Digital library launches without Boston celebration


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    A photo in the new Digital Public Library of America shows a group of women marching for equal rights at the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis (undated). From the Laura Clay Photographic Collection (University of Kentucky Special Collections Library).


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    Still from a home movie of a baseball game between African American employees of the Pebble Hill Plantation and another neighboring plantation, Thomas County, Georgia, 1919?. Pebble Hill Plantation Film Collection, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, University of Georgia Libraries.


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    Harvey Gantt being interviewed upon entering Clemson College as the first African American student in 1963. From the Clemson University Photographs collection at Clemson University Libraries Special Collections.

Dakota quillwork leather vest (1890-1899), Minnesota Historical Society. Part of the Minnesota Digital Library's exhibition, "A History of Survivance: 19th c. Upper Midwest Native American Resources in the DPLA."

An event planned for today to launch the new Digital Public Library of America has been postponed, due to the bombings in Boston earlier this week. But the ambitious online archive will go live as planned.

To see some of the 2.4 million archival materials going online today, you once would have had to go to a special collections room at a research library and don a pair of white cotton gloves.

As of 12pm eastern time today, you can just type dp.la into your browser.

“For the first time, ordinary people will be able to actually see material that had been kept behind closed doors and out of reach of the public,” says Robert Darnton, university librarian at Harvard. Its contributions to the digital library include the first daguerreotypes of the moon and scores from Mozart and Schubert.

The goal is a single portal to access digitized content from collections across the country, says David Ferriero, archivist of the United States, “which is going to have a huge impact on how researchers -- and anyone who’s curious -- goes about finding information in the future.”

Some librarians worry the new library could hurt traditional ones.

“We don’t want funders -- particularly folks at the state or local level -- to think that ‘oh now we have this big digital library in the cloud, we don’t need to support our public libraries,’” says Ken Wiggin, state librarian for Connecticut.

“We in the library field and all of our supporters have to do the very best we can to help the funders and decision makers understand that this is an enhancement and not a replacement for today’s library,” says Maureen Sullivan, president of the American Library Association.

Traditional libraries, Sullivan says, offer programs and services -- and an atmosphere -- you can’t get online.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

Dakota quillwork leather vest (1890-1899), Minnesota Historical Society. Part of the Minnesota Digital Library's exhibition, "A History of Survivance: 19th c. Upper Midwest Native American Resources in the DPLA."

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