January 25, 2022

World Digital Library: "A Portal to World History"

A number of stats and facts follow.

From the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program at the Library of Congress:

The WDL mission statement provides a good overall description of the project, “The World Digital Library makes available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world.”


To date, there are about 1,460 digital items [in over 40 languages] included in the World Digital Library, in a variety of formats – books, photographs, films, sound recordings, manuscripts and maps.  Among the content highlights are many rare items:  illuminated books and manuscripts from Europe, Arabic scientific manuscripts from the National Library and Archives of Egypt, early photographs of Latin America from the National Library of Brazil, and what is generally considered to be the first great novel in world literature, The Tale of Genji, written by a Japanese woman named Murasaki Shibuku in the early 11th century.

And how is the content chosen?  According to John Van Oudenaren, the director of the project, each WDL partner proposes content to contribute.  A content selection committee, made up of representatives from partner institutions, has established standard selection guidelines. Each institution contributes the digitized objects and associated metadata.  Van Oudenaren is pleased with the results, and says “we’ve been very happy with the quality of the content selected by the partner institutions for the WDL. Many items are top treasures, such as the famous “Devil’s Bible” from the National Library of Sweden or the Codex Colombino from the National Institute of Anthropology and History. We’ve also had very nice contributions from our U.S. partners: Yale University, the John Carter Brown and the Brown University libraries, the State Library and Archives of Florida, and several others. And a lot more is in the pipeline or has been pledged.”


The Library of Congress is managing the overall project, including coordination of the technical side – that is, content transfer, image processing, cataloging, translation, website design and application development. The Library also coordinates the governance of the project which includes establishing a charter, organizing partner meetings, securing funding, and recruiting new partners.  The WDL currently has 122 partners from 66 countries, including many prominent national and university libraries.  “We ultimately hope to have at least one partner from every country,” said Rago.

The site has garnered some accolades, even in its first year, as it was named one of PC Magazine’s “Top 100 websites for 2009.”  As of the end of 2010, over 13 million site visitors viewed 90 million pages.  Of the seven WDL languages, the Spanish version of the site has received the most use.

Direct to World Digital Library

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About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.