Digital Public Library makes push for national coverage by 2017

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Above: "Folklore Music Map of the United States," 1945. Courtesy of the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, via the DPLA

Today, Knight Foundation announced a $1.5 million investment in the Digital Public Library, which will help the national online collection of American history provide national coverage by 2017. Here, Executive Director Dan Cohen shares the library’s progress.

A little over two years ago, the Digital Public Library of America launched with the ambitious goal of maximizing access to our shared cultural heritage. At the center of this effort were state- and regional-based “Service Hubs,” or organizations that could do the hard, but important work of ensuring that every collection in the United States had a way to bring their materials online, and to make them part of a unified national digital collection. Just like the U.S., then, we would work to create a larger whole out of many parts.

With the 4th of July approaching, it’s a good time to remember how difficult such a federated, collaborative effort can be. We started with just six Service Hubs, in large part thanks to Knight Foundation, as well as the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation – both of which have joined together today to extend their support of DPLA – as well as crucial federal funders, including the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Over the following 24 months – a relatively short time for such a national-scale project—we have been able to add a dozen more Service Hubs, and, because of this rapid growth, bring together an aggregated collection of over 10 million items from 1,600 libraries, archives and museums. All of this is freely available to the public.

Since we have established DPLA as a synthesis of community efforts, we stand at the beginning of our third year with a tremendously diverse and compelling collection that is useful for so many audiences, from kindergarteners through college students, to lifelong learners, family historians, amateur enthusiasts, and many others. Our collection is being used on our website, but also, through our application programming interface (API), through other venues and apps, across the web and across many devices and platforms. It contains materials in a remarkable 500 languages – a sign of the composition of those many American communities – and consists of ebooks, maps, documents, audio, video, photographs, artwork and so much more.

With the announcement today of major new support from Knight Foundation, we now see in our sights the end goal of a truly complete library of America, one that potentially draws from all collections in all states. The funding will enable us to work with many more regions – and to work together to bring to fruition the great idea that set DPLA in motion in 2013.

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