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Overview: Digital Libraries: By Discipline

lady computerDigital collections can be found across content areas. From science collections that contain images of lichen specimens to art archives with scanned paintings, today's digital libraries much more than ebooks, ejournals, and streaming music.

Whether selecting digital content for creating your own collections or evaluating digital collections for inclusion in your digital library, it's important to consider the wide range of information that might meet the needs of information seekers.

Explore content collections in each of the following areas: agriculture, natural resources, environment and conservation; arts and humanities; biographical; business; education; historical periods and events; places; government, politics, and law; religion; science, technology, and health; social sciences

Agriculture and Natural Resources

Agriculture, farming, fisheries and wildlife, forestry and logging, mines and mineral resources, ranching, and water and water rights are a few of the topics found in digital collections. Environmental studies, activism, and conditions such as pollutions are categories within the environment and conservation area.

The Encyclopedia of Life is a huge digital co-sponsored by dozens of libraries, museums, universities, and other organizations.

Arts and Humanities

Architecture, fine arts, folklore, journalism, language and languages, literature, music, and performing arts are examples of digital collection topics.

danceDigital Collection Spotlight

Jerome Robbins Dance Division
from the The New York Public Library is the largest and most comprehensive dance archive in the world.

Contents: This collection focuses on primary sources related to dance including ballet, ethnic, modern, social, and folk.

Connections: Primary sources used in teaching history often explore topics related to conflict or war. Consider a unit on primary sources that examines materials such as dance scrapbooks, dance performance programs, oral histories, photographs, and video archives. These items provide a different perspective on the use of primary sources to learn about history.

Featured Digital Objects
African Dance - https://goo.gl/UcFD0R
Costume and Set Design - https://goo.gl/MOX87D
Dance Programs - https://goo.gl/xuNHih
Alvin Ailey’s Blue Suite - https://goo.gl/Bsk7wj
To visit the collection, go to https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/divisions/jerome-robbins-dance-division


Many digital collections focus on the works or materials of an individual such as an activist, artist, author, musician, politician, scholar, or sports figure. Many of these are special collections housed in universities where the individual's "papers" have been donated. These collections may also be found under the focus of their career such as music or military. Sometimes collections are developed for groups of individuals such as scientists or politicians.

darwinDigital Collection Spotlight

DARWIN ONLINE contains the largest collection of resources related to Darwin in the world.

Contents: The collection includes Darwin’s complete publications, private papers, manuscripts, and other materials.

Connections: From reading the origin texts to exploring his many diagrams, maps, and photographs, users will enjoy diving into the world of Charles Darwin. Use the materials along with the nonfiction narrative Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman to bring his works alive. Or, ask students to compare the graphic adaptation of On the Origin of Species by Michael Keller to the original text.

Featured Digital Objects:
Publications - http://darwin-online.org.uk/contents.html
Manuscripts - http://darwin-online.org.uk/manuscripts.html
Illustrations - http://darwin-online.org.uk/graphics/illustrations.html
To visit the collection, http://darwin-online.org.uk/.


Advertising and marketing, commerce, economics and banking, industry, labor unions and history, publishers and publishing, railroads, retail trade, ships and shipping, and transportation are topics found under the business category.

ad accesDigital Library Spotlight

from the Duke University Libraries contains thousands of advertisements.

: With over 7,000 U.S. and Canadian advertisements, this digital collection covered five product areas including beauty and hygiene, radio, television, transportation, and World War II propaganda from 1911 through 1955. Users can explore by company, product, date, publication, subject, medium, headline, or audience.

Connections: Users interested in advertising will find lots of examples to examine. Involve youth in exploring how advertising has changed over time. Ask students to compare historical advertising in their area of interest to today’s ads.

Featured Digital Objects
Air Travel ads - https://goo.gl/3E0Pln
Television set ads - https://goo.gl/PXY3nX
War Bonds ads - https://goo.gl/pJsBPF
To visit the collection, go to https://repository.duke.edu/dc/adaccess


Colleges and universities, elementary and secondary education, and student life fall under the education category.

Many digital collections provide access to lesson plans for educators.

teach engineeringDigital Collection Spotlight

contains engineering curriculum materials for K-12 educators.

Contents: Users can browse by unit, lesson, or activities. In addition, “sprinkles” are short, hands-on activities that can be explored. Teachers can also find the most popular choices, examine by grade level, explore by subject areas, or try living lab activities.

Connections: It can be difficult to find quality engineering lessons to address the STEM curriculum. This collection of teaching resources addresses this need.

Featured Digital Objects:
Sprinkles - https://goo.gl/3EBCqf
Living Labs - https://goo.gl/KRkefa
To visit the collection, https://www.teachengineering.org/


Some digital collections are specifically focused on a particular time period or event such as the Colonial America period, immigration period, or westward expansion.

Specific Time Periods

war of 1812Digital Collection Spotlight

WAR OF 1812 from Indiana University provides a wide range of digital objects related to the War of 1812.

Contents: This collection includes thousands of documents exploring the War of 1812 including materials from before the war, 1812, 1813, 1814, 1815, and after the war. For easy access, use the timeline, maps, or browse the collection.
Connections: History buffs will find this collection fascinating. Use this collection along with classroom resources such as the Thinkport Project at http://warof1812.thinkport.org and the Interactive Battlefield Map at http://1812battles.org. Ask youth to select key digital items that reflect the time period or provide insights into a particular place or event.

Featured Digital Objects
Declaration of War - https://goo.gl/vfk34f
Battle of Niagara Painting - https://goo.gl/qTEUEC
Battle of New Orleans News - https://goo.gl/AmzRJv
To visit the collection, go to http://collections.libraries.indiana.edu/warof1812/

History Collections


Some digital collections focus on a particular place such as an historic building, ranch, ghost town, or small town. The items in the collection are directly related to the particular place.

Politics, Government, and Law

City planning, civic activism, civil procedure and courts, civil rights, international relations, military, political campaigns, public finance, utilities, and works, and territorial government come under the politics, government, and law category.

Religion and Philosophy

Baha'i, Buddhism, Christianity, Catholicism, Confucianism, Druidism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Protestantism, Mormonism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, Wicca, and Zoroastrianism are categories used to classify digital collections.

Science, Technology, and Health

When people think about digital collections, they often overlook the many important science-related digital collections. Disease, health, medicine, mental health, science, and technology are useful categories for digital collections in this area.

The National Science Digital Library (NSDL) is a digital library containing collections and services funded by the National Science Foundation. Focusing on digital resources for use in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, it houses many digital collections.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine Digital Collections contains free online resource of biomedical books and videos.

The Health Education Assets Library (HEAL) is a digital library of multimedia teaching resources for the health sciences. HEAL provides access to tens of thousands of images, videoclips, animations, presentations, and audio files that support healthcare education.

The Medical Heritage Library is a large-scale collaborative project of the world's leading medical libraries.

The Neuro-Ophthalmology Virtual Education Library (University of Utah) is a discipline specific, open access repository of digital materials (images, video, lectures, articles and animations), to be used for educational and research purposes by health care professionals, educators, patients, and students.

Western Waters Digital Library provides access to a wide range of significant resources on water in the Western United States. 

The CIP (Critical Infrastructure Protection) Project is a digital archive focusing on the importance of protecting "the systems and structures that are vital to the smooth and safe functioning of our economy, society, and way of life" such as "country’s electrical grid, banking network, distribution pipelines, transportation corridors, and emergency response systems, among other things. Many of these systems are interdependent and rely on computer technology to operate." The oral history project including key documents as well as oral histories.

Looking for more examples? ECHO: Exploring and Collecting History Online is a directory of more than 5000 websites focusing on the history of science, technology, and industry. While not all of these sites contain digital libraries or collections, most do. In addition to browsing by subject, users can also locate websites by historic period or content/material type.

macauayDigital Collection Spotlight

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Contents: Bird lovers will enjoy this large digital collection focusing on bird sounds, photos, and videos. Users can conduct a keyword search for birds and other animals of interest. They can also explore by species, region, or hotspot. The spectrogram player is of particular interest.
Connections: Users seeking information about birds will find this to be a valuable resource. Students will particularly enjoy the many videos and bird sounds.
Featured Digital Objects:
Killdeer https://goo.gl/3KEEs2
Great Horned Owl https://goo.gl/PLltAC
To visit the collection, go to https://macaulaylibrary.org.

Social Sciences

Some collections have a focus related to social life such as city and town life, clubs and societies, fashion, home and family, media and communication, parks and playgrounds, rural life, sexuality, social classes, or sports and recreation. A may also focus on the experience of a particular group or subgroup within society such as women, African Americans, GLBT.

For many more project examples, go to

afghanDigital Collection Spotlight

from New York University Libraries contains historical publications reflecting cultural heritage.

Contents: This collection focuses on preserving the cultural heritage of Afghan publications from 1871 through 1930.

Connections: When exploring world history, it’s useful for students to see primary sources from around the global Although students won’t be able to read most of the texts, they can see what these works looked like and the importance of communication during the time periods represented.

Featured Digital Objects:
Afghan Progress https://goo.gl/DWjvxY
History of Aryana Club https://goo.gl/a4isCR
To visit the collection, go to http://afghanistandl.nyu.edu/.

try itTry It!
Select one of the major categories and explore the digital collections within this area. How are the collections alike and different? Think about a school, public, academic, or special library where you live. What type of digital collection could they produce?

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