The World Digital Library (WDL) website is designed to encourage users to explore cultural and historical treasures from around the world. The features of the site are described below.

Home Page

The WDL home page provides access to search and browse options and an icon that enables you to select (from among Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish) the language in which you wish to access the WDL. These options are discussed in more detail below.

The home page features a search box. The search box also contains links to three browse options: view all items, Browse by Country, and Time Period.

You can access the six WDL browse options by clicking on “Explore” in the bar at the top of the home page. The dropdown menu provides access to these options, which are Place, Time Period, Topic, Type of Item, Language (of content), and Institution.

The bar at the top also includes links to Timelines, Interactive Maps, and Themes, which are discussed below.

Below the basic access options is a rotating, randomly generated selection of the content on the WDL. Clicking on the image or its title will take you to the item display page and the complete version of any of these items.

“Featured Institutions” is a rotating set of four institutions, chosen from the more than 100 libraries, archives, and museums that have contributed content to the WDL. Clicking on the name of the institution listed in “Featured Institutions” will generate a list of all items contributed by that institution.

Clicking on Recently Added Items will take you to the latest items added to the WDL. Once in the list of the latest items added to the WDL, you can view content additions by date going back to 2009. Clicking on the image or title of any recently added item will take you to the item display page for that item and the complete item.

“Highlights” features one or more especially interesting or important items on the WDL.

“Latest Tweets from the World Digital Library” is in the lower right hand corner of the home page.

Language

The WDL site is available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Navigational information and information about each item are provided in these languages. More than 100 languages are represented in the actual books, manuscripts, maps, and other primary materials on the WDL, which are provided in their original languages.

The site attempts to provide the most appropriate language to you based on your browser settings. The language menu, indicated by the flag in the upper right of each page, allows you to switch to another language. Changing the interface language is not possible from within the book/image viewer. To change languages in this case, click the item title or the “Item Detail” link to return to the item detail page, where you can access the language menu.

The search box appears at the top of WDL pages. The site can be searched in Arabic, English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Chinese. The search functionality follows the choice of language. For example, if you are in the French version of the site, your search query will search the French version of the site. Search is performed on both the metadata and on the full text of the books that are in French.

Once you have performed a search or browse, the “Options” feature can be used to refine your search, for example by changing the language or scope of the content you are searching.

Explore

The “Explore” feature on the home page enables you to choose among six basic browse options: place, time, topic, type of item, contributing institution, and language, i.e., the original language or languages in which an item was created. Every item in the WDL is classified by these six categories, with the exception of items with no linguistic content (e.g., photographs), which are not classified by language.

Browse by Place is organized into broad geographic regions corresponding to major geographic/linguistic/cultural regions of the world: Africa, Antarctica, Central and South Asia, East Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa, North America, Oceania and the Pacific, Southeast Asia, and World. “World” refers to items that relate to or cover the world as a whole, e.g., atlases and world maps.

You can view all of the items from each of these regions by clicking on the arrow to the right of the set of sample images. To see the content from a particular country or set of countries within a region, click on the name of the region, e.g., Africa, to see a breakdown by country.

If you are unsure of the region in which a country is located, click List all Countries to see the complete list of countries. Bear in mind that “country” in this context refers to what the item is about or associated with, not where it was published or is currently housed. A book about Angola published in the United Kingdom and contributed by the Library of Congress will be cataloged Africa > Angola, rather than Europe > United Kingdom or North America > United States. Many books, maps, and other items relate to more than one country and are cataloged as such.

Once you have accessed the content available about a particular country, you can either view all of the content about that country by clicking on the “View all” arrow to the right, or drill down to the state or provincial level by clicking on the country name. Clicking on the United States, for example, will generate a list of U.S. states and territories and the WDL content about them.

Place generally is cataloged at four levels: continent/region of the world (e.g., North America), country (Canada), state or province (Quebec), and city (Montreal). For countries with more complex internal structures, more than four levels are sometimes used.

Browse by Time allows users to sort items on the WDL according to the date when these items were created. Items from the earliest periods are of course extremely rare, and fewer of these items are presented.

Note that WDL uses two sets of dates in cataloging items: “Date Created” and “Subject Date.” “Date Created” is the precise or approximate date on which an item was created by an author, scribe, cartographer, publisher, artist, photographer, or other creator. “Subject Date” is the date or time period of what the item is about. In many cases, especially that of photographs, “Date Created” and “Subject Date” are the same or very similar. The date created of #2707, a photograph of U.S. President Richard Nixon with Elvis Presley, is December 21, 1970, the day when the photograph was taken. The subject date is 1970, because the photograph is about something that happened in that year. In other cases, however, the “Date Created” and the “Subject Date” are different. The item #10598 is a manuscript written in 1442-1443 about the Battle of Montaperti, which took place in 1260. In this case the date created is 1442-1443; the subject date, or date of what the item is about, is the date of the battle, or September 4, 1260. For best results, users are encouraged to use both Browse by Time, which is based on “Date Created,” and to explore subject dates using the hyperlinks on item detail pages.

Browse by Topic allows users to sort items on the WDL according to the subjects the items are about. Items on the WDL are cataloged using the Dewey Decimal Classification System, which classifies library items according to ten classes, each of which is divided into ten divisions, each of which in turn is divided into ten sections.

Clicking on Browse by Topic will bring up all items on the WDL grouped according to the ten classes in the Dewey Decimal Classification System. You can then either view a particular item by clicking on the image, view all items in that class by clicking on the arrow to the right of the images, or view items grouped by the divisions within that class by clicking on the name of the class. Similarly, once you have selected a division, you can either view a particular item by clicking on the image, view all items in that division by clicking on the arrow to the right of the images, or view items grouped by the sections within the division by clicking on the name of the division.

Note that items also are catalogued using “Additional Subjects.” These are groupings of content suggested by the contributing institutions or added by the WDL catalogers that do not correspond to any of the Dewey classes, divisions, or sections, but which are added to the item-level records to create groups of content that share one or more characteristics and to enable users to view those items as a group. An additional subject may be a person, a geographic location, an event, or a topic. Clicking on an “Additional Subjects” link on the item detail page will bring up a list of all the other items that are also tagged with that additional subject.

Browse by Type of Item allows users to sort items in the WDL by the physical format of the original object that has been digitized. Clicking on Browse by Type of Item will bring up all items in the WDL grouped according to the following categories: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, motion pictures, newspapers, prints and photographs, and sound recordings. You can then either view a particular item by clicking on the image or view all items in that type by clicking on the arrow to the right of the images.

Browse by Language allows users to sort items on the WDL according to the language or languages in which a document is written or recorded or which otherwise appears on a document. Clicking on “Browse by Language” will bring up all items on the WDL that have linguistic content grouped by language. You can then either view a particular item by clicking on the image or view all items in a particular language by clicking on the arrow to the right of the images.

Browse by Institution displays all partner institutions that have contributed content that is on the WDL and allows you to access all of the content for a single institution. This can be done using either a searchable list or a map that shows the location of the partner. Using the icon in the upper right of the map, partner institutions can be sorted by type, i.e., libraries, museums, and archives. Once you have selected a particular institution using either the list or the map, you can view all items contributed by that institution by clicking on the name of the institution below the map or on the “View all” icon.

List, Gallery, and Map Displays

Search and browse (explore) results are always displayed in three ways: “List”, “Gallery,” and “Map.”

List is the default option. It shows the results returned for a search or browse in list form. For each item returned, there is a reference image, the first part of the description, and the name of the contributing institution. Clicking on the image or its title will take you to the item display page for an item that will provide access to a complete version of that item.

Gallery shows the results of a search or browse by displaying only the reference images for the items returned. Mousing over (or, for touch-screen devices, touching a particular image with your finger) will bring up its title. Clicking on the image or the title will take you to the item display page for that particular item and access to a complete version of the item. The gallery view is recommended for viewing large photographic collections and for finding items quickly by primarily visual means.

Map shows the results of a search or browse by plotting these items on a world map. Items are plotted on the map using the same metadata that drives the Browse by Place option (see above). To view an item about or associated with a particular place, run your mouse over the pin for that location to bring up the item or items. Clicking on the image or the title of an item will take you to the item display page for that item and a complete version of the item. For locations associated with more than one item on the WDL, a number will be displayed showing the number of items associated with that location. Clicking on the number will bring up all of the items for that location

Maps also are used in connection with themes and sets, as discussed below.

Narrow Results

“Narrow Results” will appear in the upper left hand corner of any page of search or browse results, whether displayed in List, Gallery, or Map view.

Clicking on “Narrow Results” will bring up, on the left side of the page, the complete set of metadata categories (often called facets) used in the WDL: “Place,” “Time Period,” “Topic,” “Additional Subjects,” “Type of Item,” “Language,” and “Institution.”

If, for example, you search on horses using the search box, you will generate a list of all the items on the WDL in which the word horses appears in the metadata or, for print items, in the item itself. If you wish then to narrow your search only to horses found in items about Europe, click on “Narrow Results” and then on Europe under “Place.” If, within this set of results, you wish to further limit your results to only prints and photographs associated with horses, click once again on “Narrow Results” and then select Prints, Photographs under “Type of Item.” The active filters you have selected will display at the top of the list of results, and will help you to keep track of your search path.

You can either “Clear All Filters” by clicking on the red icon of that name, which will bring you back to the original set of search or browse results (i.e., horses), or clear a particular filter by clearing on the orange icon indicating that a particular filter is active. Clicking on “Europe,” for example, will eliminate the place filter, and generate a results page of photographs or prints of horses found in or associated with items about all parts of the world and not just Europe.

Item Detail Pages and Access to Items

Every item on the WDL has a unique item detail page. Clicking on the reference (thumbnail) image or on the title below the image of any item will take you to the item detail page for a given item. This can be from a search or browse list or from an item featured on Recently Added Items or “Highlights.”

Once you have opened the item detail page for a given item, you can access the item itself. To view the item in its entirety and to enable zoom, rotation, full screen, and other viewing options, click on the image in the upper left hand side of the item detail page.

Item detail pages also contain information about the item, including a paragraph-length description of the item and its importance; the name or names of the authors, photographers, cartographers, engravers, artists, and so forth that created the work; the date and place of creation/publication; the subject date; and other relevant information.

Clicking on the hyperlinks for any of these pieces of information will take you to the set of WDL items that share the same characteristic. If the “Date Created” of an item is tagged 1865, for example, clicking on 1865 will generate a list of all other items created in 1865.

If you click on an item detail page for an item that you have accessed through search, browse, or by clicking on a hyperlink on an item detail page, the item detail page for that item will display at the top of the page thumbnails of all items in the original list of content generated by search, browse, or a hyperlink. You can view these items by clicking on a thumbnail, or return to your search or browse results by clicking on the icon in the upper left.

The hyperlinks below the reference image can be used to download the item (as available); view all other items on the WDL provided by the same partner; link to where this same item is displayed (if available) on the home page of the partner institution (this is an external link that will take you out of the WDL); link to timelines, interactive maps, or themes in the WDL in which this item is used; and view similar items on the WDL.

The map in the lower left of the item detail page shows the place associated with the item (where it was created or what it is about), with an option (in the upper right of the map) to view nearby items.

Clicking on the “Listen to this page” icon activates the text-to-voice feature. The page will be read in the language of the interface you were using when you clicked “listen.” To listen in another language, you must use the language icon and change the interface language. This option is available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

Curator Videos

Selected items are accompanied by a curator video. This is a video recording of an expert speaking about an item or collection of items on the WDL. Curators generally speak in their native languages; captioned translations of their remarks are provided when the language in which they are speaking is different from the interface language.

Timelines, Interactive Maps and Themes

Timelines and/or Interactive Maps are used to explore temporal and spatial relationships between particular sets of items. These sets of items have been chosen by curators or other subject-matter experts because they relate to each other in some way. Examples include items that are relevant to especially important events in world history or the history of a particular country, or items that are outstanding examples of a particular genre, e.g., illuminated manuscripts.

A set of related items can be displayed either on a timeline, interactive map, or both. For each timeline and/or interactive map, a brief description of the content displayed is provided. All items in the set can be view in gallery form by clicking on the title of the map or timeline.

For some interactive maps, the “Add Layers” feature in the upper right of the map can be used to project the set of items on an archival map relating to those items. The “Add Layers” feature on Imperial Russia,” for example, can be used to project the items from a geographic card set relating to the Russian Empire as it was in the nineteenth century on a near-contemporary map of the empire. Additional “Add Layers” presentations are being planned and will be used to show, for example, pictures of railroad construction plotted on the maps used to plan those railroads.

The timelines and interactive maps have educational value and should be of particular interest to students and teachers.

Themes

Thematic sections (in preparation) are intended to provide in-depth coverage of topics chosen by the WDL partners for their historical and cultural significance. In most cases, such topics have an inherently cross-national and cross-cultural character. Examples of such themes include the history of Arabic and Islamic science and its influence on Western science; Mesoamerican codices and the history of the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America; expansion of the frontiers of the United States, Russia, Brazil, and other countries to create continental-scale nations, as well as the meeting of those frontiers in particular locations; the Bible, Qur’an, and other sacred texts; the history of China and its influence on other parts of the world; the development of railroads and the infrastructure of modern transportation; systems of writing; and intertwined histories, including travel and voyages, the Silk Road, and epidemics and diseases.

Accessibility

The WDL team has worked to comply with the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 2.0. If you experience difficulty using the site please let us know.