Friday, August 17, 2007

Library of Congress Global Gateway

Stack of books

The Library of Congress Global Gateway is a publicly accessible digital library, offering more than 80 thousand digital items in both English and native languages. It is a portal to international research centers, collections, and other resources available at the Library of Congress and through its website.

Introduced in 2000, Global Gateway includes collaborations with Bibliothèque Nationale de France; the National Library of the Netherlands; the Russian State Library, the National Library of Russia, and other libraries located in Siberia; the National Library of Spain; and the National Library of Brazil. Each project is funded by the foreign library involved, as well as the Library of Congress. The bilingual, multimedia presentations at Global Gateway focus on documenting ties between these countries and American culture.

For example, the collaborative digital libraries include expositions like The Atlantic World: America and the Netherlands; France In America; Meeting of Frontiers: Siberia, Alaska, and the American West; Parallel Histories: Spain, the United States, and the American Frontier; and United States and Brazil: Expanding Frontiers, Comparing Cultures.

Their digital collections converging on history and cultures from around the world include Cuneiform Tablets: From the Reign of Gudea of Lagash to Shalmanassar III, Islamic Manuscripts from Mali, the Kraus Collection of Sir Francis Drake, the Lewis Carroll Scrapbook, Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States, and Selections from the Naxi Manuscript Collection.

In their Research Guides and Databases division, users can access country studies, the Handbook of Latin American Studies, the Global Legal Information Network, the Vietnam-Era POW/MIA Database, and the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission Database.

Additionally, the Library of Congress has archive and library catalogs and user guides for foreign destinations, as well as advice from reference specialists concerning research services and facilities and requirements for use. Users can access information through Area Studies divisions for international collections. Similarly, Portals to the World provides access to digital information of country profiles.

Through Global Gateway, the Library of Congress promotes their holdings, encourages better access through digitization, and forges important ties between foreign libraries. The intended audience of these collections is researchers, especially those traveling internationally. Before they arrive at their destinations, they can learn what resources are available to better plan their studies.

Global Gateway’s web presentations summarize and highlight their respective themes without overwhelming the user with myriad primary sources (Library). However,
some collections exist as primary resources, such as the Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States, which is helpful for genealogical, historical and sociological research because it includes the signatures of nearly one-sixth of the population of Poland in 1926 (Lamolinara).

Some Global Gateway collections were created when the Library of Congress requested proposals in 2002 for the digital conversion of underutilized or unknown collections whose use and popularity would increase if they were available online (Language). By offering digital representations of materials of interest, the originals remain archived, available only if researchers must examine them in person. In the case of ancient Arabic calligraphy manuscripts with pages that have been dispersed throughout the world, the online representations of the pages will encourage other institutions to digitalize their collections allowing researchers to reconstruct the manuscripts (Language).

Global Gateway also makes extremely rare collections available online. For instance, Selections from the Naxi Manuscript Collection presents the writing of a Chinese minority with the only living pictographic language in the world. When their priests die, the ceremonial books containing these writings are buried or burned, making them exceptionally rare (Words). Now they are offered online to interested parties.

My criticism of the project is that its focus is on the interests of the United States, rather than having an international focus. However, Global Gateway is explicit about this concentration in their collection description. Global Gateway, along with American Memory, is a forerunner for the World Digital Library project announced in 2005. With three million dollars from Google, World Digital Library builds upon previous digitization projects to “celebrat[e] the depth and uniqueness of different cultures in a single global undertaking” (Fineberg). This new project will have a much needed, international scope.

Global Gateway differs from traditionally libraries or archives because the collections have been curated by librarians. Instead of offering indexed primary and secondary sources for researchers, Global Gateway created comprehensive, edited collections for the maximum usefulness. However, it is a “real” digital library as defined by our readings. It is a managed collection of information, with associated services, where the information is stored in digital formats and accessible over a network (Arms).

Global Gateway will continue to be useful to researchers for many years to come, and its success has encouraged larger digital projects by the Library of Congress and other foreign libraries.

Works Cited

Arms, W. Y. (2000). Digital libraries. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 15.

Fineberg, G. (2006). Promoting transcultural understanding: Librarian proposes World Digital Library. [Electronic version]. Library of Congress Information Bulletin, 65, 1

Lamolinara, G. (24 March 2005). Selected volumes of “Polish Declarations of
Admiration and Friendship for the United States” now online. [Electronic version]. Library of Congress News Releases.

Library of Congress. (2006). Language of beauty and meaning: Ancient Arabic
calligraphy available online [Electronic version]. Library of Congress Information Bulletin, 65, 9

Library of Congress. (2005). Library of Congress and National Library of France launch joint web site [Electronic version]. Library of Congress Information Bulletin, 64, 5

Library of Congress. (2004). Words of the Naxi: Rare pictographic Chinese writings available online. [Electronic version]. Library of Congress Information Bulletin, 63, 9

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