The library is the heart of every learning institution; From elementary school to university, libraries provide a haven for students who need references for projects and homework. They are an extension of the school providing knowledge and a quiet space for learners to bridge the gaps in their education.
Traditional libraries usually contain volumes of encyclopedias, books, and periodicals meticulously organized under the Dewey Decimal System. Only a few years ago, libraries had the physical card catalog where borrowers have to sort through alphabetically organized series of index cards containing the title of the book, author and subject. Stern, obsessive compulsive librarians would shush boisterous students and severely reprimand anyone for showing the least sign of disrespect towards a book. Libraries like books, music and almost everything else are now making a radical change of moving into the virtual world.
Virtual libraries are websites and web portals containing catalogues of ebooks and archived media. They are resources that can be used as elearning tools for learners. Most of the virtual libraries on the web are websites of physical libraries. The contents however are limited and most of the time, the library only indicates the availability of the book you searched for and you are required to physically checkout the book. However, there are library portals where the contents are free and open.
The World Digital Library (WDL) is an online portal that consolidates library contents from the 6 continents. The project was headed by the US Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, with the participation of partner institutions in other countries. WDL is also supported by United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) with financial contributions from private foundations and businesses.
The service is free and open to the public. This virtual library aims to provide primary information on cultures and histories of different countries. The interface is available in multiple languages so it is accessible, even to non-English speaking online learners.
Just like any normal library, the World Digital Library can be an extension of the online schools. This is an extremely useful resource for online as well as traditional students with homework and projects. Unlike Wikipedia, the sources in the virtual library are credible; the materials came from previously published books, and various archived media.
Another free virtual library portal is the WWW Virtual Library or VL, for short. The library continuously grows in content and is now reportedly containing 300 sub-libraries. The main categories at this time are: Agriculture, Arts, Business and Economics, Communications and Media, Computing and Computer Science, Education, Engineering, Humanities, International Affairs, Law, Natural Science, Mathematics, Recreation, Regional Studies, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Society and Information and Libraries.
Virtual and online libraries are essential e-learning tools for online learners because the contents are checked by the organizations and institutions that created them. Relying on sites like Wikipedia can sometimes lead to erroneous information that may mislead students. Many people believe that if the information came from the internet, then it is automatically true. In actuality, a lot of information on the internet have been created without factual basis. Students have to be careful in choosing their sources and the virtual libraries are references they can rely on.
The world, indeed, is shrinking. Individual learning institutions from different countries contribute knowledge, virtual libraries are this generation’s answer to the great Alexandrian Library of the ancient world.