Making Access Happen through the Digital Public Library of America

Providing public access to Federal Government records is central to the mission of the National Archives. Open access to government records strengthens democracy by allowing Americans to claim their rights of citizenship, hold their government accountable, and understand their history so they can participate more effectively in their government.

Collaboration with stakeholders, the public, and private organizations to make historical records available has long been a priority for the National Archives. It is clear that collaboration is the path to the future, and nowhere is this more apparent than through the efforts of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) to connect people to our nation’s shared history.

DPLA provides a single online access point for anyone, anywhere to search and access digital collections containing America’s cultural, historical and scientific heritage. This collaborative effort has united leaders and educators from various government agencies, libraries, archives and museums of all sizes working together to ensure that all people have access to information they need.

Screenshot of DPLA Browse by Topic page

We’ve been involved with DPLA from its earliest stages. In October 2010, I was in the meeting room at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study when DPLA was born. We hosted the first Plenary Session back in 2011, where more than 300 government leaders, librarians, technologists, makers, students, and many others gathered at the National Archives to share their visions for DPLA and open access.

DPLA has now grown to include more than 21 million records from over 3,000 cultural heritage institutions across the United States. The National Archives is the largest participating Content Hub: nearly 3.8 million NARA records are currently available on DPLA, making up 17.5% percent of the content.

The volume of records that we’ve been able to share over the years has allowed DPLA to test the scalability of their ingestion infrastructure. Testing with such a large data set provides the opportunity to see how large numbers of records affect search and retrieval algorithms. This is an important step, as the goal of DPLA is to provide users with the most accurate search results without overwhelming records from other institutions in their index. We are continuing to work together to share more of our data with DPLA.

The National Archives’ participation in DPLA over the years has been an opportunity to share our content more broadly, open new doors for research and discovery, and engage and connect with users from across the United States and around the world. I am especially proud of the work done collaboratively by the National Archives and participating institutions to expand access to information through DPLA. The ability to seamlessly search across the collections of major cultural, historical, and research institutions alongside the holdings of local museums and libraries improves democracy through education, and furthers the principles of open government.

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