One of the most common questions I encounter from people when I tell them I am studying to be a librarian is “Why can’t I just go online and get all the information of the world in one place?” That one usually comes after “We don’t really need libraries anymore, do we?” This sequence has always struck me as defining the public’s attitude toward libraries. Generally people express their opinion that we don’t need libraries at the same time that they confess to needing some resource that only libraries contain.
But perhaps it also reveals the major reasons libraries have been having so much trouble recently. Libraries have fallen behind the leaps that the digital information landscape has taken. That’s beginning to change, of course, but until libraries are able to provide the widespread access the public seems to want, the public won’t see a reason to support libraries.
Which brings us to the exciting new endeavor that launched recently. The Digital Public Library of America officially opened to the online public on April 19. According to the press release, “The portal delivers millions of materials found in American archives, libraries, museums, and cultural heritage institutions to students, teachers, scholars, and the public.” This allows patrons to easily access and, more importantly, interact with information.
But more than what it provides patrons, to me it offers a view into what can be accomplished when libraries, digital technology and collaboration come together. If we want to leap into this era, librarians need to be willing to collaborate and push the boundaries of what their jobs entail. And the DPLA is just one of the ways libraries can better serve our patrons in the twenty-first century.