The World Digital Library is a free online archive of over 19,000 culturally significant primary source materials from around the world. It is an international collaboration between the Library of Congress, UNESCO, and 158 libraries, museums, archives, and other partners across 60 countries. The goals of the site are to “promote international and intercultural understanding, expand the volume and variety of cultural content online, provide resources for educators and scholars, and to build capacity in partner institutions to narrow the digital divide within and between countries.”
The archive is searchable by place, time period, topic, and source type. The main topics to search through are computer science and information, philosophy and psychology, religion, social sciences, language, natural sciences and mathematics, technology, fine and decorative arts, literature and rhetoric, history, and geography. Most of the sources in the collection are dated to 1800 to 2000 and were created in Asia and Europe, although the collection spans the globe and some items date back to 1 BCE and earlier. The site features a large collection of newspapers and photographs, as well as books, maps, journals, sound recordings, and film. Each item is accompanied by an annotation that details its significance and historical context. The WDL Reader allows users to view each item with zooming capabilities, gallery view, full screen, full text search, and download options.
There are great sources in the project’s collection on travel and geography. The Library of Congress created a teaching guide that utilizes a selection of sixteen maps, such as the Belgium as a Lion map from 1611, to teach students about primary source analysis. Students compare and contrast maps from different time periods and places to consider point of view, scientific theories, economic conditions, and change over time.
The World Digital Library is an important project that strives to preserve cultural heritage in the digital space and is made easily accessible for teachers, scholars, and students.