I love big ideas, particularly the ones that seem kind of impossible and insane, but noble and worthwhile. When I first heard about the group of folks trying to create The Digital Public Library of America, I was completely intrigued. Here is the concept statement that caught my attention:
The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) will make the cultural and scientific heritage of humanity available, free of charge, to all.
Achieving such a radically awesome goal requires cooperation from archives, educational institutions, museums and libraries and the work of hundreds and hundreds of passionate volunteers, as well as generous funding from donors. The DPLA launched in April 2013, bringing together digital assets from many separate entities and providing a portal for searching across what had been isolated islands of information. The DPLA’s collections are growing all of the time, moving the organization closer to making their big idea a reality.
To put it simply, the DPLA is incredibly cool. The portal provides access to more than 5,500,000 photographs, manuscripts, books, sounds and moving images, as well as some interesting ways to search them. You can look for items by place, viewing collections related to Missouri, for example. Or you can look at items related to a certain point in history, like the Great Depression or the year you were born.
The openness of the project is also pretty amazing. The DPLA challenges developers to “make something awesome.” DPLA can be used by software developers, researchers and others to create learning environments, discovery tools and engaging apps. Not all of these apps are purely educational (See the Twitter bot built to post randomly selected historical images of cats from DPLA’s collection), but they help show the range of what can be done when collections and data are made open.
Whether you are a student, a history buff, a tech geek or just a person with a strong sense of curiosity, you must check out the DPLA. One warning: be prepared to fall down the rabbit hole. It is easy to lose yourself among the images and illuminated manuscripts. Or historical cat photos, if that’s your thing.