Digital Public Library of America Celebrates Its Birthday


Like most youngsters, the Digital Public Library of America has been growing fast. Officially a year old, it now encompasses more than seven million items, three times what it started with 12 months ago.

Designed to be a gateway to information rather than a final destination, the DPLA doesn’t actually ingest digitized books, manuscripts, photos, moving pictures, recordings, or other materials. Instead, it works with a nationwide network of institutions to aggregate the metadata that describes their digitized holdings. Bringing such information together makes it easier for users to find those collections.

The 1906 photo above, of a firecart in a parade in Murray City, Utah, is an example of the material DPLA points to. It’s in the Murray, Utah, Museum and is included via Mountain West Digital Library.

Digital libraries around the country function as service hubs to help collect and process records; the DPLA also has partnerships with content hubs—large digital libraries, museums, and archives like the HathiTrust Digital Repository and the Smithsonian—that feed it records directly.

The young digital library marked several developmental milestones this week: It added six major partners as content or service hubs, including the California Digital Library, the Connecticut Digital Archive, the U.S. Government Printing Office, Indiana Memory, the Montana Memory Project, and the J. Paul Getty Trust. The birthday announcement also included the news that the New York Public Library has now made more than a million of its digitized holdings accessible through the DPLA—a growth spurt of almost 20 percent.

The DPLA has also doubled its staff, from four to eight, with two more positions to be added soon. More than a million people have visited the DPLA site, and its open API, or application programming interface, has had nine million hits.

In an open letter to mark the occasion, Dan Cohen, the library’s executive director, celebrated the “tremendous momentum” of the digital library’s first year. “DPLA is as much a social project as a technical project, and we simply couldn’t have achieved what we’ve achieved without the incredible collaborative spirit that has coalesced around this wonderful idea of bringing together the riches of America’s collections and making them freely available to the world,” Mr. Cohen wrote.

“Scores of contributors at our service and content hubs, on our board and committees, and from libraries, archives, museums, and cultural-heritage sites across the country have been enormously generous with their time and ideas,” he added.

Like a proud but pragmatic parent, Mr. Cohen also noted that the DPLA has a long way to go before it’s fully grown. “As good a first year as we have had, however, we have so much left to do,” he wrote. The DPLA aspires to serve the nation, but “there are still 36 states that are not covered by our service-hub network, meaning that smaller institutions in those states don’t have an on-ramp.”

He also described a need to cover other gaps, such as including more audiovisual materials and more e-books, as well as a desire to work more closely with public libraries.

[Image: 1906 Firecart in Parade, Murray City, Utah. Murray (UT) Museum via Mountain West Digital Library.]

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