Remember when the internet was hailed as the "information superhighway" and then we all realized it was just some pot hole-filled, five-lane freeway overrun with humanity's virtual flotsam and jetsam? Well, now there's a virtual institution to gather the best cultural bits that float to the top, make 'em freely accessible and archive it all for the perpetuity of the digital age. Beginning today, the Digital Public Library of America, a two-year-old non-profit organization, is going live to the public in a beta launch. Featuring historical works culled from six state libraries and various cultural outposts (including the likes of the New York Public Library, the Smithsonian, the National Archives and Records Administration, as well as Harvard University), the site will primarily offer users the ability to search its vast archives (about 2.4 million resources at present) and browse virtual exhibitions, but will also host any dedicated third-party apps built using its open data set. So, there you have it, folks -- a highbrow antidote to the rampant disinformation made possible by Google search.
Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Launches Today
The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) launched a beta of its discovery portal and open platform today. The portal delivers millions of materials found in American archives, libraries, museums, and cultural heritage institutions to students, teachers, scholars, and the public. Far more than a search engine, the portal provides innovative ways to search and scan through its united collection of distributed resources. Special features 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.
"The wonder and joy of entering an expansive library for the first time is truly a special feeling. We are delighted to be able to share this unified, open collection with Americans and the world, and can't wait to see what people discover, and what new applications and knowledge will be created," said Dan Cohen, Executive Director of the DPLA.
"Many decades in the visioning, two and a half years in the planning, with a small steering committee and an incubation hub at the helm, and featuring dozens of great libraries, universities and archives involved in hundreds of meetings, workshops, plenary meetings, and hackathons, attracting thousands of volunteers backed by millions of foundation and government dollars, today the Digital Public Library of America goes live! It's a great day for education and progress, as if the Ancient Library of Alexandria had met the Modern World Wide Web and digitized America for the benefit of all," said Doron Weber, Vice Chair of the DPLA Steering Committee and Vice President, Programs at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a major, active funder of the project.
The DPLA portal is powered by a rich repository of information, known as the DPLA platform, which enables new and transformative uses of America's digitized cultural heritage. With an application programming interface (API) and maximally open data, the DPLA can be used by software developers, researchers, and others to create novel environments for learning, tools for discovery, and engaging apps. The DPLA App Library features an initial slate of applications built on top of the platform; developers and hobbyists of all skill levels are freely able to make use of the data provided via the platform.
"The DPLA launches virtually today, a symbol of what people can accomplish through collaboration in a networked era," said John Palfrey, president of the Board of Directors of the DPLA. "The most exciting idea is that we cannot begin to imagine the extraordinary things that librarians and their many partners can accomplish with this open platform and such extraordinarily rich materials, from so many institutions large and small, together and at the ready. We will create new knowledge together and make accessible, free to all, information that people need in order to thrive in a democracy."
"The DPLA's goal is to bring the entire nation's rich cultural collections off the shelves and into the innovative environment of the Internet for people to discover, download, remix, reuse and build on in ways we haven't yet begun to imagine," said Maura Marx, Director of the DPLA Secretariat. "Regular users can search in the traditional way using the portal, and developers and innovators can build on big chunks of code and content using the platform-we're creating access, not controlling it."
Led by Cohen, the DPLA aims to expand the realm of openly available materials, and make those riches more easily discovered and more widely usable and used. To date, the DPLA has partnered with six state and regional digital libraries and an equal number of large cultural heritage institutions- including the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Smithsonian Institution, the New York Public Library, and Harvard University-to provide access to millions of unique digital objects.
"Among the 2.4 million records available at launch, you will find gems that include daguerreotypes of former Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, images of women marching for the vote in Kentucky, news film clips of the Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights movement, The Book of Hours, an illuminated manuscript from 1514, Notes on the State of Virginia, written by Thomas Jefferson, and paintings by Winslow Homer," said Emily Gore, DPLA Director for Content.
Dakota quillwork leather vest [1890-1899], Minnesota Historical Society
Dakota quillwork leather vest [1890-1899], Minnesota Historical Society
With its content partners, the DPLA has developed a number of diverse virtual exhibitions that tell the stories of people, places, and historical events both here in the US and abroad; all are available freely via the portal. A History of Survivance: 19th c. Upper Midwest Native American Resources in the DPLA, developed by the Minnesota Digital Library, tells the story of extraordinary cultural disruption, change and continuity in Minnesota and the surrounding areas during the 19th century through objects of both Native and non-Native origin. Other exhibitions include Boston Sports Temples, developed by Digital Commonwealth (Massachusetts), which celebrates the rich histories of Boston's professional stadiums and arenas; and This Land Is Your Land: Parks and Public Spaces, an exploration of the history, impact, and significance of our national parks and protected areas curated by the South Carolina Digital Library.
"The project unleashes access to a volume and variety of historical and cultural assets through a dynamic, digitized information platform," said Jorge Martinez, vice president and chief technology officer at Knight Foundation. "It offers an invaluable opportunity to reanimate this information and further strengthen the roles of libraries as centers for engagement-bringing communities together, fostering deeper understanding and connecting people with traditional culture – by leveraging the power of new technology."
The DPLA began in October 2010 with a small meeting of representatives from foundations, research institutions, cultural organizations, government, and libraries who came together to discuss best approaches to building a national digital library. In 2011, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University established, with the support of Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a two-year planning initiative to guide the conceptualization, planning, and development of the DPLA.
Today's launch is, in large part, the culmination of that effort, marking the transition from a two-year planning initiative towards a fully realized, standalone 501(c)3 non-profit organization that will continue to make the riches of America's libraries, archives, and museums freely available to the world.
A series of festivities to celebrate the launch, scheduled to occur at the Boston Public Library today and tomorrow, were postponed until the fall in the wake of the April 15 Boston Marathon tragedy, which occurred near the storied public library.
"I see the building of a new library as one of the greatest examples of what humans can do together to extend the light against the darkness," said Dan Cohen, reflecting on the recent events in a letter to the DPLA community. "In due time, we will let that light shine through."