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The World Digital Library: Cultural Treasures from Around the World on One Site

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Imagine giving your students free, unlimited access to treasures from cultural institutions from around the world. Perhaps your students would examine an ancient manuscript up close for small but important details. Afterward, they might learn more about its significance from an expert, or search for additional items from the same time or place.

The World Digital Library

Such experiences are now available through the World Digital Library, a collaborative project of the Library of Congress, the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and institutional partners worldwide. The site features culturally significant primary materials in a variety of formats and languages. These books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, and other primary sources are provided in their original languages, while information about them, including navigation tools and content descriptions, are available in seven languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

Browse the World Digital Library for cultural treasures by place, time, topic, type of item, or contributing institution, or locate items by keyword search. Special features include interactive geographic clusters, a timeline, and advanced image-viewing. Switch between the seven languages to read or listen to contextual information through item-level descriptions and podcasts. Selected items also feature video files of interviews with curators.

Teachers can have students:

  • Identify a personal “favorite treasure.” Ask each student to write a letter to international leaders detailing specific reasons why this item is important to our world heritage and should be preserved for future generations.
  • Work in teams to identify items in the World Digital Library that best represent a geographic location, time or topic, depending on your curricular goals, and prepare to share and justify their selections with the class as part of a virtual exhibition.
  • Select a type of item, such as manuscript, map or photograph, and identify two examples of this format from different contributing institutions to compare and contrast the cultural significance of each selection.
  • Prepare a case study, individually or in groups, of a world community focused on how people shape the development of a community. Students can select topics to find evidence in the World Digital Library collection that depict: people and groups, then and now; important contributions; impact of geography; unique features (volcanoes, rainforests, mountains), and; changes over time.

Additional Information:

  • The Library offers a primary source set, Maps from the World Digital Library, which includes PDF versions of selected maps and a Teacher’s Guide with historical context, additional teaching ideas and more.

How have you used the World Digital Library to bring the world’s cultures and civilizations into your classroom?

Comments (3)

  1. What a wonderful tool. I’m a teacher of English as additional language in the UK and I find this source extremely useful. The pupils really get excited and enthusiastic about the possibilities that this brings about. What a treasure!

  2. Its really a one-stop cultural treasure of the world. I wish that it will grow in its size to include many more worthwhile items, so that the woos of the researchers and learners in finding the required information will come to an end.

  3. In fact, this virtual library is a treasure indeed
    I work with children under 15 years
    What are the possibilities of working with this group of children

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