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Take That, Google! Well, Not Really: World Digital Library Now Online Near You

Here’s a little public service message about the World Digital Library (seems to detect or default to English, but you can change the language). The WDL is free, offered in multilingual format, and offers these principal objectives:


* Promote international and intercultural understanding;
* Expand the volume and variety of cultural content on the Internet;
* Provide resources for educators, scholars, and general audiences;
* Build capacity in partner institutions to narrow the digital divide within and between countries.

The idea seems to originate with James H. Billington who is the U.S. Librarian of Congress. Mr. Billington proposed the idea in a speech to UNESCO in 2005. And in a moment of U.S.A.!, U.S.A.!, apparently the idea is based on “the Library of Congress’ American Memory project, which debuted in the 1990s and now has 11 million history-related items online.” Although I sometimes question what we do with our approaches to intellectual property and education, chalk one up for our government as it works to expand access to knowledge. And at least give us an assist in pushing for a similar program on a global scale.

The project is not trying to put everything under the sun on line. Instead, it focuses on one of a kind pieces such as rare maps, one-of-kind books and manuscripts, and examples of the earliest forms of writing. So one might find that the alleged problem of finding ways to have public domain work reach the public are addressed in part by this model. And really it is not that odd to have the government step in to fill such a gap.

In addition, the project has a decidedly technological focus. It has established some basic rules about how the material is coded including rules about “Consistent metadata: Each item is described by a consistent set of bibliographic information (or metadata) relating to its geographical, temporal, and topical coverage, among other requirements. Consistent metadata provides the foundation for a site that is easy and interesting to explore, and that helps to reveal connections between items. The metadata also improves exposure to external search engines.” The WDL also has a commitment to “openness in all aspects of the project: access to content; technology transfer for capacity building; and partner, stakeholder, and user participation. Technical and programmatic networks are seen as vital to WDL’s sustainability and growth.”

All in all it is a pretty cool idea. One thing I liked was the sliding time line at the bottom of the page. As one moves the slide closer to today’s date, the map indicates how much material is available. I am not sure, but it seems that the amounts do not correlate to copyright term. So that may be a fun area to probe.

Anyway enjoy an excellent outgrowth of the digital age.