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World Digital Library: Happy birthday!

The American Memory Collection is a rich portal containing so many of the primary sources that define our nation. Till now, no such portal existed to share such sources globally. In a flat world, this is sharing is critical.

Today is the birthday of the World Digital Library.

First proposed by Librarian of Congress James Billington in a 2005 speech, the World Digital Library (WDL) makes significant primary sources of the countries and cultures of the world available in multilingual format.  It is being developed a Library of Congress team with the support UNESCO, the financial support of a number of companies and private foundations, as well as the collaborative efforts of an impressive list of partner libraries

And like American Memory, this project focuses on quality over quantity.  The zoomable digital maps and photographs are stunning, exceptionally clear.  (Take a look at Armenian Woman in National Costume or this 1724 map of France or Edison’s 1903 film of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island or this 1585 description of the Holy Land or this Japanese painting.)  The focus on quality extends to the portals’ metadata and item descriptions, as well as its multilingual efforts.

The principal objectives of the WDL are to:

    • Promote international and intercultural understanding;
    • Expand the volume and variety of cultural content on the Internet;
    • Provide resources for educators, scholars, and general audiences;
    • Build capacity in partner institutions to narrow the digital divide within and between countries.

Among the documents: manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings. 

Users may search the collection or browse by place, time, topic, type of item, and contributing institution. Among the special features are interactive geographic clusters, a timeline, advanced image-viewing and interpretive capabilities.

I am especially fascinated by the interviews with curators about featured items that now accompany several of the documents and artifacts, for instance the Arabic script, Gift of the Followers of the Path of Muhammad.

The project began today with a lovely, but limited collection of resources. It is designed to accommodate an unlimited number of such texts, charts and illustrations from as many countries and libraries as want to contribute.

According to James Billington, There is no limit. Everybody is welcome.

Happy birthday, WDL!  I look forward to watching you grow!

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Dr. Valenza,

    I just found out about the World Digital Library from your blog, and it is absolutely amazing! I never knew that such resource existed. I am from Ukraine myself, so I went into Europe, and then into Ukraine, and I found some incredible artifacts. This source is of utmost value to Social Sciences, History, and Anthropology educators, as well as for people who want to learn about world cultures. I wish I knew about the World Digital Library before – I could have used it so many times both in my teaching and in my course work. But it’s never too late, so, thank you for this post!

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