Now live: the first Digital Public Library of America

Communities / Article

An exciting new initiative began today when the Digital Public Library of America launched its first six service and content hubs. The hubs promise to unleash millions of historical, scientific and cultural documents from many of America’s national and state institutions, making them easily searchable as digital records to anyone with an Internet connection.

The Digital Public Library of America’s common platform also provides an open programming interface and metadata structure that will allow for free and innovative use of these materials by educators, researchers, programmers and the public. Taking part in the launch as the first service hubs are state and regional libraries in Massachusetts, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Minnesota and the Mountain West region.

Driven by Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Knight has supported the project since 2011 as part of its library initiative that aims to reimagine libraries as centers for community engagement and digital access. For us, the goal of Digital Public Library of America aligns with Knight’s strong belief that informed communities are able to best determine their own interests. And we are thrilled to be part of a project that furthers this strong vision of engagement.

Over the past month, a blog series on the Digital Public Library of America has captured much of the buzz and excitement surrounding the launch. It has also given us a taste of the rich history that will be unveiled— from archives at Harvard and the Smithsonian, to collections on Cold War missile development in the Mountain West, raw news footage of the Civil Rights Movement in Georgia and South Carolina’s accounts of the battle of Fort Sumter.

We are eager to see how people will use this newfound content to create inroads to their own purposes and ambitions—and those of their community. Digital Public Library of America service hubs will showcase rich heritage materials through the network and integrate thousands more into the digital space, so they can be shared locally and across the nation.  Opportunities for user content creation will also be explored, further allowing the community a stake in the project.

The prospects are powerful. People will have at their fingertips information from the past that they can use to fundamentally shape their futures. As such, the launch of Digital Public Library of America not only marks the birth of a new, vibrant culture for libraries and archives but also the development of a standard for information gathering and dissemination that is dynamic and rooted in community engagement.

The next few months involve a huge discovery period for both the engineers of Digital Public Library of America and its audience. We can’t wait to see what happens.

To find out more about the project check out Knight Foundation’s blog series on the project, including in-depth Q&As with digital service hub directors:

By Jorge Martinez, vice president/chief technology officer at Knight Foundation.