Digital Libraries (highlights, lists, ...)


In these different pages I will try to list the different digital libraries, collections or resources that I have seen according to either their originating country or main topic. This list is neither complete nor extensive, just those resources that I come across in my travels across the Web.

But I am first going to use this space to “ventilate” some of my pet peeves. I hate Websites that profess to do lots of things, but who can not even maintain their home-pages up to date, as an example you can visit a Website in 2014 and still see publicity on the home-page “selling” their conference for 2012 as if it is still to take place! In some cases you can still register! Another one of my pet hates are those sites that were active over a finite period, but don’t tell you that they are now “archived” and are no longer updated and maintained. It would not take much to create a proper “archive” site with the more important and still useful resources being highlighted. Still another pet hate are those sites that planned great things but never bothered to complete them, leaving pages hanging with “under construction” dated years ago. A final peeve is where the site is subscription based but it takes you 10 minutes to discover it. Why can’t they just put it on the home-page instead of just putting a little “sign in” in the top right-hand corner.

I will say immediately that here I really only want to focus on freely accessible “content rich“ resources, and not those collections and services that require a subscription! However occasionally I have listed also a small number of commercial subscription sites that I think some people might find useful.

I must admit it is sometime difficult to know how to classify some resources, so in a few cases I’ve put them under more than one sub-heading.

On this page I have listed some “highlights”, and “lists-of-lists” or sites that list resources and collections. The rest of my Website on “digital libraries” is composed of different pages on:

Literature & “ebook” Collections

Pre-History Collections

Ancient History Collections

Medieval & Renaissance History Collections

Modern History Collections

The Arts

The Sciences

Collections by Country/Continent


dmoz is a human-edited directory of the Web, and it aim is to become the definitive catalog of the Web. So far they have catalogued more than 5 million resources using more than 80,000 editors.

Not strictly a digital library, this is a free open-source Web Curator Tool. You can use it for “selective Web archiving”, or Web “harvesting”, or “site ripping”, e.g. taking a copy of an entire Website and storing it on your local hard-disk, including reworking all the hyperlinks so that they work from your local drive.

What can I say about the “Whole Earth Catalog”, except that I still own the original printed catalog.


These are list of digital libraries, not bibliographic or academic databases, nor search engines.

Wikipedia has a list of 132 digital library projects, and also a pointer page to 13 sub-categories and more than 400 links.

Harvard has a list of 80 libraries, archives, and special collections. They also list 141 digital library projects, and they have their own digital preservation services. 

dmoz, an open directory project, lists 62 digital library “developments”, 69 electronic text archives, and 53 science publication archives

OEDb, an open education database, lists 250+ “killer” digital libraries and archives ranks the “world’s best digital libraries”, which I suppose is a good place to start if you want to know what a good digital library does (and there are the occasional “best” lists, e.g. TIME 50 Best).

The US Library of Congress list US-based “digital initiatives” providing free access to their collections

europeana is a kind of portal or aggregator bringing together more than 30 million items from over 2,000 European “memory institutions

Lists of Resources (including lists of blogs)

Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is an online directory providing access to high-quality open access, peer-reviewed journals. At the time of my visit there were 10,219 journals with nearly 2 million articles from 136 countries.

Digging into Data has a long list of digital libraries updated to April 2014, covering the humanities and social sciences.

ipl2 is the result of merging the Internet Public Library and the Librarians’ Internet Index and is a question-answering service based upon both existing collections and specific answers created by volunteer librarians and students. In many ways it is a directory in that it points to a wide collection of “resources by subject” (it also has a long list of newspapers and magazines from around the world). On top of all that it also has some “special collections” or lists on topics such as digital storytelling, native american authors, museums, and Web technologies. It has a “search” function, but my tests told me it was basically less than rudimentary, so I’m not convinced about the question-answering bit, but as a list of resources it is potentially very useful. The site also has a massive collection of pointers to literary criticism about authors and their works.

dmoz is a human-edited directory of the Web, and it aim is to become the definitive catalog of the Web. So far I understand that they have catalogued more than 5 million resources using more than 80,000 editors. During my visit I checked the arts-architecture-preservation and found 179 references, mostly organisations in the UK, US and Canada. But I also found pointers to a conservation glossary, a cultural heritage search engine, and a preservation directory. Under science-physics-nuclear there were 130 references including nuclear energy technology. You could find everything from the God particle, an ABC of nuclear science, an extensive Website on the “quantum universe”, and a documentary on the Three-Mile-Island accident. This is a mega Website worth highlighting.

Voice of the Shuttle says it is a “Web for humanists”. So it is a directory pointing to resources on topics such as cultural studies, sci-tech and culture, cyber-culture, technology of writing, .. I was more attracted to the topics archaeology, architecture, and art, which are massive lists of links pointing to other resources. This site has been around since late 1994, and that takes some doing! There are a number of specialist Websites pointing to resources, for example EDSITEment is a US-sponsored educational Website providing access to the humanities (literature, language, art and culture, history and social studies).

The Repository of Primary Sources listed over 5,000 Websites, however there is now a message saying that in 2015 the site was no longer maintained. They still are home to some collections. And there are some other sites that provide some pointers, but noting like the original 5,000-odd links originally offered, e.g. Cal State has a list of primary sources, the University of Michigan has a guide, the US National Archives lists primary sources, Yale has a list of their primary sources, and there are a number of sites that have a “top” list, e.g. bachelorsdegreeonline and teachinghistory. And the US has both a National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, and the American Library Association has a page on finding, evaluating, and using primary sources.

One of the above mentioned Websites kind-of introduces the idea of a “portal” for blogs (Voice of the Shuttle is not in itself a blog, but a portal to humanities resources, but the idea nevertheless stuck in my mind). And the Academic Blog Portal “covers” humanities, useful arts, sciences and social sciences. Its list of humanities is useful in itself because it includes history, art history, classics and ancient languages, linguistics and philosophy, culture-theory-literature, music and religion and theology. The “useful arts” includes architecture, and the odd mix of business administration, computer science, education, engineering, law, library science, media and communications, medicine, public policy and social work. Sciences includes the obvious biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, earth sciences, mathematics and statistics, and the less obvious (but equally interesting) complex systems, archaeology, physical anthropology and neuroscience and cognitive science. The social sciences includes anthropology, economics, geography, psychology, sociology and political science and political theory. Just a quick poke into this resources shows 72 blogs on physics, 8 blogs on architecture, 10 blogs on art history, and 121 blogs on political science and political theory.

Hypotheses is a publishing platform for academic blogs, and at the moment it looks like it “hosts” more than 800 of them. My sample from the first page of the list of blogs included “Ou grant livraire” on the history of texts (I think middle-age texts, but I’m not sure), “A Muse of Fire” on Shakespeare and acting in the 18th C, and the official blog of the Art Histories Society.

JournalSeek is a categorised database of freely available journal information. There are now nearly 6,000 publishers included covering everything from architecture to tourism (more than 100,000 titles). When I check there were 98 journals on art history in the section arts & literature. For example Classical Antiquity has a Website with full text articles available, same for the journals The Italianist, Studies in Conservation, and Victorian Periodicals Review, but for the journal De Arte the full text articles were not yet available online. In any case a fantastic resource, or more correctly a fantastic index pointing to fantastic resources. OpenDepot points to online open access repositories, and provides a place for academics to deposit their publications for open access. Check out the “browse” to see what has been deposited.

Jurn is a search engine working across many 1,000’s of journals (millions of articles) offering significant free content. One search on “black holes” produced 209 million results, and the top article was by Stephen Hawking available in pdf.

Not strictly a blog portal, but worth a mention, is the WGBH forum network that collects 1,000’s of free video and audio lectures from scholars, authors, artists, scientists, policymakers, and community leaders. Topics that were “hot” when I visited the Website were art heists, a replacement for plastic, and a talk on deniers of climate change.

listeningtowords claims to have more than 1,500 free lectures and talks. During my visit I saw 62 lectures from MIT and a talk on the economics of climate change. “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson was one of the most popular talks.  

Biografias y Vidas is a Spanish language Website with 1,000’s of biographies of historical and contemporary people. I looked up Paco de Lucia (was up-to-date just after his death in March 2014) and Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. Both contributions were perfect. And since we on the topic of lists and the Spanish language this Website lists 1,703 Spanish language magazines (some no longer published), from Acción psicológica to 3ZU (a architecture magazine published 1993-95). “El Poder de la Palabra” is a resource of poetic prose and a database of artists and authors, with a strong focus on Spain and Latin America. It claims to cover more than 4,000 authors, 2,000 composers, 1,500 directors, 1,000 painters and 600 architects.

Open Access is an emerging (or already emerged) trend and this site lists more than 9,000 open-access publications, with more than 1.5 million articles. The University of California Press also makes 700 books freely available (1982-2004) to the public.

Not the most attractive of subjects but Find A Grave lists 112 million grave records, including the location of the graves of famous people. 

The Goodspeed Manuscript Collection covers 68 New Testament manuscripts and 114 papyri fragments dating from the 5th to the 19th C.

The papers of Philip M. Klutznick, a Jewish community leader in Chicago.

The Rose & Chess site covers two medieval manuscripts Le Roman de la Rose and Le Jeu des échecs moralisé, both produced ca. 1365 in France by the so-called “Master of Saint Voult”. These are two illuminated manuscripts, one a courtly romance, and the other a treatise on medieval society using the game of chess as a framework.

In addition to these specialised source the University of Chicago also has a large-scale digitised archive, providing search functions across the papers of a range of people ranging from a governor of New York, an early civil engineer, a philologist, and a Spanish author. However dded to this collection you can also find a manuscript collection of American recipes, a collection on Chicago crime between 1909-1927, an array of material about Abraham Lincoln, and a collection on the history of science between 1642-1961.

Tufts University has an ongoing digital library project, which includes a number of local topics, a searchable collection of US election returns for 1785-1825, and the Perseus Digital Library Project. This digital library, under development since 1985, covers a variety of resources including the history, literature and culture of the Greco-Roman world. In addition the Perseus site at Tufts also hosts additional resources on early modern English, the American Civil War, Italian poetry in Latin, documents in Old Norse, and customized reading support for Arabic language.

The American Museum of Natural History has built a special sub-site for Darwin providing access to a searchable catalogue of Darwin’s manuscripts.

The Lincoln Digital Archives is scanning the entire contents of the past president’s administration, including 14 million federal records covering the US Civil War (1861-1865).

Engines of Our Ingenuity are the recordings and transcripts of a US-based public radio program started in 1988 that talks about how our culture is formed by human creativity. Not the most user-friendly of sites, but it looks to be a very rich collection, e.g. there are nearly 3,000 transcripts on topics ranging from the Jacquard loom, through crossing the Atlantic under steam, to “Taking Champagne to the Masses”. There is a search function, so you can look up things like Kurt Gödel (episode 1899), Schrödinger’s Cat (episode 347), the Bohr-Einstein debates (episode 2627) and adult stem cells (episode 2108).

The Oyez project provides access US Supreme Court audio recordings from Oct. 1955 (before 1968 the audio collection is selective). To date they have 7,000 hours of recordings.

The California Digital Library is a combined resources for the University of California. For example Calisphere is a free public gateway to primary sources offering more than 200,000 digitised items (usually with an educational objective). Calisphere provides access to classroom local history material for the period 1780-1970’s, it provides access to Japanese American Relocation Digital Archive, and to more than 500 university Websites (e.g. Museum of Paleontology, the Cuniform Initiative, Oceanographic expeditions, and the DeCou collection of 10,000 hand-tinted glass lantern slides).

The Visible Human Project from US National Library of Medicine produced “a complete, anatomically detailed, three-dimensional representations of the male and female human body made up of more than 18,000 digitised sections. The project consists of two parts, image sources and animations, and applications for viewing the image collection. For example the GigaPan Time Machine shows a zoomable scan through the a male and female body. There is also a guided tour, and the Voxel-Man site has a 3D navigator for the inner organs. The viewing applications include a real-time slice navigator, a radiologic anatomy atlas viewer, a Voxel browser, as well as educational applications. At a more general level there has been much work over the last 10 years on the Living Human Project and Virtual Physiological Human, and this second site links to numerous EU-funded projects.

The Archives of American Art is (now) a Smithsonian Institution for the collection and preservation of the history of visual arts in America.

ArtLex is an art dictionary and is home to more than 3,600 terms used in the fields of art and visual culture.

Global Museum is site for museum professionals covering resources, jobs, and studies.

HighWire list free online full-text articles on the sciences. As of 2015 it hosts more than 2.5 million full-text articles, and points to at least 118 completely free sites, with 292 sites providing access to free back issues (as well as another 1,300 pay per view sites).

Penn State is typical of many universities in that it has a e-resources page covering topics from African Studies to Veterinary Medicine. Each provides links to useful resources, and is as such a digital library. In many cases the source documents are in fact behind a subscription wall, but you can never the less see the journal titles, etc. and this can help if you want to delve more deeply into a subject.

Another example is the subject link page of the University of California San Diego, which goes from aerospace engineering to urban studies and planning.

These two last entries are there to show that university resource pages (particularly in the US) can be good places to start if you want to research an “academic-style” topic.