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The World Digital Library: A Truly International Effort

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In November of 2011 I had the pleasure of attending the annual World Digital Library partner’s meeting in Munich, Germany, hosted by the Bavarian State Library. This year’s meeting was a highly productive series of working sessions, highlighting the exceptional progress of the initiative and the current and future efforts of the partner institutions in digitizing and sharing key cultural artifacts from their collections.  As of the meeting, WDL has 136 partners from 72 countries, 57 of which are national libraries. Participation has grown by 43 organizations since the 2010 meeting.

Chris Adams from the Library of Congress presents at the WDL 2011 Meeting
Chris Adams from the software development team at the Library of Congress presents at the WDL 2011 Meeting

The Technical Architecture Working Group meeting focused on the launch of the completely overhauled WDL web application, which greatly improved site performance while being completely invisible to the users: a success all around!

On the production side, the development team introduced greatly streamlined tools that have allowed the project to process metadata and media files, coordinate translations, and load content into the site much more quickly.  The number of items available increased 200% in one year.

Of great interest is an upcoming pilot effort to test the ability to search the full-text content of items in the collection.  There is also excitement about the pending release of a documented WDL API, which will improve the ability of organizations to embed their content into their own web applications. And there was much discussion about the proposed development of a mobile WDL application.

World Digital Library Logo Pojection
The WDL Logo projected onto the ceiling at the Bavarian State Library for our visit

The general sessions were comprised of presentations by the WDL staff about program goals, collection development goals, technical efforts, and production process improvements, followed by lively and engaging discussions involving all the partners.

The first day was capped off by a visit to the Bavarian State Library, which highlighted its architecture, reading rooms, collections, and remarkable digitization facilities.

The second day of meetings included a wide range of presentations by some of the partner organizations, which highlighted their recent and planned digitization. The collections housed in these organizations are important cultural artifacts, and their willingness to share them openly through this effort is highly commendable.

Among the organizations that presented their work were the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, Sultan Qaboos University, the Wellcome Library, the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA) of Mexico, the National Academic Library and Information System of Bulgaria, the Central Institute for the Union Catalogue of Italian Libraries (ICCU), the National Library of South Africa, the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche Istituto per il Lissico Intellectuale Europeo e Storia dell Idee, the National Central Library of Taiwan, and the Bavarian State Library.

The plans for the 2012 meeting are still in development, but I expect to see even greater achievements and a wider range of collections presented there.


  1. Chris Adam’s presentation forecasts a dynamic program rationalization that is relevant to the future for Libraries. Unfortunately his kind of innovation is rarely on the agenda of most politicians in technologically less endowed societies hence their tendency to be scheming for opportunities of converting libraries into information centres as their contribution towards awakening and enhancing the aims and functionality of museums and libraries. Unless the core values in Mr. Adam’s presentation are made to achieve a global impact such that they are felt beyond the frontiers technologically resourceful societies, there are grounds for fears that politicians will, by sheer default of lack of effective advocacy from professionals, pursue their agenda of subtle conversion of Libraries into propaganda machinery. I particularly look forward to an invitation to attend 2012 meeting.

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