A Report from DPLAFest

Last April, Lincoln introduced ProfHacker readers to the Digital Public Library of America. The DPLA describes itself this way:

The Digital Public Library of America brings together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world. It strives to contain the full breadth of human expression, from the written word, to works of art and culture, to records of America’s heritage, to the efforts and data of science. The DPLA aims to expand this crucial realm of openly available materials, and make those riches more easily discovered and more widely usable and used, through its three main elements:

  1. A portal that delivers students, teachers, scholars, and the public to incredible resources, wherever they may be in America. Far more than a search engine, the portal provides innovative ways to search and scan through the united collection of millions of items, including by timeline, map, format, and topic.
  2. A platform that enables new and transformative uses of our 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.For more information about the DPLA platform and open API, please see the For Developers section.
  3. An advocate for a strong public option in the twenty-first century. For most of American history, the ability to access materials for free through public libraries has been a central part of our culture, producing generations of avid readers and a knowledgeable, engaged citizenry. The DPLA works, along with like-minded organizations and individuals, to ensure that this critical, open intellectual landscape remains vibrant and broad in the face of increasingly restrictive digital options. The DPLA seeks to multiply openly accessible materials to strengthen the public option that libraries represent in their communities.

As Lincoln noted in that earlier piece, the DPLA’s official launch event was delayed due to the bombings at the Boston Marathon, which happened, quite literally, on the street outside the DPLA’s offices in the Boston Public Library. Last Friday I was fortunate to attend the rescheduled DPLAFest launch event, which was co-hosted by Northeastern University—my home institution—and Simmons College.

There were a number of exciting DPLA announcements made at DPLAFest, most of which signaled the enormous progress the project has made in the few months since its April launch online. Here are some of the announcements I suspect will be of most interest to ProfHacker readers:

On a basic level, the DPLA is rapidly growing. At the opening reception for DPLAFest, Executive Director Dan Cohen announced that the library just surpassed 5 million items in its collections.

The DPLA is not only a library for researchers—though it certainly is that—but is also deeply interested in expanding access to research materials for K-college classrooms and public libraries. To that end, the DPLA announced a new, 1 million dollar grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which will enable the DPLA “to build curricular resources and implement hands-on training programs that develop digital skills and capacity within the staffs of public libraries.”

The DPLA continues to expand the service hubs from which it draws its content so it can better reflect the wide range of materials collected around the country. At DPLAFest they announced three new hubs: New York, North Carolina, and Texas.

The DPLA also announced a new interface for accessing its materials, DPLA Bookshelf. DPLA Bookshelf aims to make the DPLA’s enormous and growing collections more browsable, hopefully leading to the kinds of serendipitous discoveries researchers make when browsing physical library shelves.

The above list gives only a partial view into an exciting day at DPLAFest. The growing collections at the DPLA will be a boon to both research and classroom teaching and I suspect most ProfHacker readers will find something of interest there. You can review the Twitter conversation from DPLAFest for useful links and ideas.

Have you tried out the DPLA for your own research or teaching? Tell us about your experiences—and maybe share use cases—in the comments.

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