The Digital Public Library of America

The Digital Public Library of America is one of the most useful online libraries available today. It is new, having been formed less than two years ago. It is not a genealogy library. Rather, it is a general-purpose library that just happens to have a lot of genealogy material in addition to other topics. The Digital Public Library of America’s mission is to make cultural and scientific works more accessible to the public.

At the time these words are being written, the Digital Public Library of America lists 8,416,553 items from libraries, archives, and museums. A search on the word “genealogy” returns a list of 65,707 items available via the library’s online portal.

NOTE: An “item” might be information about a book, a photograph, a manuscript, a sound recording, music score, chart, map, moving image, or other object.

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) brings together content from America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world. In fact, the DPLA does not own any of the items in its catalog but instead allows users to access them through its own website,, and through various regional service hubs. The library’s holdings come from institutions ranging from the Smithsonian, the University of Virginia Library, the New York Public Library, and smaller institutions, such as the Minnesota Streetcar Museum and the Montana Memory Project.

The DPLA serves as a portal to provide new ways to search and scan through the united collection of millions of items that may be stored on any of thousands of other library web sites. Unlike a traditional search engine, the DPLA displays available information about the items by timelines, maps, a “virtual bookshelf,” format, subject, and partner.

In his 1938 book World Brain, H.G. Wells imagined a time—not very distant, he believed—when every person on the planet would have easy access to “all that is thought or known.”

The information in the DPLA portal may be accessed on desktop computers, laptops, and tablets. The DPLA also features a library of a dozen apps, including OpenPics, which allows users to call up on their smartphones materials relating to buildings around them. In addition, the DPLA also offers APIs (application program interfaces) that allow other computers to access the DPLA information. As a result, thousands of online services can access the information in any of a myriad of ways.

Regardless of how the user accesses the DPLA, he or she no longer needs to travel to distant libraries to find information. Instead, users may sit on their own living room couches or in other convenient places to perform their research. The result is opening the world that previously had been closed to those who could not easily travel to distant repositories. The portal delivers resources to students, teachers, scholars, and the public, wherever they may be in America.

One limitation is that the Digital Public Library of America is limited to public domain works or to works that are explicitly licensed for library access. The result is that millions of items are available online, but not everything that some of us might want. In fact, millions of items are licensed for library access.

An introductory video about the Digital Public Library of America may be viewed on YouTube at or in the video player below:

The Digital Public Library of America initially was started by financial support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and has subsequently received funding from several foundations and government agencies, including the US National Endowment for the Humanities and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

You can find a very helpful video, How to Search the Digital Public Library of America at

All in all, this is a great resource. I suggest you try it to see if it will help you in any way. You can access the Digital Public Library of America at That has to be one of the shortest URLs (web addresses) in existence!


I agree wholeheartedly. I mention this in talks on researching. It is now “ingesting” (their term, which I love), other collections to point to, including As I have contributed 4000 items to NYH, this will give those a wider reach. I also have been a community representative for them for 2 years, and that also has been great fun. It’s another great place to look at – even on a phone, for which, you guessed it, there is an app!


What a fantastic research tool. I enjoyed this article immensely. Many people do not realize how important libraries are for the masses and how they are used.


Reblogged this on On Granny's Trail and commented:
This has not even been on my radar before. I’m glad to learn about this online library resource…


This sounds like a great idea. I am a genealogist and I had the occasion to visit an archive at an Historical Black College/University. I wish that there was some type of cooperation to digitize the contents in these special libraries an archives. Genealogists and historians would treasure such a collection.


Thank you Dick. Very useful, One could spend hours on here!


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