Scheduled for launch on April 18, 2013, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) will be opening as a portal to a vast array of digitized, special collections from across the United States. The organization’s mission is to give everyone a way to easily access these digital collections through a single virtual place, free of charge.
History. The idea of a nationwide aggregator of digital collections has been around since the early 1990’s. Organizations such as the Library of Congress, HathiTrust, and the Internet Archive have been building collections. There are also large collections like the Smithsonian and the National Archives. However, there are hundreds of universities, public libraries, museums and other civic minded organizations with isolated collections that could be accessed for everyone’s use. So far the challenges to bringing together these digital collections have included differences in technology, incomplete metadata, and different legal issues such as digital lending, orphan works, international works, metadata ownership, strategies for tiered access, and how to deal with vendors and materials under various kinds of restrictions and copyright.
The DPLA initiative started with a meeting at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in October 2010 which brought together representatives from foundations, research institutions, cultural organizations, government and libraries to figure out how to best create a national digital library. In December 2010 the Berkman Center for Internet & Society with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation began the process of planning the launch of the DPLA. John Palfrey, DPLA board president and head of Phillips Academy gave a TEDx talk about the vision of DPLA in November 2012.
Content. Emily Gore, Director for Content, leads the Digital Hubs Project. Her interest in a national digital library began when she was with the State Library of North Carolina. She managed the former statewide digital library in North Carolina, NC ECHO, and co-directed the South Carolina Digital Library. In her position, she surveyed more than a 1,000 cultural institutions that carried a variety of materials from US Senator Sam Ervin Jr.’s papers on Watergate to pottery depicting the story of the Cherokee Indians. The Digital Hubs Project has partnered with seven digital libraries (six state and one regional) and larger cultural collections like Harvard University, Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, Boston Public Library and New York Public Library. The content of these collections varies from photographs, manuscripts, books, newspapers, oral histories to streaming videos. Some of the initial exhibits will focus on immigration, civil rights, prohibition, Native Americans, and the Great Depression.
Technology. Since the project is based on open source code, DPLA has started working with programmers to create apps that will allow people to access DPLA resources on their mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. The Follow that Cab! app allows users to design a search and then get regular updates. The What is Where? app maps collection resources by geographic area so they can easily be searched for local information. Recently, Innovative Interfaces announced that they would integrate access to DPLA into its Encore Synergy platform. This means that patrons of libraries like Charlotte School of Law will be able to access DPLA resources through the library’s catalog.
Future. An exciting start for DPLA will be the launch on April 18th at the Boston Public Library. Some of the collections mentioned above will be accessible on that date and some of the exhibits will also be available. There is still a lot to be done for the vision of a national digital public library to be complete, but its launch is a start.
- Cottrell, M. (2013, March/April). A digital library for everybody. American Libraries, 44(3/4), 44-47.
- Digital Public Library of America. (2013, March 5). Retrieved from http://dp.la/.
- Palfrey, J. (2012, November 7). Digital libraries and keeping well in a digital age: John Palfrey at
- TEDxPhillipsAcademy. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/IBivvdwZkbU