The World Digital Library

UNESCO and The Library of Congress have joined forces to create The World Digital Library. The 60 million dollar joint effort will allow libraries and musuems across the globe to share valuable cultural and educational data with anyone who has Internet access. With funding from sources including King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia and the Carnegie Corporation in New York, more than two dozen institutions have contributed content that covers nearly 200 countries.

The Library is a compendium of some 1,200 high-resolution digitized files that allows users to zoom in on ancient documents and archival photographs. It also contains a sophisticated search tool that allows users to browse by keywords, time period, place, type of item and the institution which contributed it. Finally, it provides descriptions of all materials in seven languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish — the official languages of the United Nations), though many of the documents, books and other components appear in their original languages.

The database contains some old favorites, like the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights as well the constitutions of numerous countries. There are also gems like the first printed edition of the 16th-century Japanese novel The Tale of Genji, and a journal kept by a Venetian scholar who accompanied Ferdinand Magellan on his voyage around the world.

Photography is the strong suit of this collection with images ranging from a photo-panoramic view of Constantinople to a photo of George H.W. Bush as a senior on the Yale baseball team meeting Babe Ruth in 1948 to a photo of a traditional Chinese bride.

Multimedia options are a little bit more difficult to come by, but some impressive ones that stand out include one of the earliest recordings of “Amazing Grace” and the Marseillaise. For visual stimulation, try a late 19th-century short film of a Holy Week procession in Spain from the great Lumière brothers.

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