By Becky Froelich
What if you could visit each of the nation’s most prestigious libraries and museums within seconds?
It’s now possible—at least, virtually.
After years in the works, the Digital Public Library of America (www.dp.la) launched in April 2013. It offers an enormous database knowledge, collected from the earliest written records to most modern films. This treasure trove is also free and easy to access.
The DPLA is the brainchild of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, which researches Internet legal issues as well as the web’s impact on modern culture. The idea of a national digital library first percolated in the 1990s, according to the DPLA website, but DPLA advocates didn’t begin the planning process until 2010.
Soon after, the DPLA’s Steering Committee was formed, and this group, along with hundreds of librarians, academics, museum curators, Internet activists and technologists, found unlikely common ground in what the DPLA’s aim should be: “to create an open, distributed network of comprehensive online resources that would draw on the nation’s living heritage from libraries, universities, archives, and museums in order to educate, inform, and empower everyone in current and future generations.”
Unlike Google Books, another online record of the written word, the DPLA is operated through philanthropy rather than as forprofit corporation.
“It became clear, as Google’s project evolved, that it would be a commercial enterprise, and in fact an enterprise attached to a gigantic monopoly … a monopoly, perhaps, with the best intentions, but that would not necessarily serve the public good,” explained Harvard librarian Robert Darnton, who conceived the idea for the DPLA, in a 2011 Boston Globe interview.
Darnton wants, instead, to access to knowledge, by letting everyone from K-12 students to community colleges to the elderly use resources for free.
The website was also specifically coded for ease of merging with prospective partners, s digital library initiative, Europa.
The Digital Public Library of America also offers a solution to a pervasive problem in the Internet age: How to sort through the overwhelming amount of information available with the press of an Enter key. Much of this information can be irrelevant, or worse, untrue.
The DPLA serves as a reliable “pointer service” in this world of information, explained DPLA member Carl Malamud in “Inside the Quest to Put the World’s Libraries Online” in July’s issue of The Atlantic.
“In the ’60s, our challenge was, ‘How do we build roads?’” Malamud said. “I think, in this day and age, it’s the knowledge infrastructure. That is our big challenge.”
While many libraries in the United States have digitized their collections, until now, there has not been a convenient way to connect them. This project makes it easy to compare and compile information from many sources.
One example of this is the DPLA’s “exhibit” webpages, which are compilations of information on one historical topic, with helpful subcategories and slideshows of information on related ideas. This wealth of knowledge is also credible, offering knowledge from some of the most well-respected archives in the nation without cost.
The Digital Public Library of America aims to revolutionize the way we research, offering comprehensive, dependable and easily accessed resources.
Curious North and South Dakotans will find dozens of pages on the Dakotas in the DPLA.