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THE NEW MEDIA CENTER: Digging Deeper into DPLA

By Mary Alice Anderson - Posted May 1, 2016
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The Digital Public Library of America is comprehensive enough to be valuable for educators without being overwhelming or intimidating.

In my last column, I introduced readers to the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA; and to primary source sets for educators. DPLA is a completely online library that provides access to almost 12 million historic and cultural primary source artifacts. Launched in 2013, DPLA provides educational tools and resources through its own site and in partnership with 1,800 diverse institutions. As a public library, DPLA is free and available to everyone.

My graduate students explored DPLA this winter. They were impressed by how much DPLA offers and excited about the primary source sets students can use in the context of a curricular project. One of them, a higher-education instructor, plans to use the set Road to the Revolution in a module she is developing for pre-service teachers. A teacher who works with English language learner (ELL) and immigrant middle school students was excited about immigration and migration resources such as American Indian Boarding Schools and Mexican Labor and World War II: The Bracero Program Boarding Schools. She noted these and much more tie in to many of the subjects they have covered or do cover in class.

Teaching guides that accompany each set have written higher-order-thinking, text-dependent questions. One of my graduate students noted the teacher’s guide asks students to compare and contrast points of view and methods. Students are asked to explain connections and relationships between sources, support conclusions with evidence from the sources, and identify questions for further inquiry. Questions also include convenient links to the resources represented in the set. Teaching guides also offer suggested activities and quick access to Primary Source Use and Analysis Guides from the National Archives and The Library of Congress. DPLA does not itself provide full lesson plans and detailed teaching activities, but the guides will help teachers and media specialists develop their own customized lessons and activities.

My grad students found DPLA big enough to have material that excited them personally and accommodated their classroom needs, but not so big as to be overwhelming and intimidating. So in this month’s column, I am pleased to share more information about DPLA with you.


DPLA has added additional primary source sets, bringing the total number to 100. Topics represent history, American literature, fine arts, performance arts, cultural movements, science, and technology. Selecting a set for your curriculum is easy with filters for historic time period and subject. Sorting by “newest or oldest” makes it easy to discover what’s new. New tech features allow for more fluid movement between the different sets and sources within a set. The set sources are displayed in a scrolling carousel. Suggestions for further research and related sets are displayed at the bottom of the set page.


Searching and browsing are available through a basic search box, a map, and a timeline. The timeline search is a convenient way to locate resources pertinent to a specific year or decade and to generate ideas for unique or not previously considered topics for study. Exhibitions on popular topics and particular curriculum topics offer another approach.

The visually clear and appealing landing page for each individual resource includes an artifact icon, usage rights, a description, and helpful bibliographic information, including subject headings to help locate similar materials. More details are viewable by selecting the View Object link to see the detailed bibliographic record on the contributing institution’s site. (Note that each contributing institution—which may be something other than a library or museum, such as a public radio station—has its own unique format.) While bibliographic information may not excite the typical student searcher, it is helpful for finding out more about the item and establishing additional search strategies. Location, contributing institution, date, format, and language can further refine search results.


A detailed subject list, accessible through Help contents (see Browsing DPLA), covers the whole DPLA collection of items from the 1,800-plus contributing institutions. This link to the Subjects list is another way to browse the collection. The subject filter is also available on the left side of any search result in one of the yellow-trimmed boxes toward the bottom.


The Save and Share feature is available to all users who sign up for a free account. With this feature, users can save and group items in DPLA around specific topics. This provides one way for users (including teachers and students) to build “sets” of resources in DPLA, although the sets don’t have the same look as the published primary source sets. Sharing via Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ also requires the free account. Two short video tutorials explain how to use Save and Share.


Searching in a collection of more than 2 million ebooks, serials, and journals from partners and contributing libraries is easy using the Bookshelf’s appealing and user-friendly structure. Search results appear as a stack of “book spines.” The size of the “spine” indicates the page count, and the horizontal length reflects the book’s actual height. Click on the spine of the book for more details. Non-English-language books and selections from other countries are available.


Just as DPLA’s resource collection is a result of collaboration with 1,800 contributing institutions, its educational tools and teaching resources derive from partnerships with institutions such as PBS LearningMedia and Open eBooks.

PBS LearningMedia. PBS LearningMedia offers another approach to expand the breadth of primary sources and other information on a curricular topic through its own website, The site includes DPLA resources and PBS LearningMedia’s own vast collection of multimedia resources. By searching that resource I was able to locate additional materials—beyond those in the DPLA—about prisoner of war camps in the United States that held Germans during World War II. PBS LearningMedia can be searched by grade level, standards, and subject area and resource format. Lesson plans and self-paced lessons are included. PBS and DPLA are also exploring additional, related ideas, such as professional development resources for teachers, and the possible inclusion of PBS media within DPLA.

Open eBooks. DPLA participated in the launching of Open eBooks, a new app that provides free access to thousands of popular ebook titles for children in need. Open eBooks is a collaborative project between DPLA, New York Public Library, and FirstBook, with assistance from Baker & Taylor in support of the White House’s ConnectED Initiative. The goal is reaching children and youth in low-income areas to provide them with unlimited access. The public domain books were selected by librarians and contributed by publishers familiar to school media specialists. Registration is required. There is more information on this collaboration on the DPLA website at

The Learning Registry and National History Day. DPLA Exhibitions ( are discoverable through the Learning Registry (, which distributes online educational resources to states and schools around the country. The U.S. Departments of Education and Defense launched the Learning Registry in 2011 as an open source community and technology designed to improve the quality and availability of learning resources in education.

DPLA’s National History Day section (, with connections to the National History Day ( contests, is minimal, but has links to DPLA’s national guide and a few state guides that help with the contests.


DPLA makes it easy for you to spread the word about its resources and tools. The Outreach section, under the Education tab at the very top of the home screen, features archived webinars to help media specialists who want to learn more or to offer staff development sessions. Additional videos are accessible via YouTube. There are downloadable posters and handouts. DPLA tweets appear on the homepage and keep you up-to-date on what’s new. Professional growth opportunities include learning through an education listserv or becoming a community representative. DPLA has an Apps section and invites users to share their ideas and projects.

DPLA belongs in every media specialist’s resource and professional development toolbox. Its uncluttered format and user-friendly search structure make DPLA useful for teachers seeking resources to enhance inquiry-based teaching and learning for students in grades 5–12. The exhibitions and primary source sets are natural and ideal tools for busy teachers. Take time to explore; you will be pleased!


Thank you to Samantha Gibson (engagement and use coordinator at DPLA), Nancy Watkins, (St. Petersburg College of Education), and Jesse Hess (Wisconsin educator) for their input into this column.

Anderson, Mary Alice, The New Media Center: “Resources for the New Media Specialist—DPLA’s Primary Source Sets and Ben’s Guide, Refreshed!” Internet@Schools, January/February 2016;

DPLA, Using DPLA for Teaching and Learning:

DPLA Education Resources and Collaborations:

DPLA Blog:

Library of Congress, Using Primary Sources (Analysis Tools and More):

National Archives Document Analysis Worksheets:

Contact Mary Alice Anderson at .

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