Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

Digital Public Library of America Opens Access to Resources

on April 17, 2013

A new platform will aggregate digital resources from libraries and museums across the United States.

The Digital Public Library of America will launch a new website on Thursday, April 18, and officially become an independent nonprofit with the goal of pulling together vast resources for the public. The organization had planned a launch event at the Boston Public Library, but that event will no longer take place following the explosions near the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15.

This national library platform will not host any resources, but instead provide open access to metadata about them. Once users find a resource description they like, a link will lead them to the home library's website for the full version.

An Application Programming Interface (API) will allow software developers to create useful applications based on the metadata. And the platform will bring resources to light that have been buried in the archives of local libraries.

"We're really going to push for an increase in the number and type of materials that the public can access," said Dan Cohen, who will start his job as the founding executive director of the Digital Public Library of America on Thursday.

About 40 state digital libraries and a few regional ones already aggregate resources from local historical societies, museums and libraries, though not many people know about them. Seven of these organizations have agreed to participate in an initial pilot designed to create a network of content aggregators nationwide. The seven state libraries include: 

  • Mountain West Digital Library (Utah, Nevada and Arizona);
  • Digital Commonwealth (Massachusetts);
  • Digital Library of Georgia;
  • Kentucky Digital Library;
  • Minnesota Digital Library;
  • South Carolina Digital Library; and
  • Oregon Digital Library.

Along with these service hubs, large content hubs will also start feeding metadata into the national library during the pilot. These content hubs include the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Harvard Library, the Smithsonian Institute, and New York Public Library.

Over the past two years, committees created a workplan for the Digital Public Library of America with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. By launch day, the organization will have aggregated about 2.5 million resources, with plans to add more resources quickly. And the pilot libraries have already created digital displays on topics such as prohibition by finding photos, news clippings and other resources from different locations and pairing them with contextual information.

"The Digital Public Library of America will advance scholarship in a significant way through the aggregation of content and creation  services that leverage the content," said Molly Molinaro, project director of the Kentucky Digital Library service hub and associate dean for library technologies at the University of Kentucky.

With so many resources at their fingertips, researchers have a treasure trove of rich data to fuel their projects. They can find maps, diaries and photographs from a specific place and build learning objects around them. And geneaology researchers can track down newspaper clippings, archival records and diaries across states much more quickly.

"To bring that all into one place will be just magic for those kinds of researchers looking for very specific things," Molinaro said.


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Tanya Roscorla

Tanya Roscorla covers education technology in the classroom, behind the scenes and on the legislative agenda. Likes: Experimenting in the kitchen, cooking up cool crafts, reading good books.

E-mail: troscorla@centerdigitaled.com
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