digital library, digital library collection
Kike Calvo/AP
Reading room at the New York Public Library.

Exploring Digital Library Collections

August 24, 2010
by Liz Colville
Back-to-school time is a great time to spotlight all the impressive digital library collections that exist, whether they’re from independent organizations, universities, established public libraries or elsewhere.

Libraries That Are Impressive, Offline and Online

The renowned British Library makes itself available to patrons around the world, not just in the U.K. In its online gallery, a section called “Virtual books” lets you browse through scanned books of music, literature, art and other subjects using a trademarked technology called Turn the Page. The library includes Mozart’s sheet music, “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” by Lewis Carroll, an 18th century Ethiopian bible and many more.

Queens Library in New York is actually bigger, collection-wise, than the New York Public Library, according to our previous article, “World’s Greatest Libraries: Past and Present." Queens Library has a great “Digital Media” section where you can freely take advantage of e-books, videos, music and audio books from a substantial selection.
But the New York Public Library is not to be ignored. Physically, this piece of architecture is an impressive bit of history caught in the midst of many bigger and newer buildings. Online, the visually pleasing atmosphere of the building is captured. In its Digital Collections, you’ll find an impressive collection of books and great additions like the NYPL iTunes U educational podcasts, its YouTube channel and more.

The Library of Congress is a highly regarded wellspring of educational resources on the United States with an impressive Web site to boot. In the site’s Digital Collections section, browse through scanned newspapers from different phases of U.S. history, archived Web sites, art, photography, a special section on U.S. veterans and much more. The Library of Congress also has a useful Ask a Librarian service.

Other Notable Digital Library Collections

Some of the largest libraries in the U.S. are university libraries, and it follows that some of the best digital libraries are from universities. Yale University Library’s digital collections are some of the most varied and extensive, including more than 300,000 images, a classics collection, rare books and manuscripts, and others. Connecticut neighbor Tufts University is home to Perseus Digital Library, the “world's largest online database of Latin and Greek texts and archeological finds.”

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro has a link collection called “News and Newspapers Online” that’s also very thorough, if not exactly a digital collection. This resource can help you find the Web sites of newspapers around the country and world.

For more easily accessible university libraries, head to a findingDulcinea staff favorite, “100 Extensive University Libraries from Around the World that Anyone Can Access,” from the site This is a simple list by discipline that briefly describes what each library in the list offers. 

MERLOT is an interesting site that includes not only digital collections, but tools to help online teaching and learning via the site. Membership to the site is free and allows you to submit your own materials for study, build a collection and explore already available offerings in a number of different—and quite specific—academic disciplines.

MERLOT is just one of the digital collections mentioned in Cabrillo College’s article “The Deep Web – Digital Libraries,” which notes standout and up-and-coming digital collections in many disciplines, including astronomy, natural history, health and literature.

Digital Libraries Just for Kids

The International Children’s Digital Library, a partnership between the University of Maryland and the Internet Archive, is a great Web destination for children that features a collection of scanned books that aren’t always the typical ones an American kid might come across at a local library. There are children’s authors all over the world featured in the ICDL. The mission of the site is to broaden children’s cultural horizons through books and to help them “understand the value of tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages and ideas.”

The Internet Archive itself contains an impressive collection of e-books, music, archives of Web sites past, video and other primary resources. Its Children’s Library is another great destination for kids’ e-books, featuring old and new editions of books that you can leaf through just like you would a physical book. Explore books by title, browse the most popular list or browse staff picks, which are located on the lower right of the page.

TumbleBooks, a collection of animated picture books for kids from the New York Public Library, is a colorful and educational world of books classified by reading level. Books include storybook titles, “readables,” language-learning titles and audio books.

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