Serendipity can still top search. I learned about the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) not online, but in a print article about efforts in Minnesota to share its history digitally. It was intriguing. Thus began my exploration of DPLA: search, sign up, receive some emails, open and read a few, get intrigued and before you know it you are applying to be a DPLA Community Rep.
I live in Missouri – in the vast Middle Border country – which is an odd amalgamation of several histories; border state, Midwest, gateway to the west and approaching its bicentennial of its entrance into the Union. Missouri: the land of Mark Twain, Jesse James, Harry Truman, Scott Joplin, Charlie Parker and Jon Hamm. I was intrigued by the way in which DPLA provides a new way to discover, organize and share a history already known, and to deliver it digitally. The approach is disruptive – often a feature of technology innovation – and challenging to old-school approaches to doing history. Being involved with local and state historical societies you can get a skewed view of the general public interest given that these membership organizations are challenged to renew their base and reassess their role.
But your harsh assessment changes after attending a National History Day in Columbia (MO). It had been some time since I had seen that many folks at a history-related event outside of a local appearance by David McCullough. I left that experience renewed in the thought that local and regional history has a promising, but perhaps, different future. Young students want to discover, share and interpret stories of places, events, and ideas. But they likely will do it new ways. Search and discover begins not at the library, but on an electronic device.
This year DPLA is an official sponsor of National History Day in Missouri. With the excellent assistance of the DPLA staff, teaching guides and materials were prepared sharing DPLA resources related to this year’s theme: Leadership and Legacy in History. Also a prize was created for the student whose work made the best use of DPLA-related resources at the state finals next spring. My simple hope is these young folks will move from searching online, to helping get the history of our state online. Otherwise we may lose much near-history of the Show-Me State or have it hidden to others. We have extensive records of centuries past – paper records stored, few finding aids and limited public hours for research in libraries and archives. Getting online – the indexes, if not actual documents, images and audio files – is essential. And before more recent history is lost–not to the dustbins of history, but landfills–as this “greatest generation” leaves us, we have a chance learn what they did, know and experience.