10 amazing online libraries

When you think of the library, what do you think of? For most people, the association is books. At its most stereotypical, a library is a brick building with rows and rows of books.

Collection of online libraries

In honor of National Library Week, we’re breaking that stereotype by introducing 10 spectacular online libraries that are managing important historic and cultural digital assets. The theme this year is “Unlimited possibilities @ your library” and nothing illustrates that better than digital collections around the world that you can access from your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

We’ve included libraries that cover diverse topics and have open access for users, so you won’t need a password or account to look at the materials. We viewed each site with the mindset of a “library browser”, as if we just stepped in off the street to see what they have.

Alright, enough of the chitchat. It’s time for 10 amazing online libraries.

Library of Congress

Digital archive Library of CongressStarting big with the digital collection of the largest library in the world, the United States Library of Congress. The library has 225 digital collections, with the number of digital assets in each collection ranging anywhere from tens to tens of thousands of images, recordings, and documents.

Many collections are broken down into sub-collections. For example, “American Voices” categorizes assets by keywords and spotlights a few collections. There are so many interesting materials here, you can (and should) be prepared to spend some time poking around.

Smithsonian Digital Library

Digital archive SmithsonianThe Smithsonian is known for their spectacular exhibits, and their digital collection lives up to the reputation. They split their digital collection into books, collections, and exhibitions. As a general rule it seems that groups of materials are hosted on unique pages or websites and linked to the Smithsonian digital portal.

The exhibition listings link to pages that not only host digital assets related to current and past physical exhibitions, but also include facts and background about the topic. A great all-around educational site.

The British Library

Digital archive The British LibraryAnother mammoth international library boasting millions of digitally archived photos, manuscripts, web pages, and rich media files. For direct access to their digital collections, head to the online gallery. It offers lots of interesting options for the casual browser, giving site visitors an experience similar to browsing the shelves of their favorite library.

The British Library has great interactive elements as well, including the ability to make personal galleries, zoomable images that allow you to see tiny details, resources correlated with Google maps, and page-turning virtual books with translation.


Digital archive Arkiv.dkApologies that this site is 100% Danish. You can get by with the English translation via Google if bad grammar doesn’t deter you.  It had to be included for its slick user interface, interesting collections, and the fact that it just launched in February with a little under two million digital assets like documents, letters, photos, sounds recordings, and videos.

Since then the archive has added nearly 25,000 items a month to the collection and plans to continue doing so, making the massive system popular with researchers and genealogists.

New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives

Digital archive New York PhilharmonicThis highly specific, fascinating archive includes material dating back to the New York Philharmonic’s first concert in 1842. Assets include performance reports, digital copies of 10,000 printed programs, marked scores, and photographs.

The collection is currently accessed primarily by search at this point, but their highlighted materials are a rich look inside the amazing collection. In the video below, they show how related items are grouped together, giving viewers a robust and “unparalleled research experience.”


Digital archive TateThe internationally renowned art gallery Tate has four physical locations in Great Britain, the largest and most well-known being the Tate Modern in London, England. They have one digital collection that can be found in the “Art & Artists” tab on the website. The archive categorizes items as complete artworks, documents, sketches, photographs, and notebooks and diaries.

The site is a fantastic collection of some of Britain’s most important art pieces, and the well-organized site gives you the opportunity to browse current exhibitions, curated collections, or search by artist or style.


Digital archive McGill UniversityMcGill University in Montréal, Québec, Canada is a highly accomplished, highly respected university, so it should come as no surprise that the online branch of the McGill Library is an interesting and well-organized digital library.

Materials are organized by exhibition, collection, and text and are also searchable by thumbnail. The presentation of each digital asset is a no-frills, clickable experience that clearly displays the image with an expanded view of historical details.

University of Wisconsin Digital Collections

Digital archive University of Wisconsin Digital CollectionsLaunched in 2000, the University of Wisconsin Digital Collection has grown to match the international reputation of the university itself with a great collection of materials, learning resources, and news articles that highlights library resources pertinent to current events. Resources are “loosely organized” by keyword and in some cases grouped into collections.

One example is “Africa Focus: The sights and sounds of a continent.” The search function allows you to search for specific topics, otherwise, you are presented with several categorized options, including hundreds of audio recordings.

Duke University Libraries Digital Collections

Digital archive Duke UniversityNot really a surprise that a top-notch university like Duke would have a great digital collection, but we were definitely impressed with the dynamic organization of the site. It offers browsing options, blog posts, popular items and searches, and more. It feels like a destination more than a research site.

It’s unique on this list for the spectacular blog, which offers a look into the work of information science professional with posts like “When Mini Discs Recorded the Earth.”

Internet Archive

Digital archive Internet ArchiveEnding with a bang on the Internet Archive, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing free access to digital historical collections classified as web, text, video, audio, software, or image. In the true spirit of inclusivity, the Archive offers services to people with sight and other disabilities.

The collective is vast and deep, and offers some structure in addition to main classifications, with featured and top picks in each area. So dive into the only place on the internet where you can listen to the Grateful Dead, play old Sega Genesis games, and watch old news footage from one portal.


Thanks for following us around the world to look at some of the most interesting digital archives in the world and show how digital asset management goes far beyond the typical corporate aspects most people are familiar with. We’ve only scratched the surface of what’s out there and encourage you to embrace the unlimited possibilities of digital libraries. Happy National Library week!

Are we missing your favorite collection? Let us know in the comments!

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