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The Digital Public Library of America – A Wonderful Free Resource for Education

by Jessica Oaks on October 1, 2013


New Online Partnership Brings the Library Deeper Into the Digital Age.

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) officially opened to the public on April 19, 2013. Though still in its infancy, the DPLA is a mightily ambitious undertaking that strives to give free access to the best of America’s libraries, museums and archives.

Launched with the support of multiple partners such as the Smithsonian, the New York Public Library, the National Archives, and an array of highly respected institutions of learning including Harvard, the DPLA opened with more than two million items on display. According to executive director Dan Cohen in an article featured online by the Huffington Post, this is just the beginning, and the public can expect “tens of millions (of additional resources) to come in the years ahead.”

[Image from DPLA’s Web Site]

Harvard University librarian Robert Darnton, as quoted in a recent article by the New York Review of Books website, shares the mission statement for the DPLA: “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 the current and future generations.”

In his dream to create the DPLA, Darnton found great inspiration from the great philosophers of the Enlightenment. These thinkers, the likes of Voltaire, Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson, viewed themselves as citizens of a Republic of Letters and made great use of the printing press and the post office to help disseminate knowledge throughout Europe and even in the New World across the Atlantic. Now, with the ubiquity of tablets and other mobile devices, it should be even easier to disseminate knowledge. According to Darnton, the DPLA will give learners everywhere access to the greatest literary works of both modern times and generations past in a democratic environment that will foster a love for knowledge transcending lines of class, race, and the luxury of a formal education that may not currently be available to many Americans.

The goal is not just to house works of literature and art, but to provide a truly comprehensive resource. The DPLA features a sophisticated technical platform that will make the millions of items easily searchable by title, author, place, time, or theme. After all, what good is having access to millions of volumes if you don’t have a way to find the information that’s most important to you?

The effect the DPLA will have on American and global education is yet to be seen, but proponents are hopeful that the fact that the knowledge-hungry will now be able to access myriad volumes that would otherwise be locked away in dusty archives will lead to dramatically expanded educational horizons. This means students won’t just be limited to the (often dated) textbooks their school districts can afford to provide, but that, with very little research, they can use computers, tablets, and even smartphones to expose themselves to a richer range of resources and perspectives than was ever before possible.

This is not the first attempt at a massive digital library. Google made an attempt to house digital versions of all of the books in the world. After collecting more than 30 million digital articles, however, the Internet superpower hit a major roadblock when it came to copyright laws and put a stop to the project in 2011. While some argue that copyright protections are essential to protecting the best interests of our writers and artists, others feel that copyright restrictions have become too tight, hampering creativity and the public’s access to art. The backers of the DPLA are working to find a way to still honor our artists while making their work fully available to the public, either through legislation or negotiation.

Through the donations of such venerable institutions as the Sloan, Arcadia, Knight, and Soros foundations along with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the DPLA’s first three years have already been financially secured. One day, hope supporters, the DPLA will be as rich a resources as the Library of Congress. While this is still years off, it’s clear that the DPLA and the movement behind it are dedicated to fostering a greater collective global education, and supporters are eagerly looking forward to the (not-too-distant) day when the thirst for knowledge and an Internet connection are all that are needed to embark on a lifetime of learning without limits.

Have you used the Digital Public Library of America yet? Tell us about it!

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
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A Few Free Lesson Planning and Classroom Resources for Teachers


Jessica Oaks is a freelance journalist who loves covering technology news and the ways that technology can make life easier. Follow her on Twitter @TechyJessy.

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