The Digital Public Library of America

Libraries and archives around the world are digitizing unique resources at a rapid pace, but finding those resources by subject can be a challenge. If you know which archive holds the item you seek, you can navigate there. To search by subject, you can try Google, but you’ll miss things and have to weed through a lot of extraneous offerings. For instance, if you search Digital Book of Hours, you’ll find some, but you’ll have to go to the third screen to find the one at Davidson.

The Digital Public Library of America (with its short and sweet URL of launched last week, with a mission to bring together these resources, wherever they may be held in the United States. It’s in its infancy, with contributions from just 18 partners so far. Some of them are mighty partners, it’s true: the National Archives and Records Administration, with 586,000 resources, and the Mountain West Digital Library with almost 700,000. But coverage is still uneven. The Internet Archive is listed as a partner, but clearly not all Internet Archive content is available in DPLA; none of the Davidson resources available there is linked in DPLA.

The potential is obvious, though. Searching Isle Royale (National Park, one of my favorite places on earth) yields links to some real gems:

    • A film called “The Wonder Isle,” created by the Department of the Interior in 1935, five years before Isle Royale officially became a national park. You can see the ten-minute video online.
    • Civilian Conservation Corps photographs from the Minnesota Digital Library.
    • Audio of an oral history by a fisherman who plied Lake Superior waters.
    • Maps galore, some from the late 18th century.
    • The 1966 report “Wolves of Isle Royale,” part of the longest-running predator-prey study in the world. Other annual reports from the study are not there, however.

A search for Davidson College, though, is more disappointing; it yields 431 results, many about people and places named Davidson that have nothing to do with the college. Phrase searching “Davidson College” eliminates the irrelevant retrieval but brings the total down to five, three of which are photographs of Philip B. Price, M.D. (class of 1917). The other two are pages from the 1940 Census and the cover of a 1938 program from the football game between Davidson and the University of South Carolina.

I expect all that to change when DPLA adds a North Carolina “service hub” and extends its reach. Then we’ll be able to make sure our digitized archival resources are listed, contributing to this great national catalog. In the meantime, I encourage you to check it out and see what jewels you uncover.