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Purpose – Together, increasing globalization and the internet created fertile grounds for the establishment of multilingual digital libraries. Providing cross-lingual access to materials is of particular interest to political entities such as the European Union, which currently has 23 official languages, but also to multinational companies and countries that have different languages represented among their citizens. The main objective of this paper is to review the literature on multilingual digital libraries and provide an overview of this area.

Design/methodology/approach – Based on a thorough literature search in four different databases, a core set of literature on multilingual digital libraries was retrieved. Literature on various aspects of this topic was reviewed. The paper is organized based on emerging themes directly drawn from the literature. Where warranted additional literature is brought in to provide necessary background information or clarification.

Findings – Creating a multilingual digital library is a highly complex undertaking and typically requires a collaborative effort between different organizations and people with different areas of expertise. Enabling users to search across languages requires translation resources to cross the language barrier, which can be challenging depending on the language and resource availability. Additional challenges were found to be in data management (localization and language processing), representation (dealing with different fonts and character codes), development (creating international software, cross-cultural collaboration), and interoperability (system architecture and data sharing). Research in multilingual digital libraries was mostly system based involving experimental systems or system prototypes.

Research limitations/implications – Most likely the literature review does not include all possible journal articles on multilingual digital libraries even though the literature searches done to obtain these articles were thorough and deliberate. Journal articles without the descriptors used in this search and those articles not indexed in the four different databases used in the search will not be included here. The review excludes cross-language information retrieval research unless it is directly related to existing multilingual digital libraries, or a connection to digital libraries in general is made in the paper itself.

Originality/value – This paper provides the first literature review on the topic of multilingual digital libraries and provides a concise overview of relevant aspects in this area. The number of multilingual digital libraries is growing, as is the interest from the research community in these libraries to apply their research findings from cross-language information retrieval. This review article provides a valuable entry point to the field of multilingual digital libraries for researchers, practitioners, and other interested parties.


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Publication made available electronically on Digital Commons on April 2, 2012.



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