Since September 11, there has been heightened interest in access to international information, especially about certain countries. While the Library of Congress (LC) is rightfully regarded as the fundamental national repository of information, with more than half of its book and serials collections in languages other than English, LC is also a major international research resource. In addition to collecting international sources, it has now taken on the role of guiding users to carefully selected Internet resources for international research. On November 1, LC announced the launch of its new online international project called Portals to the World, a guide to Internet resources dealing with countries and regions around the globe.
Portals to the World (http://www.loc.gov/rr/international/portals.html) offers links to selective and authoritative electronic resources, arranged by country or geographic regions. According to LC, each country portal is designed to be comprehensive yet selective, and to cover topics of interest to specialists and the general public alike. Currently, the site links to resources for 41 countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, and other Central Asian nations. As of late November, the site did not yet include resources for Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria, and several others from the Middle East. When the project is completed in 2003, there will be a portal page for every nation of the world.
Typical categories for each nation are business, commerce, economy, culture, education, government, politics, law, history, libraries, and archives, with some categories tailored to subjects of particular importance for the study of individual nations. In some cases, search engines local to that nation or language have also been included, as have links to worldwide organizations, such as the World Bank and UNESCO. The Portal pages also link to the country information in the CIA World Factbook (http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook), which provides a good supplement.
Portals to the World is a work in progress. The number of categories and the amount of information for the countries vary considerably. Some of the links don't always work as they should. But overall the project is definitely valuable and should prove increasingly useful as the pages are developed.
The resources were selected by area specialists and other library staff using LC selection criteria. Preference was given to noncommercial sites, primarily those generated by organizations that can be reasonably expected to maintain them over a period of time. Selected sites are predominantly in English, but access to non-English sites is expected to increase.
"Portals to the World serves as a kind of one-stop shopping for reliable international information," said Carolyn T. Brown, LC's assistant librarian for library services and acting director of area studies collections. "We expect that it will become one of the very first places that librarians, researchers, and the general public turn to for information about the nations of the world."
The Portals to the World project is just one piece of the larger "International Resources from the Library of Congress" (http://www.loc.gov/rr/international). Others include the "Gateways to the World," which are the 21 reading rooms of LC that provide a wealth of international information and a series of special international guides created by LC.
If you haven't visited the Library of Congress home page lately, you might want to spend some time to become familiar with what's now offered. While you might be aware of the American Memory project (which, by the way, now offers over 7 million digital items from more than 100 historical collections), the LC's addition of numerous, diverse digital collections is quite impressive. My hat is off to those responsible for these digitizing and dissemination efforts.
For example, the Meeting of Frontiers is a bilingual, multimedia English-Russian digital library that tells the story of the American exploration and settlement of the West, the parallel exploration and settlement of Siberia and the Russian Far East, and the meeting of the Russian-American frontier in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. It is intended for use in U.S. and Russian schools and libraries and by the general public in both countries. The collection provides a mass of primary material, much of which has never been published or is extremely rare. It includes maps, photographs, manuscripts, film and sound recordings, and print. Meeting of Frontiers uses the technologies pioneered in the National Digital Library Program (initiated in 1995), which was one of the first large-scale efforts to use the Internet to disseminate high-quality educational and cultural content.
The Law Library of Congress also provides Nations of the World (http://www.loc.gov/law/guide/nations.html), which includes links to laws, regulations, and related legal resources for countries. The Global Legal Information Network (http://www.loc.gov/law/glin/GLINv1) also offers a searchable database of document summaries in English with links to the corresponding full text in the language of the country of origin.