PhotoTape library, CERN, Geneva 2.  Image Used Under Creative Commons:http://www.flickr.com/photos/doctorow/2711081060/

The Digital Public Library of America: Why Library and Information Students Should Care

Too often, I hear stories of older generation librarians giving up.  These naysayers believe that an encroaching digital world and Google will be the death of the institutional library.  Instead of seeing the internet and digital consumption of knowledge as a death sentence, I believe it presents exciting opportunities to improve the traditions of librarianship. The internet connects information and people in fast and exciting ways, and provides the incoming generation of librarians the opportunity to dream big in terms of universal access to knowledge.  I recently came across a dream big project with this goal: the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).  LIS students should keep an eye on this potential game changer for several reasons.

What is the Digital Public Library of America and Who is Involved?       

According to Martin Gomez in an interview with the Globe and Mail, the goal of the DPLA is build the public library of the future.  The DPLA campaign’s goals are to support the digitization of inventories of cultural and scientific records, set up and build the infrastructure necessary to connect existing and future digitized content, and make such knowledge universally accessible.  Robert Darnton sees the DPLA as an opportunity to de-commodify knowledge and use the  power of the internet to “disseminate and preserve the world’s information for all, and for the ages.” He predicts the first prototype of the DPLA will be released in April 2013.  Supporters of the DPLA includes big hitters such as Berkman Center for Internet & Society, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Carl H. Pforzheimer, Harold T. Shapiro, Charles J. Henry, Carla Hayden, Amy E. Ryan and many other influential figures. 

Why Should LIS Students Care?

We should care because it exciting!  It is an ambitious undertaking that goes outside a traditional (or grossly outdated) model of what libraries should do with their collections and is redefining our role in society to some extent.  The world is online and our documents are increasingly born digital.  Current and future generations will seek digital materials, and have higher expectations when it comes to accessibility of information because of Google and Wikipedia.  Libraries can adapt to this change in information consumption.  Google, while it tries, cannot guarantee the caliber of high quality information that a library can. I agree with Martin Gomez when he argued that the DPLA can achieve what Google cannot through connecting the digital assets of libraries online.  It is incredible to think of the potential impact in making the collective knowledge and research of major universities libraries and the digitized cultural collections of public libraries, universally accessible to all American citizens online.

LIS students should care because this project is framing the conversation about libraries in terms of thinking big.  Increasingly both academic and public libraries our focusing not on their books per say, but rather their communities and how we, as librarians, can use our resources to improve our communities.  By following through and creating conversations to think big, the DPLA is helping to create ambition and high standards for librarians to impact the world right now.  It is giving us, LIS students, role models, achievement and hope in looking forward in the field rather than a bleak outlook.

Finally, we should care because we are the future generation of librarians.  The ambition and achievement of this project is in now and not in the future of our careers.  We should support and be critical of these dream big projects like the DPLA because they will radically revision how Americans use the library to access information and the role of librarianship.  We need to care, not for the unaspiring purpose of wanting just to see our profession survive.  Rather we must care because we want to see this profession flourish and improve knowledge.

Share your thoughts on the Digital Public Library of America in the comments!

Dorotea Szkolar

I am an alumna of the iSchool MLIS program and am mainly interested in writing about technology and libraries. Contact me at doroteaszkolar@gmail.com or @doroteaszkolar if you would like to chat.

More Posts


  • Pingback: GTA Technology Topics, Tips and Tricks: Mixed Links on Visual/Digital Resources & Services | The Modern MLIS()

  • I like our school library the way it is. I just hope that with the rising popularity of digital libraries and such won’t kill the legacy the library has brought to us.

    • Dorotea Szkolar

       I hope not either.  Still, I don’t necessarily see the rise of digital libraries as so much a threat/replacement to traditional library spaces, but rather a way to enhance them and facilitate connections in knowledge!

      • Ramirez Asare

         i agree to your statement..Digital libraries can’t “kill” institutional libraries just like virtual reference services didn’t kill classic reference services. I think digital libraries are like a new way to enlarge the access to everybody!