World Digital Library, Library of Congress

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Last updated: 5/9/23

This collection contains cultural heritage materials gathered during the World Digital Library (WDL) project, including thousands of items contributed by partner organizations worldwide as well as content from Library of Congress collections. The original World Digital Library site and all descriptive metadata were translated from English and made available in six additional languages: Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabic, Russian, and Chinese. All item records include narrative descriptions submitted by the contributing partners and enhanced by WDL researchers to contextualize the item and its cultural and historical importance. Books, manuscripts, maps, and other primary materials in the WDL collection are presented in their original languages; more than 100 languages are represented, including many lesser known and endangered languages.

Launched in 2009, the World Digital Library was a project of the U.S. Library of Congress, with the support of UNESCO, and contributions from libraries, archives, museums, educational institutions, and international organizations around the world. The WDL sought to preserve and share some of the world’s most important cultural objects, increasing access to cultural treasures and significant historical documents to enable discovery, scholarship, and use.

WDL partner institutions selected content in accordance with guidelines set by the WDL Content Selection Committee. They chose content for its cultural and historical importance, with due regard to recognition of the achievements of all countries and cultures over a wide range of time periods. The materials collected by the WDL include cultural treasures and significant historical documents including books, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, journals, prints, photographs, sound recordings, and films.

A team at the Library of Congress developed the public, online version of the WDL, which was launched at UNESCO in April 2009. Twenty-six institutions contributed content to the launch version of the site. Launch partners included national libraries and cultural organizations in Brazil, China, Egypt, Mexico, Russia, France, Sweden, Uganda, the United States and other locations worldwide.

Following the launch, the WDL continued to add content to the site and to enlist new partners from all parts of the world. In April 2010, institutions and organizations contributing to the WDL adopted the WDL Charter, which established a permanent governance structure.

In 2020, the WDL Charter concluded. In 2021, after more than 10 years of operation, the Library transitioned WDL’s world-wide collection of cross-cultural treasures into a sustainable home for perpetual access on the Library of Congress’s main website. The original World Digital Library site is preserved by the Library of Congress Web Archive, which captures the look and feel of the site. Now available on the Library’s main website, the collection is a rich and valuable resource showing the diversity of the world’s cultures through the contributions of hundreds of organizations.

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