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World Digital Library Puts Scholarly Treasures Online

Free, unrestricted public access to digitized manuscripts, maps, books, films, recordings, and prints is available in seven languages.

Detail from a Serbian illuminated manuscript, circa 1180, belonging to the National Library of Serbia.
(click for image gallery)

UNESCO, The Library of Congress, and their global partners Tuesday launched the World Digital Library (WDL), an online collection of one-of-a-kind cultural materials digitized and uploaded from the archives of 32 nations.

The WDL's digital archives offer free, unrestricted public access to manuscripts, maps, rare books, films, sound recordings, prints, and photographs at The archives are searchable in seven languages.

UNESCO and its partner institutions behind the project have provided funding, content, and technical support for the WDL, which is expected to be used by educators, scholars, and general audiences of curious browsers.

The goal of the WDL is to "expand the volume and variety of cultural content on the Internet, provide resources for educators, scholars, and general audiences, and narrow the digital divide within and between countries," U.S. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said in a statement. Billington proposed the WDL in 2005.

While content is contributed by member institutions around the globe, the WDL site is hosted and maintained by a team at U.S. Library of Congress. Metadata, digitization, and file transfer standards were established by the Library of Congress and its WDL partners. Bibliotheca Alexandrina of Alexandria, Egypt, provided technical support.

Metadata is translated and search is enabled in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish -- the official languages of the United Nations -- and Portuguese, owing to Brazil's significant role in the WDL's development.

UNESCO and the Library of Congress are working to develop policies relating to the location and maintenance of future host and mirror sites. One of their challenges is to develop tools and procedures for digitizing large volumes of content without compromising search capability or the user experience.

Institutions contributing to the WDL include national libraries and cultural and educational institutions in Brazil, China, Egypt, France, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

To see images from the WDL collection, click here. All images are courtesy of the WDL and its partners.

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