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Let’s build a library. A public library. A digital public library.

There are lots of online archives out there. Heck. Sometimes it seems as if that’s all I write about.

But the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is different somehow. It’s bigger. More intentional. Specifically designed for the 21st century. Searchable in handy ways. But it’s different in one very big way. It gathers tons of online stuff all in one place:

The DPLA brings together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world. strives to contain the full breadth of human expression, from the written word, to works of art and culture, to records of America’s heritage, to the efforts and data of science. It offers a single point of access to millions of items—photographs, manuscripts, books, sounds, moving images, and more—from libraries, archives, and museums around the United States.

It does this in two ways:

  • The DPLA uses an easy-to-use portal where anyone can access America’s collections and search through them using novel and powerful techniques, including by place and time.
  • The site uses a sophisticated platform that will make those millions of items available in ways such as smartphone apps.

You can browse and search the DPLA’s collections by timeline, map, format, and topic; save items to customized lists; and share their lists with others. The site also also explore digital exhibitions curated by the DPLA’s content partners and staff. Once you find what you’re looking for, you get a link back to the original item.

The cool thing is that, like any library, you end up stumbling across some awesome document that you weren’t even looking for. And with over two million items, you can stumble around for hours.

For social studies teachers, this sort of tool is invaluable.

Just about any sort of search for just about any sort of social studies topic reveals hundreds of resources, primary documents, images, and multimedia goodies. A search for Gettysburg turns up 340 items. A search for Watergate lists 105 items including transcripts from the 1973 hearings and the Watergate security guard logs. And each set of search results can be sorted by format, date, geographic location, lending institution, and subject.


Added bonus? You also get cool online exhibitions that focus on specific topics.

dpla exhibitions

Extra added bonus? The DPLA is modeled after the original European version, Europeana. So when you’re done stumbling around in the American history DPLA, be sure to head over there for world and Europe resources.

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