Digital libraries available to the public online
Perhaps the best-kept secret in all of Cyberspace is that in actuality, Virtual Reality plays the role of sole host for literally hundreds of virtual libraries and e-archives. Such data-rich domains run a full gambit from university-sponsored sites, to accredited online schools, to individual contributions, to official government data repositories. Most of these platforms are "open access," meaning digital formatted data therein are freely accessible and viewable by the public.
Despite specific content subject matter, format, site operator(s) or sponsor(s), or size, all above-described reserves fall into just a handful of general categories that include:
As the label suggests, this category of digital online libraries contain geo-specific data such as historical backgrounds of various states and local municipalities. Regional culture development and character are also commonly included data subjects.
Although each localized data library offers its own unique benefit(s) to researchers, a major caveat to keep firmly in mind at all times is that many states and localities label their e-collections as "archives," when in fact, practically all sources contained therein are secondary. Prime examples are books and transcribed audio data as opposed to digital images of the actual source document(s). Nonetheless, localized online library collections are extremely valuable to genealogical researchers and regional history buffs.
Selections within this category are primarily compiled from U.S. academic sources. However, other types of library projects, especially government and overseas collaborators are typically included. Prime examples of larger online library collections include but are not by any means limited to the following:
Alexandria Digital Library (ADL) is a distribution digital library that contains georeferenced materials like maps, aerial photos and remote satellite data. ADL is funded by UC, Santa Barbara.
Ryhiner Map Collection is comprised of over 16,000 charts, maps, graphs, plans and 16th to 18th-centry views that capture the entire globe. Combined with 20,000 manuscript maps, site sponsor Canton of Berne owns both localized and globalized geographical memorabilia.
The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is located on the Bethesda, MD campus of the National Institutes of Health and is the biggest medical library in the world. Its digital collection includes extensive data and research resources in every healthcare and biomedical discipline.
The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is an online digital library open source project launched in 1999 to develop a comprehensive database of library reserves and natural history collections. Its first significant project focused on the Museum's Cargo Expedition from 1909 to 1915.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) maintains extensive involvements in scientific, mathematics, technology and engineering disciplines. NSF also funded EDL as a collections project of the National SMETE Digital Library (NSDL).
The National Science Digital Library: NSDL is America's online library for scientific, engineering, technology and mathematics education and research. Access to most NSDL resources is free of charge, but a few content suppliers require separate logins, a modest fee or subscription to retrieve certain resources.
The Berkeley Digital Library (Berkeley SunSITE) is a digital collections developer and supportive service provider for other digital library developments worldwide. SunSite also stores publicly accessible documentary data such as that contained within its Bancroft Library with topics like the Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives (JARDA) and links to external libraries such as the U.S. Office of Accounting and Budgeting (OAG)...
Center for Digital Initiatives (CDI) is the collective title of Brown University's digital collections, all of which are derived from their respective signature collections, including African-American sheet music from 1820-1920), Lincoln broadsides, Napoleonic satirical prints created between 1792 and 1829, and much more. All CDI materials are open access.
The Internet Public Library (IPL) is hosted by Drexel iSchool's College of Information Science and Technology, with major backing by Florida State's College of Information (FSCI) and its founder, University of Michigan's School of Information. IPL collections offer an educational environment with subject-based and specialty collections, as well as conventional tools available at brick-and-mortar libraries.
Harvard University's Open Collections Program (HU - OCP) contains information pertaining to landmark projects like 'Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930,' and 'Women Working, 1800-1930.' HU-OCP also features direct links to Harvard's entire Web accessible collections.
Smithsonian Digital Library (SDL) contains data that range from annual financial reports, to trade publications and affords researchers, students and teachers readily accessible supplemental materials that may be required for research projects.
eTexts and eBooks
Below is a brief partial list of digitized text and graphics file online resources that contain virtually no other type of resources like photos or audio content.
Digital Library of the Commons (DLC) provides a gateway to international literature on the commons. DLC's website features an author-submission portal; archive of full-text articles, papers and dissertations. Other notable on-site assets are the Comprehensive Bibliography of the Commons; a Keyword Thesaurus and outbound links to reference sources relevant to study of the commons. A recently compiled online photograph collection adds a perfect finishing touch.
Google Book Search (GBS) is growing continuously, with well in excess of 100,000 user-supplied titles and an additional 10,000 public-domain works that are indexed and listed in search query results. GBS also permits free download of public domain and copyright-expired works in .pdf format.
Oxford Text Archive (OTA) is widely regarded as the oldest primary academic resource digital archive. OTA contains thousands of e-texts and primary academic source materials. OTA also holds extensive lexis corpora in widely diverse languages. An e-Bible is among OTA's more prominent standard reference holdings.
All links listed below provide far more research-centric information with a wide variety of subjects and feature directed search capability to assist users with accessing those resources.
Digital Library Federation Collections Registry (DLFCR). Many pleasant surprises await most first-time visitors to DLFCCR's virtual domain, including and especially an online searchable database containing almost 300 public domain online digital collections.
DLFCR is a collaborative project by a consortium of libraries and related organizations that have pioneered electronic IT as a means of extending their scope of service offers and collections volume.
Library Without Walls (LWL) patrons actually utilize Los Alamos National Laboratory digital technology to access a treasure trove of scientific and technical resources across the world at any time - without leaving their PC desktops.
A tough act to follow
As the above partial listing should vividly illustrate, public libraries just a'int what they used to be. That observation has positive connotations in this case, however. Just as one should never judge a book by its cover, it is now foolhardy to judge digital libraries by their URLs or official titles. Thus, this writer's only parting word of advice is, "Don't knock it 'til you try it."