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World Wide Information: The Other Side of the Coin

by Kristin Bingham on Tue, March 29, 2011

Much has been written in this blog about  As regular readers well know, it is a global gateway to scientific and technical databases conceived, developed, and operated by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information. accelerates scientific discovery and technological progress by providing one-stop searching of enormous quantities of information published on behalf of governments from around the world.

Of course, the world’s information covers numerous topics other than science and technology.  For information about the cultures of the world, a particularly noteworthy virtual collection is theWorld Digital Library(WDL) developed and operated by the Library of Congress,which is the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscriptsin its collections.  It makes available on the Internet significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world.  The principal objectives of the WDL are to:

  • Promote international and intercultural understanding;
  • Expand the volume and variety of cultural content on the Internet;
  • Provide resources for educators, scholars, and general audiences;
  • Build capacity in partner institutions to narrow the digital divide within and between countries.

WorldWideScience and the World Digital Library are complementary, one focusing on science and technology and the other on culture.  They are both free of charge and open to everyone with Internet access.

One key service provided by both WorldWideScience and the World Digital Library is that they help to transcend language barriers.  However, their approaches to overcoming language barriers differ.  The World Digital Library generally offers its content in any of seven languages: English, Chinese, French, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic.  Each offering reflects the work of a human translator, as well as machine translation.

WorldWideScience serves speakers of nine languages: allowing the user to access documents in the original language, or to obtain an almost instaneous translation of the document in a different language English, Chinese, French, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, and German, with Arabic to be added in June.  It is designed to provide information tailored to the search needs of users, so, by necessity, its translations are done on the fly.  Thus, WorldWideScience offers only machine translation.  The translation is provided by Microsoft and works reasonably well, allowing the reader to invariably get at a minimum the gist of the sentence.  It is not uncommon, however, for the translation to be less than smooth reading of the original language.  While machine translation has made enormous progress in recent years, no one suggests that it is perfect.  Just because you start with Solzhenitsyn in Russian, it is unrealistic to expect Hemingway in English.

Both WorldWideScience and the World Digital Library are growing.  Because their underlying architectures differ, their growth rates differ.  Because WorldWideScience uses federated search, its growth is the sum of additions made by the 74 countries whose databases comprise WorldWideScience.  The growth of the World Digital Library depends upon the additions made by the Library of Congress itself.

 Since both websites contain worldwide multilingual information, it is only logical for us to collaborate and share our information to the extent practicable.  One area of common interest is the history of science.  Organizations which are part of WorldWideScience, like OSTI, are repositories for science.  The World Digital Library has begun a project to encourage access to key items from the history of science. 

Thus, OSTI is in the process of providing particularly historic items from the Manhattan Project to the World Digital Library.  Two items are being submitted, both written by Nobel Laureate Enrico Fermi, who was among the world’s greatest nuclear physicists.  It was Fermi who led the first demonstration of a nuclear chain reactionin December 1942 in the world’s first nuclear reactor.  One of the items OSTI is submitting to the World Digital Library is Fermi’s own account of this project.  

The motivation behind Fermi’s work in 1942 was the development of atomic weapons for World War II.  Immediately following the conclusion of the War, it became apparent that atomic technology might well have important peaceful applications, specifically the generation of electricity.  In 1946, Fermi laid out his vision for nuclear power, which, from this vantage point 65 years later, seems remarkably prescient.

No doubt, the future will hold additional opportunities for cooperation and collaboration between WorldWideScience and the World Digital Library.

Kristin Bingham




Page last updated on 2016-04-25 08:13

About the Author

Kristin Bingham's picture
Kristin Bingham
Former Information Program Specialist