Digital libraries

It’s midnight on a Tuesday and you’d like to learn something about Italian opera, or read some interesting poetry or a detective novel. But - on Tuesday at midnight (or during a pandemic, summer holidays, or other exceptional situations), a person can’t make it to a library. In these situations, you can use something called a digital library or digital repository.  

Simply speaking, this is a place where you can access digital documents and work with them. And, as you’ll find out, they actually offer much more than closed libraries.  

If we were to delve into theory, the goal of digital repositories (gamers or Linux users also know this phrase very well) is to archive digital artifacts and make it possible to search a bit and download something from them. Gamers download their favorite games on Steam this way, but you can also download books or other documents as well. We’ve already written about some of them in the Where to look for e-books module, so now we can have a look at some other interesting sources. You probably won’t use all of them, but some will certainly come in handy.  

The first group of interesting repositories are musical (audio) - if you want to add audio to your video, make a film or podcast, or just want to relax, you’ll definitely appreciate places like Freesound, Freesoundeffects, Findsounds or Soundrangers. In these sound banks, you can find sounds that are free for download and further processing. A normal library certainly doesn’t offer this and the selection is quite broad and interesting.  

Similarly useful are photo banks, which are quite sophisticatedly designed repositories of photographs and other images. If you’re making a website, a school presentation or anything else, these materials are priceless. Recommended classic photo banks are ones like the free-to-use Unsplash, Pixbay, Gratisography or Pexels. Various icons can also be handy and can be found at sites like Flaticon, IconArchive or icons8. Once again, this is something that you won’t find in a regular library.  

If for some reason you want to find a certain master’s thesis (maybe you’re interested in what your teachers wrote theirs on), you can try your luck on Theses. Not everything is there, but a large portion of master’s theses from Czech universities can be found here - either in full text version or at least some basic information about them (like the topic of the thesis, annotations, etc.). As you can probably guess, it’s a great tool if you’re a reporter and you want to see what a certain politician wrote about. And whether they weren’t plagiarizing. Then you can add to this, but that’s another story entirely.   

If the subject of your interest is something like business, or you want to learn something about a certain company, you should definitely try NUŠL – National Repository of Grey Literature. Normal libraries have books and periodicals that are published officially. But things like master’s theses, annual reports (if they don’t have an ISBN), fliers or information on conferences can’t be found there. NUŠL is great at this. You won’t always be successful here - and no one is - but it’s a great resource for many situations. For example, the Moravian Gallery in Brno publishes its annual reports here, which can make for interesting reading.  

We’re now making our way to traditional digital libraries. These should be able to do the same things as repositories, but they can also offer various additional functions for their collections. As you’ll probably find, the borders between them are never completely clear, but a few interesting tools can come in handy.  

The World Digital Library is a place you certainly shouldn’t miss - it’s administered together by the Library of Congress and UNESCO. You’ll find around 20,000 carefully selected items from 8,000 BC up to the year 2000. This is a selection of the most important written heritage, and it’s packaged into a beautiful graphic design. The diligent descriptions of the works and filtering options according to the topics or time you’re interested in are also useful.  

Open Library is a part of the Archive. It offers 26,000 items in full text and others for viewing. Its lists or collections that work according to the reader’s age or topic are very nice. If you can’t find a book in its full version here, you can have a look elsewhere on the internet. Probably the best source of “pirated” books in English is LibGen (downloading isn’t illegal in the Czech Republic, distribution is), and Uložto is still the largest for Czech titles. However, Open Library offers really nice tools for you to select what you’d like to read.  

UDL is a library that offers very interesting books in their original languages and fields - the basis of the fund is in Chinese, Arabic and Hindi, but you can also naturally finds publications in English or languages like Telugu or Urdu. An ideal method is searching according to topic and then focusing on individual exotic sources.  

In conclusion, we’d also like to mention some Czech projects. Digitální knihovna strives to offer searches in digitized books and other publications from various libraries in one place. A competing project with a slightly nicer interface is the Czech Digital Library, where you can find all Czech digitized publications (theoretically), but also look through manuscripts and old maps with the click of a button. Have you ever held the real Hus manuscript in your hands? It doesn’t make for great reading for most of us, but the experience is priceless.


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The Europeana digital library organizes the GIF It Up competition in gif creation from digitized cultural heritage, and you can take part in it too! Source: GIPHY.. 

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