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1 World Digital Library World Digital Library is an international online database maintained jointly by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Library of Congress of the United States. The website was officially launched on 21st April 2009 with the aim of creating a larger understanding among countries about various aspects such as culture, history, etc. By providing a wide data of online content for people in academia and outside, the “digital divide” existing between different nations can be attempted to be narrowed.

According to the official website of the library, a user can search from more than 19,000 items available from 193 countries and from a time period dating back to 8000 BCE till 2000 AD. These titles are available in multiple languages and are completely free of cost. The content made available by this library is extremely diverse, allowing one to find some of the rarest books, pictures, manuscripts, prints, musical scores, etc.

Certain special features of the site include interactive timelines of important events in world history, interactive maps of the world and an accurate search bar. If one casually wants to surf the website, there are categories such as – Place, Time Period, Topic, Type of Item, Language and Institution, which can be explored.

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2 Universal Digital Library Universal Digital Library (UDL), also known as the Million Book Project is an online information database by the Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science and University Libraries. A number of universities and government departments from China, India, USA and Europe are also partners in this project. These institutions scan the books, make them available in different languages, and also create the text of the books suitable to be fully searched.

UDL continuously takes initiatives to make its services diverse. For instance, the 4C – Consortium for Compensation of Creative Content was started with the aim of monetizing “orphan books” (books without any monetary gains to their publishers or authors). Similarly, the “newspapers digital library” has been created to store a record of about 20,000 newspapers available in the world which can be used by future generations and would help small publishers to take advantage of digitization.

A “monumental digital library” has been proposed wherein through an international collaboration, 3D modeling of the Seven Wonders shall be undertaken. This virtual content shall provide a 360-degree view and allow maneuvering through the landscapes of the monuments. The “spoken language digital library” is yet another unique attempt where speech recognition and speech synthesis technologies shall be integrated to present knowledge effectively.

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3 Project Gutenberg Established in 1971 by the American writer Michael S. Hart, the inventor of e-books, Project Gutenberg is the oldest digital library on the internet. Currently, more than 57,000 online records are available most of which are public domain texts and absolutely free to use. Usually, these files are in the plain text, but certain books are also available in other formats like PDF, MOBI, HTML, etc.

Gutenberg has entered into sub-projects with other partners who are working to provide the platform with region-specific works in different languages. Distributed Proofreaders (DP) is also among partners, which improves the authenticity of the available text.

The website itself can be accessed in Portuguese, Dutch, and French apart from the English language. Though newer books are also added to their database, their focus is on older books which have their copyrights expired. Works of most renowned personalities such as William Shakespeare, Alexander Dumas, Enrico Ferri, etc. can be viewed on the site.

There are “Bookshelves” which are arranged and managed according to the themes, languages, authors, etc. One does not need to register or pay any fees to access the document files. Furthermore, the website has a minimalistic layout and is easy to use.

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4 Bartleby Drawing inspiration from the short story novel, “Bartleby, the Scrivener” by Herman Melville, the Bartleby online library was created by Steven H. van Leeuwen in 1993. Initially, it was started as a sub-section on the official website of the Columbia University, in the form of personal collection of pieces from the English literature, made available for non-profit.

The website provides a wide range of works including fiction and non-fiction both. The reference section of Bartleby has interesting educational and informative content such as quotations, proverbs, and maxims, short sayings, proverbs, digests, etc. The Featured section hosts some highly curated content and tens of thousands of poems (from thousands of authors) can be accessed in the Verse section.

With fully searchable database, the interface of the website is simple and quick to grasp. The Dashboard feature allows one to create their profiles for a more personalized experience. The integration with the e-book store of Amazon simplifies one’s job allowing direct purchases from the Bartleby site.

Bartleby is one of the most visited online libraries with about one billion pages being accessed until December 2016. Recently, the website was acquired by the Barnes and Noble Foundation, but the site continues to provide highly accurate documents free of charge.

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5 ibiblio A “collection of collections”, ibiblio, provides an open source material website, functioning since 1992. Maintained by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the website hosts collections from diverse topics such as cultural studies, politics, software, music, history and so on.

The University has been able to rope in Partners like the SourceForge, Center for the Public Domain and IBM, contributing to the improved quality of the materials available on the portal. The software projects section on ibiblio for the Linux platform is known for its extensive content.

One of the unique features of the library is that users can add and comment on the documents which allows for space for discussion, and can update the site with additional information that people might want to share. Users can also create their own collections of assorted books or references and manage them according to their convenience.

ibiblio is known to have launched many of the “firsts” on the internet. For instance, it launched the first internet radio stream, wherein it started rebroadcasting the UNC’s student run-run radio station WXYC. Another radio stream, IPv6/ Internet2 was also started by this archive. The website has a library of videos which includes rare educational content from NASA as well!

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6 Google Books The famous Project Ocean of Google is one of the most accessible digital libraries online. Because of its integration with the Google search engine, users can easily deepen their research by a few clicks. The service has changed its names several times in the past (Google Books Search and Google Print) but has continued to be one of the most easy to access websites for people wanting to make good use of books and magazines.

Depending on the restrictions placed by the authors or the publishers of the books, four types of access rights are provided to the users:
- Full view, which provides free text with complete access to view the books.
- Free, through which some books might also be downloaded for free.
- The Preview and the Snippet view provide limited access, with the former available with a certain fraction of the total text for free, and the latter allowing the user to read a few lines in the succeeding and preceding paragraphs of the query text.
- Finally, there are certain books with no preview which do not have their OCR scanned copies.

The “Partner Programme” of the website is a useful feature for the authors and publishers of books for advertising and making their books known to the masses. Some of the initial partners of Google Books included the Harvard University, New York Public Library, University of Oxford and Stanford University.

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7 Questia Considered by many as the largest library of books on the Internet, Questia offers round the clock access to the most comprehensive collection of journal articles and books on the Internet. As you explore their online library, you’ll find a wide range of credible sources that you can comfortably cite for referencing and researching.

The Questia online library comprises of more than 14 million newspaper articles, magazines and journals from over 1000 leading publishers of the world, apart from over 94,000 academic books. What Questia offers you are various quality sources that are hand-picked by librarians and have been approved by professors! In fact, many of these resources are peer-reviewed.

The online library service is based out of Chicago, Illinois and was founded in the year 1998. It was later bought by Gale, which is a part of Cengage Learning, in the year 2010.

While Questia offers some of its information free of cost, including all kinds of publication information, first page of every chapter, various public domain works, table of contents, Boolean searches through the library content and short bibliographies, as well as articles on more than 6500 topics, it also sells annual or monthly subscriptions that allow temporary online reading access to all of its newspaper articles, magazines and journals.

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8 Open Library Open Library is a digital library with the goal of creating “one web page for every book ever published”. It was started by Aaron Swartz and Brewster Kahle. The website is funded by the California State Library and is a part of the Internet Library. Its database is sourced from Library of Congress, other digital libraries, Amazon and from user-contributed content.

The site claims to have about 20 million records from various categories. The advanced search feature allows people to search using a book’s title, edition, author, publisher, etc. and if one just prefers to get on with reading anything, “Random Books” is a useful feature. The textbook section has a wide variety of books on subjects like linguistics, psychology, biology, management, chemistry, etc. Moreover, there are about one million books which have been made available to the blind and dyslexic.

In order to reading Open Library books online, one needs to open an account with it, using his/her email address after which the books can be borrowed or downloaded. Users can also rate books and view books from the same author or on similar themes and may upload books from their own collections to the online database of the library.

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9 ERIC Another easy to use digital library, ERIC (Education Resources Information Center) is a comprehensive and searchable source. It is funded by the United States Department of Education through its Institute of Education Sciences.

Although the website is useful for everyone in general, but it’s the students and people involved in teaching and education services who make the best use of it.

ERIC was started in 1996 and the portal today has expanded to about 1.5 million bibliographic records of documents such as research papers, articles, reports, information analyses, etc. Every week the library is updated with the latest records.

ERIC has also made available many of the grey literature materials which cannot be accessed through the conventional publishers. Where no text is available for some records, ERIC provides a link to the websites of the host publishers or other libraries. A quarter of the document available on the portal is in plain text, with other files in formats such as PDF.

The layout of the site is simplistic and has a Google-like interface with a centralized search. Search can be narrowed using authors, publication type, publication dates, descriptors of the subjects, sourced of the documents, level of education, etc. In addition, there’s a unique Thesaurus search onboard which helps in making the search more intuitive.

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10 BiblioVault The BiblioVault is a library primarily for scholarly books and has collaborations with over 90 scholarly publications from the Europe and US. Offered by the University of Chicago Press and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, there are about 40,000 titles (books and e-books) from various academicians and university press. Newer books can be procured in fully-searchable soft copies, while the older ones are only available in hard copies.

Students can search through the books using multiple criteria or just use the “Wander” or “Random Topic” features of the website. The subjects available include Climate, Physics, Law, Languages, Labour, Economics, Crime, etc. After selecting a book, the website gives information about the book, biography of the author and reviews of the book. The book may either be ordered to be delivered by the publishers themselves or can be sourced from other vendors of the hard-copy or e-book format.

The website is a useful tool for the publishers. They can create an account and use the site for services such as e-book fulfillment, scanning, file repository, file-transferring, conversions, delivering books, etc. Publishers can also utilize BiblioVault to send the files of their books to any part of the world, get it published locally, and then make the books available in those markets. In addition to this, BiblioVault also helps publishers in managing the content of their books.

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online library

The advent of technology has ushered in an era where human lives have been induced with better facilities and all the modern luxuries. One such luxury is the ability to get volumes of information, on virtually anything, at the click of a button. Digital libraries are a good example of this and have eased the man’s quest for information.

In the modern times, after search engines, online digital libraries are one of the most important sources for obtaining information. There are several libraries which have data on diverse fields such as medicine, law and governance, culture, science, technology, history, and so on. As more number of free digital libraries have started coming up, using these portals has become an extremely feasible option for people.

These libraries are used by students, teachers, people from academia, and the general public as well, on a daily basis. These online libraries play a very vital role in the field of education. In fact, a good number of the best online libraries are either run or supported by educational universities. These institutions provide access to their publications and use the portal as a platform for maintaining their digitized content.

As opposed to the traditional libraries, online libraries contain not just books or magazines but also other multimedia content such as video clips, audio patches, TV content, software, images, concerts and various other collections. This allows people to avail a good variety of information for their usage.

Digital libraries are not limited to serving the function of repositories of information alone, but provide a holistic solution for finding information too. This is made possible with several operational features such as tagging, references, organizing, searching and retrieving, which a traditional library fails to offer. In addition to this, interoperability and integration provide added utility to the users. One digital library can be connected to other libraries and also to websites such as from where textual content can be rented or bought.

What is a Digital Library?

In simple terms, a digital library is a compilation of digitized documents or other multimedia content. According to Smith’s definition, it is “an organized and focused collection of digital objects, including text, images, video, and audio, with the methods of access and retrieval and for the selection, creation, organization, maintenance and sharing of collection”.

In spite of the fact that the focal point of this definition is the accumulation of documents and digital objects, the definition also points out that these online libraries are significantly more than mere unorganized data compilations. They also have a few characteristics of the conventional physical libraries such as a characterized network of clients, central data collection, long-haul accessibility, the likelihood of choosing, sorting out, saving and sharing content. But it’s their data arrangement and retrieval mechanism that sets them apart.

These online libraries are many a times also seen as institutions, as is clear from this definition by Digital Library Federation, “Digital Libraries are organization that provide the resources, including the specialized staff to select, structure, offer intellectual access to interpret, distribute, preserve the integrity of and ensure the persistence over time of collections of digital works so that they are readily and economically available for use by a defined community or set of communities.” This definition focuses on the “continuity” of an online library. An online library is dynamic in nature and grows with time to include more and more information.

History of Digital Libraries

Information about the origins of digital libraries is scattered and unclear, however, there are several individuals who are attributed with the inception of such libraries. It is said that attempts to create an organized database of information began around the early 20th century with Vannevar Bush and J.C.R. Licklider being on the forefront of this movement.

The initial attempt for data collection and unification was with the aim of establishing peace and mutual understanding among different countries. This was the time right after World War II. Several universities and foundations (such as the Ford Foundation) wanted to explore the possibility of improving physical libraries with the assistance of technology.

In its nascent years, the yearning to create an online library first developed into Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) which was a digital card catalog for conventional libraries. With continued research and funding, these projects culminated into digital libraries like ERIC and Project Guttenberg. These libraries increased the sharing of resources and made their resources available to more number of people simultaneously.

Advantages of Digital Libraries

The introduction of technology to different spheres of human life made lives easier for everyone. Some benefits which technology has brought into the field of data collection are dissipation, through digital libraries, are:

1. Improved Access

For accessing a digital library, one can either connect to the internet and use online sources or use software by installing them from CDs or downloading them. Thus, a person who wants access to information is not subjugated to the constraints of using a physical library such as traveling to the place, operating hours of the library, etc. One can access these resources round the clock from anyplace in the world.

2. Wider Access

A digital library can meet synchronous access demands for a document by effortlessly making numerous models or duplicates of the content that has been requested. It can likewise meet the necessities of a bigger multitude of clients effortlessly. Even copyrighted material can be “lent out” based on their digital rights policy.

3. Improved Information Sharing

By using fitting metadata and by sharing of data inter se the libraries, these online portals can synchronize among themselves to provide better services to the clients. Retrieving information becomes an easy task. Furthermore, one library can integrate itself with other libraries or websites which grant access to a book, magazine, etc.

4. Improved Preservation

Since the electronic records are not vulnerable to physical damage, they can be easily made available in multiple copies and at different places. Digital libraries encourage protection of records. Documents which are rarely available or content such as historic speeches can be preserved by making digital copies of them.

Organizational aspects of digital libraries

Certain functional aspects of digital libraries differentiate them from the traditional kinds. Some of these are:

1. Determination and sourcing

The normal procedures involved in this segment include the determination of information to be included in the library, the membership of the library and the digitization or transformation of physical resources into soft copies. Most of the public online libraries put great stress on this and provide only genuine and authenticated data.

2. Organization

The key procedure associated with the organizational aspect is the task of adding metadata (bibliographic data) to each information piece that is being added to the library.

3. Indexing and storage

For showing results in the least time possible, it is vital that all the documents and information in the library are appropriately tagged with labels and arranged categorically.

4. Search and recovery

This component of the library is basically to do with the user-interface. It may have the bare minimum functions or a long list of them depending on the digital library being used. (Ex. search, download, borrow, etc.)

Types of Digital Libraries

There are essentially three types of digital libraries:

1. Standalone Digital Library (SDL)

Majority of the popular digital libraries which are accessible online are SDL. They are localized to a server or LAN and have all their data stored at a single place. An SDL’s repository might contain scanned or digitized documents or other multimedia content, and might be available for free or upon payment of a certain amount.

2. Federated Digital Library (FDL)

These libraries tend to be less organized than SDL and are heterogeneous in nature. Usually, FDLs have collections of data from different educational universities or institutions. A single user interface allows users to search from a collection of different physical libraries.

3. Harvested Digital Library (HDL)

HDLs are condensed form of libraries and contain ancillary data about documents or other information pieces such as their metadata, summary, citations, etc. One of the well-known HDLs is ERIC.

Distinct Features of Digital Libraries

Digital libraries provide huge databases of information and fetch holistic content depending upon what is being searched for. Because of their user-friendly interface, they are much easier to use than traditional libraries. The digitization allows the users to gain an increased amount of ancillary information related to a book or magazine, giving online libraries an edge over the conventional kinds.

Tagging, referencing of documents, hyperlinking to other similar content, advance searches etc. also provide improved searching capabilities to the users. In addition to this, online libraries have other materials such as audio clips, videos, photographs, podcasts, etc. which improve their value when compared to the physical libraries. An online library does not suffer from the dearth of space, and a digital library can store a vast amount of data in comparatively much lesser physical space. Additionally, digital libraries are not constrained by physical boundaries, enabling people from every corner of the world to access such information through the internet.