Spring marked the opening of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), a collection of over 2.4 million (and growing) works of art and history, the largest in the world. We can read Mozart’s letters or take a gander at a rare Edgar Degas sketch in the DPLA's digital halls. The DPLA is emerging as an invaluable resource for those interested in accessing and preserving our history, culture and humanity.
An Infinite Global Reference Source
The DLPA is the brainchild of Robert Darnton, a librarian at Harvard University who dreamed of combining the holdings of America’s great libraries, museums, historical societies and archives. Two years later, with the cooperation of the Smithsonian institution, New York Public Library, University of Illinois, Digital Commonwealth in Massachusetts, Minnesota Digital Library and many others, the DLPA is off the ground and ready to be explored. The DPLA’s original aim was to be a “living heritage” to educate, inform and empower both current and future generations, yet it has already begun to evolve into much more. The DPLA offers an open framework where knowledge, art and culture can be parlayed into power and positive change.
Link to the Unknown: Art and Authors in a New Light
The DPLA will help rare, meaningful media surface, like this rare 1919 home movie of an African-American baseball game in a backyard, points out DPLA executive director Dan Cohen. Photos, paintings, archives and slide-scanning bring the world's highlights onto our screens. Imagine if Picasso had access to millions of paintings that came before him, or if Shakespeare could have browsed the entire works of Virgil or Homer from his desk. How could that have affected the history of art and storytelling?
The Virtual Future: An Alexandrian Rival?
As the most comprehensive house of scholarly material and art, the DPLA is sort of like a modern Library of Alexandria, except more difficult to burn down. The digital structure serves a two-fold purpose: It is both a destination and source as well as an aggregator. The DPLA is a library and a hub that helps build exposure for other hubs, like ARTsor, an image contributor for many well-known museums. This structure also allows the DPLA to avoid copyright issues, as each content provider must provide the rights field in the metadata.
Anyone can access the DPLA through a laptop, tablet or cell phone—users simply need an Internet connection. The DPLA’s vision for the future is to contain the full breadth of human expression without commercial interests, which sets it apart from almost all other major media endeavors. The pursuit of knowledge makes growth possible, and when ulterior motives are stripped away, we all reap the benefits. Aspiring artists, digital virtuosos and academicians can find their Shangri-la in the DPLA.