire to learn amongthe many people who put their learning on hold due to everyday constraints we all experience - time, finances, and geographic distance," said Dr Kirschner.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2000.

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