November 19, 2021

Finding Resources: World Digital Library

Last Updated on August 2, 2020

World Digital Library

The World Digital Library (WDL) provides access to multilingual primary sources from around the world. It’s mission is to promote cross-cultural awareness and understanding by highlighting the stories and achievements of all countries and cultures. WDL “is a project of the U.S. Library of Congress, carried out with the support of the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), and in cooperation with libraries, archives, museums, educational institutions, and international organizations from around the world.”

Item detail pages and website pages are available in several languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

The homepage features rotating featured items, featured institutions, recently added content, highlights, and the latest tweets from the WDL.

  • Click a featured item to access that primary source and its accompanying bibliographic record.
  • Click an item under featured institutions to access a list of all sources from that particular institution.
  • Click an item recently added to access that primary source and its accompanying bibliographic record; click the recently added items header to access a list of some of the most recently added items. Click the date to access all of the items added on that date; you can access the previous date items were added by clicking the button at the top, left and, just above this button, you will find links to items added during the same month or year.
  • Click the latest tweets header to go to the WDL Twitter page.

You will typically find the search box at the top, right corner of every page (on the homepage, the search box is in the middle of the page). Next to the search box is a language menu. Searches can be conducted in any of the languages listed above using the drop-down menu to make your selection; item titles, detail pages, and the full text of primary sources in the selected language will be searched.

Search results are displayed by default in list view  (thumbnail image and a brief description along with the contributing institution) but you can also choose to view results by gallery (images only) or map location.

When you click on an item accessed through search the item detail page for that item will display along with, at the top of the page, a scrollable list of thumbnail images of all items in the search results list.

browse by place

There are several ways to browse through the WDL. When browsing deeper into the archives the default view is a list (thumbnail image and a brief description along with the contributing institution) but you can also choose to browse by gallery (images only) or map location

Place: broad geographic regions or by country, which refers to what the item is about or associated with, not where it was published or is currently housed; when browsing items from a particular country, you can generally drill down further into state or province and city

Time: time period the source was created; bibliographic records of all sources also include a subject date, which may be the same or near the creation date but could be different (e.g., a manuscript written in 1442 about a battle that took place nearly 200 years earlier will have a creation date of 1442 but a subject date of 1260)

Topic: main categories are listed below, each of which features several subcategories; these categories will be referenced in item bibliographic records along with, at times, “Additional Subjects”, which are categories suggested by the contributing institutions or added by the WDL

Type of item

Language: according to the language or languages in which a document is written or recorded; bibliographic records are only available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, or Spanish

Institution: scroll through an alphabetical list of institutions, search for an institution name, or located an institution on the map (note: sorting institutions by type currently does not function properly)

world history timeline

items chosen by curators or subject-matter experts; can browse by clicking arrows to left and right of items or by scroll through the timeline at the bottom of the page; click the title of the timeline to browse through a gallery of items

Imperial Russia interactive map
Interactive Maps

items chosen by curators or subject-matter experts; location markers have numbers indicating the number of items found and clicking on these numbers zooms into the map; click the title of the interactive map to browse through a gallery of items


sections (in preparation) intended to provide in-depth coverage of topics with historical and cultural significance

item detail

Meeting of Frontiers


Item detail pages provide access to the primary source as well as information related to that source.

  • paragraph-length description of the item and its importance
  • name or names of the source creator(s)
  • date (created and subject)
  • place of creation/publication, including a map
  • topics and subjects
  • type of item and contributing institution
  • links to similar items
  • social media sharing links
  • computer-generated audio with text highlights (Listen to this page) of the item description and all content below it; the text will be read in the selected language (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish)

There are a number of viewing options for items and Images of all items can be downloaded and item viewing options include full screen, zoom, rotate, and grid, which allows you to view a gallery of images for books and manuscripts.

Here is a short video tour made by Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers.

Speak Your Mind