Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Revisiting the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)
The Digital Public Library of America (DP.LA) continues to rapidly grow into one of the more significant free online resources in the United States. At the time of this post, the DPLA had 11,474,555 digital images online with more being regularly added.
When I think about all of the online resources, I am reminded of my infrequent trips to large stores, such as a Walmart SuperStore or a Costco. Every direction that you look, you can see something of interest. But the overall impression is one of overwhelming opportunities. Unfortunately, you soon realize that you came to the store for specific purpose and no matter how enticing the rest of the merchandise, you have neither the time nor the money to look at everything. Occasionally, you buy something on impulse but usually, especially if you are pressed for time, you walk out with what you came to buy. But every so often, you find something you didn't know you needed or wanted and your purchases include more than you came in for.
My online experience is very similar to my trips to the big box stores. However, my access to the Internet is almost constant and my "purchases" include many items that I did not expect to find. But by and large, my use of the Internet falls into a predictable pattern. But unlike a shopping list for a store visit, my research online is open ended and driven by the needs of not only my own ancestors, but also those I am constantly helping.
The Digital Public Library of America is like the new store you drive by and think about visiting one day. But in this case, that new store has just taken over a familiar part of your neighborhood and it is getting to the point where you can no longer ignore it. Very much like the larger stores, large online record repositories are helpful if they have what you are looking for and not helpful at all if they don't. It is an interesting fact that stores like Costco, for example, keep the same average number of inventory items. If they acquire something new, it is at the expense of deleting an older less desirable item. This is in sharp contrast to the online world where the larger websites can literally keep everything they acquire. This is not to say that they actually do keep everything, the reality is that records are sometimes removed due to duplication or other causes, but it is a fact that the number of records on all of the larger websites continues to increase.
The resources of the DPLA are not growing at the rate that new records are being added to FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com, but they are increasing steadily. The difference is that the DPLA is a "library" in the real sense of the word. It is a place to go to see records from other online websites. The intent of the DPLA, just as with your local public library, is to provide those records freely to the entire community. In the case of the DPLA, that community happens to be the entire United States of America.
The DPLA is a centralized location for many of the resources commonly referred to and used by genealogists. These include such major websites as the HathiTrust, the New York Public Library, the National Archives and Records Administration and many other online resources. As I stated, it is a library. However, as I think about it, I don't really have much success in getting people to use libraries, at least not the physical ones even when they are sitting in one. But maybe it is time we all spent a little more time exploring our digital neighborhood and visiting the new stores.