The vision of a national digital library has been circulating among librarians, scholars, educators, and private industry representatives since the early 1990s. Efforts led by a range of organizations, including the Library of Congress, HathiTrust, and the Internet Archive, have successfully built resources that provide books, images, historic records, and audiovisual materials to anyone with Internet access. Many universities, public libraries, and other public-spirited organizations have digitized materials, but these digital collections often exist in silos. DPLA brings these different viewpoints, experiences, and collections together in a single platform and portal, providing open and coherent access to our society’s digitized cultural heritage.

The DPLA planning process began in October 2010 at a meeting in Cambridge, MA. During this meeting, 40 leaders from libraries, foundations, academia, and technology projects agreed to work together to create “an open, distributed network of comprehensive online resources that would draw on the nation’s living heritage from libraries, universities, archives, and museums in order to educate, inform, and empower everyone in current and future ­generations.”

In December 2010, the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, generously supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, convened leading experts in libraries, technology, law, and education to begin work on this ambitious project. A two-year process of intense grassroots community organization, beginning in October 2011 and hosted at the Berkman Klein Center, brought together hundreds of public and research librarians, innovators, digital humanists, and other volunteers—organized into six work streams and led by a distinguished Steering Committee—helped to scope, design, and construct DPLA. The work produced during this period is available on our Wiki.

DPLA launched in April 2013 and has developed into a free, open and accessible national digital resource. During the tenure of founding Executive Director Dan Cohen, DPLA united sixteen million items from two thousand institutions, expanded its content and service hubs, and began new ebook initiatives. DPLA is currently led by Executive Director John S. Bracken and guided by a Board of Directors comprised of leading public and research librarians, technologists, intellectual property scholars, and business experts from around the country. The DPLA staff has grown from four employees into a team of librarians, historians, educators, technologists, and strategists.  

To learn more about DPLA’s growth over the years, visit Historical Materials.