We love Google books but, for research, often find its limitations frustrating. We love the many and varied digital collections that abound throughout the web but wish they could be used in a more seamlessly interconnected way. The vision of a national online library is as old (older?) than the web itself and in the last two years working towards that vision has been the goal of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), a group of people from libraries both public and academic, technology companies, government agencies, publishers and funding institutions.
Launching this week* the DPLA (http://dp.la) , according to well-known digital historian and current director Dan Cohen, plans to connect “the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums so that the public can access all of those collections in one place; providing a platform, with an API [application programming interface] for others to build creative and transformative applications upon; and advocating strongly for a public option for reading and research in the twenty-first century. The DPLA will in no way replace the thousands of public libraries that are at the heart of so many communities across this country, but instead will extend their commitment to the public sphere, and provide them with an extraordinary digital attic and the technical infrastructure and services to deliver local cultural heritage materials everywhere in the nation and the world.
The DPLA is built on a growing number of service and content hubs, institutions that already have large collections of digitized materials. It seeks to go beyond becoming yet another digital repository however, by offering services to increase the size and uses of the collections. For example, it will provide transparent access to its code and metadata so that developers can create additional capabilities. Its hubs may also offer services to local heritage organizations to help them digitize and curate their collections. [See also Palfrey, John "What is the DPLA?"]
Given the experience and track record of its leaders, this project promises to be the kind of digital library we have been waiting for. Read more about the DPLA and it’s vision for the development of this ambitious and amazing resource at http://dp.la
*The public beta launch was scheduled for April 18, 2013 at the Boston Public Library. Given the tragic events in the area adjacent to the library, the launch has been postponed. Check the website for news of rescheduling.