Digital Public Library of America opens
April 22, 2013
by Mark Ollig

Over 20 years ago, the goal was to have a national online library anyone could access. It would be a large-scale, digital public library database where information and knowledge could be easily accessible and navigable, by everyone with an Internet connection.

This vision has been the focus and goal of many individuals and groups over the years.

Today, we have websites such as the Internet Archive, which stores (for future reference) historical and publicly uploaded content, and archives screenshots of web pages.

We also have online access to the government’s national library; we know it as the Library of Congress, which catalogs our country’s historical items of significance.

When researching a subject, how many of us are in the habit of automatically choosing to perform a Google query, and then sorting out the numerous links we find?

I, too, have my hand raised, as well.

We now have a new choice.

It’s called the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).

“I think we are going to have a lot better descriptions that won’t come through in a Google search,” said Dan Cohen, executive director, Digital Public Library of America. “It will be a far superior experience,” he added.

The DPLA can be thought of as a “search portal for researchers,” said Cohen.

An advantage of conducting research using DPLA is having access to information submitted by local museums and historical societies which was previously stored only on their local computer hard drives. These hard drives were inaccessible from the Internet thus their information would not be found using a Google search.

Today, a brand-new, richly-detailed source of information is available for us to explore.

Access to this growing library of information and knowledge is now available from the newly opened DPLA website located at http://dp.la.

DPLA states its mission is “to make the cultural and scientific heritage of humanity available, free of charge, to all.”

I came across an article in The Economic Times, where Cohen pointed out how DPLA can be used by researchers and students as a primary source of information, versus using Wikipedia.

“Wikipedia is a secondary source, but we are going to have the stuff . . . but I think Wikipedia will be a great partner,” he said.

According to Cohen, DPLA will have, “the full array of materials including music, photography, all kinds of art and manuscripts.”

April 18, the first phase of the DPLA and its vast collection of more than two million items of interest became available online to the public.

Using an Internet connection, anyone can freely browse the digital copies of historical photographs, cultural and scientific records, documents, and the audio and video anthologies provided by the libraries, universities, and museum galleries located all across the country.

The world’s largest museum, the Smithsonian Institution, will serve as one of the digital content hubs for DPLA.

Other content hubs include the New York Public Library, the National Archives, Harvard Library, Biodiversity Heritage Library, and Artstor.

Minnesota will also be playing a role in the Digital Public Library of America.

The 133 Internet link resources from the Minnesota Digital Library’s county and state museums, libraries, foundations, historical centers and society websites will be providing digital content to the DPLA’s repository.

The Minnesota Digital Library will also be digitizing its special collections, making them searchable through the DPLA.

One example of a DPLA exhibit includes American Indian culture in Minnesota.

Outreach and education on how to access the DPLA’s resources in local communities, along with supporting digitized oral histories, will be financed in part via funding received from the National Endowments for the Humanities, and the Knight Foundation.

The Minnesota Digital Library is a program of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, and the University of Minnesota. It is located at http://www.mndigital.org.

In addition to the general public, DPLA’s content will be available “with no new restrictions, via a service available to libraries, museums, and archives in the United States, where use and reuse is governed only by public law,” read a statement from the DPLA’s principles for technical development wiki.

“Special features will include a dynamic map, a timeline that allow users to visually browse by year or decade, and an app library that provides access to applications and tools created by external developers using DPLA’s open data,” stated the DPLA.

“A national digital system could help early childhood literacy and other learning, a prerequisite if students are to live up to their full potentials as learners, citizens, and future workers,” said Dr. Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.

“We are bringing together the richest of America’s archives and museums, and making them easily searchable for teachers, scholars, journalists and others,” said Cohen.

We now have access to the first phase of a centralized, digital public library which contains information contributed from thousands of national, state, county, and local databases.

I hope you take time and visit the online Digital Public Library of America.

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