World Digital Library

World Digital Library

The World Digital Library homepage on launch day, April 21, 2009
Type of site
International education
Available in Multilingual
Owner United States
Created by Library of Congress
Commercial No
Launched April 21, 2009 (2009-04-21)
Current status Online

The World Digital Library (WDL) is an international digital library operated by UNESCO and the United States Library of Congress.

The WDL has stated that its mission is to promote international and intercultural understanding, expand the volume and variety of cultural content on the Internet, provide resources for educators, scholars, and general audiences, and to build capacity in partner institutions to narrow the digital divide within and among countries.[1] It aims to expand non-English and non-western content on the Internet, and contribute to scholarly research. The library intends to make available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from cultures around the world, including manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, architectural drawings, and other significant cultural materials.[2][3][4]

The WDL opened with 1,236 items.[5] As of late 2015, it lists more than 12,000 items from nearly 200 countries, dating back to 8,000 BCE.

History and concept

After almost 20 years without participation, the United States re-established its permanent delegation to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2003. Dr. James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, was nominated as a commissioner of the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO and was invited to give a plenary speech at its inaugural conference in June 2005. His speech, entitled A View of the Digital World Library, described a vision in which the rich collections that "institutions, libraries, and museums have preserved could be given back to the world free of charge and in a new form far more universally accessible than any forms that have preceded it."

Google Inc. became the first partner of this public–private partnership and donated $3 million to support development of the World Digital Library in 2005.[6]

Everybody's welcome. This is not a private club. Everybody's welcome to participate and it's all free.
  Dr. James H. Billington,
Library of Congress[7]

At the National Commission's 2006 annual conference, Dr. John Van Oudenaren, Senior Advisor for the World Digital Library at the Library of Congress, outlined a project plan for bringing Dr. Billington's vision to fruition. Foremost was the belief that the World Digital Library should engage partners in planning the four main project areas: technical architecture, selection, governance, and funding. This was achieved in December 2006, when 45 national library directors, library technical directors, and cultural and educational representatives from UNESCO met in Paris to discuss the development of the World Digital Library. The participants formed working groups to address the special challenges of each of the four project areas.

The working groups met in the first half of 2007 and included professionals in the field of digital libraries – including computer science, library and information science, Web development, and fundraising. The working groups presented their findings to the larger WDL group in July 2007. Findings from this planning process were presented at the thirty-fourth session of the UNESCO General Conference in October 2007 in Paris, France.

In early September 2008, the Organization of American States (OAS) agreed to join with the Library of Congress in developing the World Digital Library. Secretary General José Miguel Insulza signed the "Contributor Agreement" with Librarian of Congress, Dr. James Billington, at an OAS headquarters ceremony.

The World Digital Library was launched on April 21, 2009 at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France.[8][9]


These are really great treasures, not merely miscellaneous things about a country or culture.
  Dr. James H. Billington,
Library of Congress[7]

Initial exhibits include


Partners in the World Digital Library project include:[18]

See also


  1. "About the World Digital Library: Mission". Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  2. "UNESCO and Library of Congress sign agreement for World Digital Library: UNESCO-CI". Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  3. "UN puts global treasures online". BBC News. April 21, 2009. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  4. Flood, Alison (April 8, 2009). "Free-access World Digital Library set to launch". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  5. 1 2 3 Cody, Edward (April 21, 2009). "U.N. Launches Library Of World's Knowledge". Washington Post. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  6. Vise, David A. (November 22, 2005). "World Digital Library Planned". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "World treasures go on-line in global digital library". Google News. AFP. April 21, 2009. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  8. "World Digital Library to launch at UNESCO". AFP via Google News. April 20, 2009. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  9. "Library of Congress, UNESCO and Partners to Launch World Digital Library" (Press release). PRWeb. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 O'Neil, Peter (April 13, 2009). "Website to exhibit world's greatest historical treasures". Ottawa Citizen. Canwest News Service. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  11. Yongle Encyclopedia. World Digital Library.
  12. The Su Wen of the Huangdi Neijing (Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor). World Digital Library
  13. 1 2 "UN puts global treasures online". BBC News. April 21, 2009. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  14. 1 2 3 4 "RP book featured in World Digital Library". Agence France-Presse, with Inquirer Research. Philippine Daily Inquirer. April 21, 2009. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  15. 1 2 Joshi, Mohit (April 21, 2009). "UNESCO, Library of Congress launch first World Digital Library". TopNews. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  16. Flood, Alison (April 8, 2009). "Free-access World Digital Library set to launch". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 22, 2009.
  17. "World Digital Library launches with Wellcome treasures". Wellcome Trust. April 20, 2009. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  18. "About the World Digital Library: Partners". Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  19. "Partners – World Digital Library". Archived from the original on April 22, 2009. Retrieved April 22, 2009.

Further reading

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