Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Is Launched


About a year ago, Anna reported on plans to launch the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) by April 2013 in a post that can be found here. While launch dates are often delayed, it is an auspicious sign that the DPLA will go live Thursday, April 18th, at 12 noon (ET). The festivities slated to take place in Boston in honor of the DPLA’s going live, however, have understandably been canceled due to the tragic bombings earlier this week (see the message from Dan Cohen, the DPLA’s Executive Director).

Since he first championed the idea for the DPLA several years ago, Robert Darnton has kept us abreast of progress and plans “to make the holdings of America’s research libraries, archives, and museums available to all Americans—and eventually to everyone in the world—online and free of charge” through articles he has written for The New York Review of Books (NYRB 25 April 2013). Thus, it should come as no surprise that he has marked the launch of the DPLA with another informative piece. Framing the DPLA as a convergence of the American strands of utopianism and pragmatism, Darnton sees the project as one deeply rooted in the eighteenth century and as holding the potential to “realize the dream of Jefferson and Franklin.”

Darnton’s article also offers a pithy summary of events that led to the development of DPLA, basics about how the software works, plans for sustaining the DPLA’s growth, notes about the well-respected foundations funding the first three years of the DPLA, and a description of the distributive management model DPLA has embraced in which operations are spread out across the country. As emob tweeted two weeks ago, Darnton sees legal obstacles as the key hindrance to the growth of the DPLA.

The DPLA has already attracted a host of impressive partners including Harvard, The Smithsonian Institution, ARTstor, University of Virginia libraries, the New York Public Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library, Biodiversity Heritage Library, and the National Archives. It is with great interest that we will be tracking its progress.


2 Responses to “Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Is Launched”

  1. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks for this lucid overview, Eleanor. It will take me a while to feel able to comment in an informed way about DPLA, but I already like three aspects.

    1. DPLA preserves the feel of the physical book. Unlike Google or commercial digital archives, DPLA does not bleach the page white. The yellowed pages of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century books are presented as they are. Yet the images for the books I’ve looked at are remarkably clear. Readers remain in touch with the physical book because what they see is a photograph of a recognizable physical book.

    2. The reading experience is a bit clunky, but it strains eyes far less than bleached pages. When a page is magnified, a thumbprint appears in the upper left hand corner that allows one to scroll down the partially visible page.

    3. Each entry is linked to its specific URL that provides the donating library’s catalog information. This lets readers know which copy they are reading. It avoids the google desert of interesting but unidentified texts.

    What we need now is a good YouTube presentation of how to use DPLA that explains searching and reading texts in DPLA and shows us one or two of DPLA’s exhibits.

    This is very promising indeed.


  2. Carnivalesque 94: No bishop, no king | the many-headed monster Says:

    […] Library of America – brainchild of historian Robert Darnton – has just been launched and, as Eleanor Shevlin at EMOB explains, it may have a huge impact on how we do history. Relatedly, the process of preserving millions of […]


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