Author Topic: The World Digital Library (WDL) has materials from countries around the World  (Read 3180 times)

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The World Digital Library (WDL) has materials from countries and cultures around the world.


The World Digital Library (WDL) makes available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world.

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.

This Site

The WDL makes it possible to discover, study, and enjoy cultural treasures from around the world on one site, in a variety of ways. These cultural treasures include, but are not limited to, manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings.

Items on the WDL may easily be browsed by place, time, topic, type of item, and contributing institution, or can be located by an open-ended search, in several languages. Special features include interactive geographic clusters, a timeline, advanced image-viewing and interpretive capabilities. Item-level descriptions and interviews with curators about featured items provide additional information.

Navigation tools and content descriptions are provided in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Many more languages are represented in the actual books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, and other primary materials, which are provided in their original languages.

The WDL was developed by a team at the U.S. Library of Congress, with contributions by partner institutions in many countries; the support of the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and the financial support of a number of companies and private foundations.


U.S. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington proposed the establishment of the WDL in a speech to the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO in June 2005. The basic idea was to create an Internet-based, easily-accessible collection of the world's cultural riches that would tell the stories and highlight the achievements of all countries and cultures, thereby promoting cross-cultural awareness and understanding. UNESCO welcomed the idea as a contribution toward fulfilling UNESCO's strategic objectives, which include promoting knowledge societies, building capacity in developing countries, and promoting cultural diversity on the Web. UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura designated UNESCO's Directorate for Communication and Information, led by Dr. Abdul Waheed Khan, to work with the Library of Congress to develop the project.

In December 2006, UNESCO and the Library of Congress convened an Experts Meeting to discuss the project. The assembled experts from all parts of the world identified a number of challenges that the project would need to overcome to be successful. They noted that little cultural content was being digitized in many countries and that developing countries in particular lacked the capacity to digitize and display their cultural treasures. Existing Web sites often had poorly developed search and display functions. Multilingual access was not well developed. Many Web sites maintained by cultural institutions were difficult to use and, in many cases, failed to appeal to users, particularly young users.

The Experts Meeting led to the establishment of working groups to develop guidelines for the project, and to a decision by the Library of Congress, UNESCO, and five partner institutions - the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the National Library of Brazil, the National Library and Archives of Egypt, the National Library of Russia, and the Russian State Library - to develop and contribute content to a WDL prototype to be presented at the UNESCO General Conference in 2007. Input into the design of the prototype was solicited through a consultative process that involved UNESCO, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), and individuals and institutions in more than forty countries.

The successful unveiling of the prototype was followed by a decision by several libraries to develop a public, freely-accessible version of the WDL, for launch at UNESCO in April 2009. More than two dozen institutions contributed content to the launch version of the site.

The public version of the site features high-quality digital items reflecting the cultural heritage of all UNESCO member countries. The WDL will continue to add content to the site, and will enlist new partners from the widest possible range of UNESCO members in the project.
WDL Milestones

    * June 2005: Librarian of Congress James H. Billington proposes establishing a World Digital Library to UNESCO.
    * December 2006: UNESCO and the Library of Congress co-sponsor an Experts Meeting with key stakeholders from all regions of the world. The Experts Meeting results in a decision to establish working groups to develop standards and content selection guidelines.
    * October 2007: The Library of Congress and five partner institutions present a prototype of the future WDL at the UNESCO General Conference.
    * April 2009: The WDL is launched to the international public, with content about every UNESCO member state.

Key Features

The WDL represents a shift in digital library projects from a focus on quantity for its own sake to quality; quantity remains a priority, but not at the expense of the quality standards established during the start-up phase.

The WDL breaks new ground in the following areas, each representing significant investments of time and effort:

   1. Consistent metadata: Each item is described by a consistent set of bibliographic information (or metadata) relating to its geographical, temporal, and topical coverage, among other requirements. Consistent metadata provides the foundation for a site that is easy and interesting to explore, and that helps to reveal connections between items. The metadata also improves exposure to external search engines.
   2. Description: Among the most impressive features of the WDL are descriptions of each item, answering the questions: “What is this item and why is it significant?” This information, written by curators and other experts, provides vital context for users and is designed to spark the curiosity of students and the general public to learn more about the cultural heritage of all countries.
   3. Multilingualism: The metadata, navigation, and supporting content (e.g., curator videos) are translated into seven languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. This feature lengthened site development and complicates maintenance, but brings WDL closer to the goal of being truly universal.
   4. Digital library technical development: The WDL team's work with state-of-the art tools and technologies led to advances in cataloging and multilingual Web site development:
          * A new cataloging application was developed to support the metadata requirements.
          * A centralized tool with a translation memory was used, which prevents translators from having to translate the same word or phrase twice.
          * An interface was developed, which features the WDL content in ways that are appealing to nontraditional users and that encourage exploration of primary sources.
          * New technologies continue to be developed, improving workflow and reducing the time elapsed between content selection and availability on the site.
   5. Collaborative network: The WDL emphasizes openness in all aspects of the project: access to content; technology transfer for capacity building; and partner, stakeholder, and user participation. Technical and programmatic networks are seen as vital to WDL's sustainability and growth.


See a current list of partners.

Partners are mainly libraries, archives, or other institutions that have collections of cultural content that they contribute to the WDL. Partners may also include institutions, foundations, and private companies that contribute to the project in other ways, for example by sharing technology, convening or co-sponsoring meetings of working groups, or contributing financially.
Digitization Centers

While many of the partners or prospective partners that wish to contribute content to the WDL have well-established digitization programs with dedicated staff and equipment, others, particularly in the developing world, do not have access to these capabilities. Over the years, the Library of Congress has worked with partners in Brazil, Egypt, Iraq, and Russia to establish digital conversion centers to produce high-quality digital images. Much of the content on the WDL was produced at these centers.

The WDL supports UNESCO's mission of capacity building in developing countries, and intends to work with UNESCO, partners in these countries, and external funders to establish additional digital conversion centers throughout the world. These centers will produce content not only for the WDL, but for other national and international projects as well.
WDL Working Groups

WDL Working Groups established after the December 2006 Experts Meeting include the Content Selection Working Group and a Technical Architecture Working Group. These groups are comprised primarily of representatives from partner institutions.

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and the Library of Congress have co-sponsored a working group to develop guidelines for digital libraries, including the WDL.

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, in cooperation with the Library of Congress and UNESCO, sponsors an International Advisory Committee on the History of Arabic and Islamic Science to identify important scientific books and manuscripts from the Arab and Islamic world, and to facilitate inclusion of these items on the WDL.

Frequently Asked Questions

   1. How did you select the content?

      The WDL Content Selection Working Group initially developed broad guidelines for selection. In addition, WDL partners worked to include important and culturally significant content about every UNESCO member country. The content is in a variety of formats and languages, from different places and time periods. The WDL focuses on significant primary materials, including manuscripts, maps, rare books, recordings, films, prints, photographs, architectural drawings, and other types of primary sources. One of the WDL's content objectives will be to work closely with UNESCO's Memory of the World program to make publicly accessible digital versions of these collections.
   2. How did you translate the content?

      The content is not translated. The primary materials - books, maps, manuscripts and so forth - appear in their original language. We do translate the metadata (information about the materials) that make it possible to search and browse the site in seven languages. The WDL team considers a variety of approaches to translation, including computer-assisted or machine translation, translation by networks of volunteers (the wiki model), or some combination of these. We are committed to providing high-quality translations and will work to improve the translation process. To prepare for the initial site launch, the WDL team used a centralized tool with a translation memory.
   3. Who classified the content by place, time, topic, and type of item?

      Work of this kind normally is done by library professionals known as catalogers, who work according to established rules within any one of a number of widely used national and international cataloging systems to produce bibliographic data (also known as metadata). To the extent possible, the WDL relied upon existing catalog records supplied by the partner institutions, and supplemented this information as needed to ensure adequate browsing. For classification by topic, the WDL relies upon the Dewey Decimal Classification System, which was made available in the seven interface languages by OCLC. The Dewey Decimal Classification System is undergoing adaptation and internationalization to improve its ability to classify content from a multiplicity of countries and cultures.
   4. Why these seven languages? Will other interface languages be added?

      Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish are the official languages of the United Nations. Portuguese is a major world language, and institutions from Brazil, the world's largest Portuguese-speaking country, played an important role in the early development of the WDL. Addition of other languages is under consideration, but should not compete with other pressing priorities, including increasing the volume and diversity of content from and about all countries in all languages and building digital capacity in developing countries.
   5. How can I use the content on this site?

      Content found on the WDL Web site is contributed by WDL partners. Copyright questions about partner content should be directed to that partner. When publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in a WDL partner's collections, the researcher has the obligation to determine and satisfy domestic and international copyright law or other use restrictions. You can find out more information about copyright law in the World Intellectual Property Organization's member states at . Many WDL items contain links to partner Web sites. Partner sites are also linked from the WDL partner page.
   6. How is this project funded?

      The World Digital Library is a collaborative project of the U.S. Library of Congress, UNESCO, and partners throughout the world. WDL partners contribute content as well as curatorial, cataloging, linguistic, and technical expertise. The project has also received private-sector support. More information on these contributions is available on the Financial Contributors and the Acknowledgements pages. The WDL is working to establish additional partnerships with technology companies and private foundations to support the advancement of this project.
   7. Who will use the site?

      Anyone with an interest in the wider world. Students, teachers, scholars and the general public may approach it in different ways, but there is something of interest for everyone.
   8. What libraries and institutions may participate?

      Any library, museum, archive or other cultural institution that has interesting historical and cultural content may participate.
   9. Is my country represented?

      There is some content about every UNESCO member country in the world. The WDL seeks to build capacity, especially in developing countries, to enable institutions from all countries to contribute additional content to the project. This will increase the volume and cultural diversity of items on the site and help to narrow the digital divide.
  10. How can my country (or institution) join the World Digital Library?

      Libraries, archives, museums, and other institutions interested in becoming partners should contact the WDL team. The WDL will work with prospective partners to identify important collections for possible inclusion, survey existing projects and capacities, and develop plans for participation.
  11. How can I get involved?

      The best way to get involved is to identify important collections that represent a particular country or culture and to work with the WDL team to have them included in the project. The starting point is content. We will be glad to provide information about volunteer opportunities and to discuss suggestions for the project with individuals who contact us .
  12. How is this project related to Europeana?

      Europeana and the WDL are separate projects. Europeana focuses on Europe and on collections about Europe held in European libraries, archives, and museums. The WDL has a worldwide focus. Institutions that are part of Europeana are welcome to participate in the WDL.
  13. Who maintains the Web site?

      The WDL site is hosted by the U.S. Library of Congress. A team based at the Library of Congress maintains the site.
  14. What changes are planned for the future?

      We are actively seeking more partner institutions and contributions of content, and working to improve cataloging, translation, and other functions.
  15. Where does the content come from?

      Libraries and other cultural institutions in Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America. At the WDL's public launch in April 2009, there were contributions from 26 institutions in 19 countries, including major cultural institutions (mainly national libraries) from the largest Arabic-, Chinese-, English-, French-, Portuguese-, Russian-, and Spanish-speaking countries in the world. A current partner list is available on the WDL partner page.
  16. Who established the digitization standards?

      The metadata, digitization, and file transfer standards were established by the Library of Congress and other WDL partners, with input from the WDL working groups.
  17. How will the site be maintained and governed in the future?

      Sustainable growth will be based on the establishment of a worldwide network for the production, submission, cataloging and translation of content. UNESCO and the Library of Congress have issued a universal appeal for participation and are developing a multilateral charter. The WDL charter will provide for a governance structure, including annual meetings of partners to develop a model for long-term financial sustainability and to develop policies relating to intellectual property, and location and maintenance of host and mirror sites, among other issues.
  18. How can libraries, institutions, private-sector organizations and individuals support this project?

      Partners with culturally important and interesting collections and digitization capacity are needed to expand and diversify the site. Some partners need equipment and training to participate, especially in the developing world. Significant contributions in the following areas would help to build the WDL's capacity and assure its growth:
          * Digitization training and equipment: The challenge is to develop tools and procedures for the creation and processing of large volumes of content without compromising the quality (functionality, searchability, and user experience) of the Web site.
          * Dissemination and public outreach: Print and electronic publicity are needed to direct traffic to the site. Alternative delivery mechanisms (including mobile devices) will boost usage, especially in countries with low Internet and/or broadband penetration.
          * Cataloging and translation assistance: Strategies for engaging communities of volunteers (the wiki model) to help identify and describe primary resources, and to translate metadata, are being considered.
          * Financial Support: Substantial multi-year funding is needed for the establishment of digital conversion centers, the creation and processing of digital content, and further development of the WDL as a production network.


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