America could well be rewriting the book on libraries, digital, and non-profit initiatives. The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which turned one last week, has made steady progress on all three fronts and given hope for similar initiatives aimed at simplifying access and availability for every member of the Information Age.
In keeping with the times the Digital Public Library is not one behemoth but a network that connects a range of libraries and public archives in a manner where the sum of the parts is bigger than the whole. At the time of writing there were 7,052,662 items available to browse in the library and approximately one million visitors had come to the website.
It helps that it is free of charge but the real strength is in the partnerships that the library has built with its older peers. The New York Public Library, California Digital Library, the J Paul Getty Trust and the US Government Printing Office are some of the heavyweights that the library has partnered.
The library doesn't have it own building, operating instead from the premises of the Boston Public Library. Since it is based on a partnering model, it does not own any items and copyright issues can vary greatly, depending on the item.
What has perhaps been most impressive about the project is the speed of execution. The library was just a thought in the minds of people like Executive Director Dan Cohen when the planning group first met in late 2010. Within two years, the library has become a reality, with the help of grants totalling $2 million in the first year from influential bodies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
While Cohen rightly terms the library as a “multi-decade effort”, certain trends on where it is heading are clear to see. Built completely on open source software, the library has actively encouraged the development of an app ecosystem around it.
An app called OpenPics allows users to view images from the huge online image collection. DPLAbot is a Twitter bot that randomly tweets links to information archives from the library. An app called FindDPLA gives you widget that allows you to search the library’s resources as you are browsing any entry in Wikipedia.
Maybe there is hope for a smarter Internet after all!