In the early 1990s, the Internet was compared to a library whose books had been removed from the shelves and thrown into a large pile.
Altavista and similar search engines indexed and brought some order to the chaos. Google ran with this idea and today provides a flexible general purpose user interface to its awesome Internet index (called BigTable). This month, the Digital Public Library of America website has arrived online. According to its About page, it will attempt to provide a single index for many existing libraries. They’re professional librarians who have the cooperation of some prestigious libraries, such as Smithsonian, Harvard, and New York Public libraries, so http://dp.la/ should become a valuable resource. The DPLA index points to more than just books: documents include works of art, multimedia, historical letters, etc. The Wikipedia entry for DPLA contains comments on DPLA’s history and controversies.
Their user interface includes the fascinating ability to browse its index by place or time, and they provide an open-source application program interface (API) for use by anyone. The nonprofit DPLA is funded for two years by private grants.
Here’s a discussion of DPLA controversies, including copyright issues: America’s Digital Library Launches Without a Peep from Google .
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