September 15, 2009 Library of Congress Displays Educational Promise of World Digital Library

Press Contact: Jennifer Gavin, (202) 707-1940
Public Contact: John Van Oudenaren, (202) 707-4345

The Library of Congress today demonstrated the potential offered by the World Digital Library to enrich the learning of students, both in the classroom and at home, for more than 100 guests in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building.

“The world’s greatest treasures, once only available through an in-person visit to a national library or museum in their home nations, now are available to anyone in the world with Internet access,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “And through our joint venture with UNESCO and 49 partner institutions in 32 nations, this information can be obtained in any of seven languages.”

Dr. Billington was joined by Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, at the event in the Member’s Room in the Jefferson Building where the educational aspects of the WDL were demonstrated.

Dr. Billington and Goslins were also joined by teachers Mark Howell of Westlake High School in Charles County, Maryland, who was accompanied by his AP World History and AP U.S. History students, and Martina Grant of Forest Hills High School in New York.

A new WDL display, on the south side of the Jefferson Building’s first floor just beyond the Orientation Gallery, offers two Internet-access computers. From these keyboards, visitors can explore the WDL and its holdings. The exhibition also lets onlookers watch on a screen above one of the keyboards as the WDL is being “surfed.” The World Digital Library features manuscripts, maps, rare books, films, sound recordings, and prints and photographs. It can be accessed at

The WDL functions in seven languages – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish – and includes content in several dozen languages. The site offers browse and search features that facilitate cross-cultural and cross-temporal exploration. Descriptions of each item, and videos with expert curators speaking about selected items, provide context for users, and are intended to spark curiosity and encourage both students and the general public to learn more about the cultural heritage of all countries.

The WDL was developed by a team at the Library of Congress. Technical assistance was provided by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina of Alexandria, Egypt, which also hosts a mirror site of the WDL. Institutions contributing content include national libraries and cultural institutions in Egypt, China, the United States, France, Brazil, Russia, and Mexico -- the largest nations in the world where Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish are spoken. Other contributing institutions are in Iraq, Israel, Japan, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, and Sweden.

At the time WDL was launched in April, there were 34 partners in 21 nations. Since that time, 11 new partners from eight nations have signed on, giving users of the website access to digital material from 45 partner institutions in 29 countries. Since its launch, the site has been accessed by more than 4.3 million users.

Examples of other treasures featured include Arabic scientific manuscripts from the National Library and Archives of Egypt, early photographs of Latin America from the National Library of Brazil, the Hyakumanto darani, a publication from the year 764 from the National Diet Library of Japan, the famous “Devil’s Bible” from the National Library of Sweden, and works of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish calligraphy from the collections of the Library of Congress.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States of America, and the largest library in the world, with more than 142 million items in 470 languages. Its collections are universal in scope and are in all formats in which information is recorded.


PR 09-178
ISSN 0731-3527