Accessing the Digital Public Library of America

Today, May 4, 2013 marks the sixth anniversary of what used to be the “Boles University Blog.”  That fine scholarship and research blog is now folded into this even finer, and richer, and deeper Boles Blogs Blog, and in celebration of promoting online pedagogy and in-person teaching, let’s take a look at the fascinating, and new, “Digital Public Library” of America! Here’s how the DPLA describes its mission:

The Digital Public Library of America brings together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world. It strives to contain the full breadth of human expression, from the written word, to works of art and culture, to records of America’s heritage, to the efforts and data of science. The DPLA aims to expand this crucial realm of openly available materials, and make those riches more easily discovered and more widely usable and used, through its three main elements.

I love the idea of all the artifacts and valuables from across America coming home, virtually, online to be shared and compared in real time via a single search portal.

I decided to try out the DPLA with a simple query for famous American Playwright Arthur Miller. Here’s the search string the site used to parse my want:

The results were pretty interesting. I was able to see this bust of the Playwright Arthur Miller. The full text of this research project Arthur C. Miller wrote in 1911 is dangerous, because while this is a proper “Arthur Miller” return, the Arthur Miller I want — “Arthur Asher Miller” — was born in 1915 and could not have written this paper.  As well, there’s also a famous American cinematographer named “Arthur C. Miller” who also appeared in the search returns quite a bit.

Students and researchers must keep in mind that their search terms are only as good as their narrowing and expansion of the topic.  I learned my generic “Arthur Miller” search on the DPLA was vast and way too general with millions of hits and returns.

I was presented with images of death certificates for a plethora of “Arthur Millers” who died long before my Arthur Miller passed in 2005.  Researcher beware!  Look, click and evaluate.

Here’s a fine painting of my Arthur Miller.  It is quite lifelike and beautiful.

The Digital Public Library of America is a tremendous research tool, but with access to great, unfiltered information, we must be smart enough, and disciplined enough, to evaluate every link and return to determine if the information is not just on topic or relevant — but is it even the right person?