Sunday, April 19, 2009

World Digital Library

The World Digital Library (

I am glad that the World Digital Library will be my final blog entry because it encapsulates and embodies so many of the issues we have addressed in class this semester. The site is being officially launched on April 21, 2009, and it seems to represent the best practices for creating and organizing digital libraries, in addition to showcasing impressive capabilities that I have not seen in many (or to this degree, in any) collections this semester.

Reviewing the "About the World Digital Library" page and the other extensive documentation provided on the site (Mission, Background, Partners, Financial Contributors, Frequently Asked Questions, and Acknowledgements), one quickly realizes that a tremendous amount of resources and collaboration among very powerful cultural institutions and private interests were involved in this project. The site is being launched at the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as the culmination of a vision proposed by U.S. Librarian of Congress James Billington in 2005. According to the website, the World Digital Library 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." Financial support from companies included a $3 million contribution from Google and a $1 million contribution from Microsoft. At the time of the website's launch, 26 institutions in 19 countries had contributed to the project.

With so much time, money, and effort expended, one should have high expectations for the project. My review of the website did not disappoint. The digital library appears to meet almost every expectation of the NISO principles:

- The digital library had a Content Selection Working Group, which according to the website, made a clear decision to focus on quality standards over quantity.

-The page entitled "Legal" shows a consideration of copyright and user privacy issues.

-The items in the collection are actively curated. They include thorough descriptions and extensive metadata (all of which contain hyperlinks to additional searches of the collection). Many even include videos by curators discussing the items.

-The collection appears to seamlessly integrate almost every type of file format, from PDFs to MP3s to TIFs to Flash Videos (with closed captioning). One can view the motion pictures and sound recordings as easily as the PDFs and photos in the collection.

-Everything on the website, except for the objects themselves, have been translated into seven languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

-The website provides a myriad of ways to browse the items in the collection: by place, time, topic, type of item, and contributing institution. The site also provides a clear way narrow search results by the same criteria, and it also includes features, such as interactive geographic clusters and a timeline.

-Users can download preservation-quality TIFF files. Also, the website's ablity to zoom-in and move images around is definitely one of the most impressive features of the site.

-The website also attempts to include the best of Web 2.0 sharing capabilities available at this time. Users can download and print images, email them to others, and post images to their Facebook accounts or to Twitter.

-The website provides a "Help" page that provides easy-to-understand screenshots to walk new users through the website's features.

-As for the intended audience, the Frequently Asked Questions page asks "Who will use the site?" and provides the following answer: "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."

This is definitely the most impressive digital library I have ever seen. What remains to be seen is whether UNESCO and the Library of Congress will be able to maintain the same level of funding in the years to come to keep the digital library on the cutting edge of technology. I certainly hope so.

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