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It’s (Not) a Small World After All

Imagine, quite literally, having the whole world at your fingertips–collections and cultural materials from all across the globe in one all-encompassing spot. The Library of Congress, UNESCO and 32 partner institutions have come together to do just that by launching the World Digital Library (WDL), a website that features unique resources from libraries and archives from around the world.

World Digital Library logo. 2009 Miroslav’s Gospel. circa 1180

The site offers advanced search and browse features in seven languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. The content itself is in more than two dozen languages. Rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, sound recordings, and films of cultural and historical significance reflecting the history and culture of all 193 UNESCO member countries are available on the website.

Sample assets include Miroslav’s Gospel, a 12th-century liturgical work that is considered the most important and the most beautiful of Serbian manuscript books, from the National Library of Serbia; 19th-century photographs of Brazil from the Empress Thereza Christina Maria Collection, assembled by the last emperor of Brazil, from the National Library of Brazil; and one of three known copies of the first modern map of Greece, circa 1545, from the Library of Congress. Items can be searched for and compared by the timeframe as well, and some items feature video lectures by curators.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington first proposed the creation of the WDL to UNESCO in 2005, remarking that such a project could “have the salutary effect of bringing people together by celebrating the depth and uniqueness of different cultures in a single global undertaking.” In addition to promoting international understanding, the project aims 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 by building capacity in partner countries.

The Library of Congress is the most comprehensive library in the world and includes extensive resources for the study of all nations. The Global Gateway website is a great way to access many of these international resources found in the Library’s collections. The Global Resources page is an excellent introduction to the resources in the Area Studies Reading Rooms of the Library—the Hispanic, European, African and Middle Eastern, and Asian—as well as to international resources in other areas of the Library.

You can also access information on more than 130 nations through the “Portals to the World” section of Global Gateway.

With more than one-half of the books and periodicals in its collections in languages other than English, the Library is truly an international resource. It houses information on nearly every country, region, national, ethnic and religious group. The Library's Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Korean and Polish collections are the largest outside of those countries, and the Arabic collections are the largest outside of Egypt. The collection of Luso-Hispanic materials is the largest in the world, and the collection of Judaica ranks among the largest anywhere.

Illustrated guides to the international collections and other "global resources" are on the About the International Collections page. The Country Studies: Area Handbook Series of the Library's Federal Research Division is a series of books covering more than 100 countries and regions.

A. World Digital Library logo. 2009. Library of Congress. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.

B. Miroslav’s Gospel. circa 1180. National Library of Serbia. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.