The Digital Public Library of America

DPLA home page
Digital Public Library of America home page

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is totally free to use and open to everyone. You don’t need a library card, subscription or even a sign-in to access it. It is also an impressive research resource for genealogists and family historians. This library is totally digital and isn’t just limited to books. You can find photographs, audio and video files, manuscripts and even books from America’s libraries, museums and archives. Florida’s Sunshine State Digital Network (SSDN) has contributed more than 148,000 records to DPLA including a recent contribution of 62,000 new records from Florida Memory.

A good place to start is the Family Research Guide. It offers information on what kind of data is available (photographs, family Bibles, maps, correspondence, oral histories and more) and has a search box to get you started. There are even links to several recorded webinars on using DPLA.

It is likely that the actual records, photos, etc. you find using DPLA don’t actually reside in the DPLA. Your search results will send you to the institution that does hold the resource you want. Don’t be surprised if a search delivers the same item at multiple locations.

You will also find “exhibits” like those shown here. Called topics, they pull together items from libraries, archives and museums across the country. This is a relatively new feature at DPLA but it has already become quite popular.

Using the Baseball topic as an example, selecting it will present another screen with interesting baseball-related articles. It may not help your research efforts, but you will find it quite fascinating.

Make sure you visit The Family Research Guide to DPLA ( The search tips page is full of information on how to refine and narrow your searches to find what you are looking for. You will also find a number of collections – like family photographs, family Bibles and even family history/genealogy books.

On the Workshops page there is an hour-long webinar on using DPLA for genealogy and family history. It includes tips on searching for family names and exploring resources in your ancestor’s hometown. The speakers also walk you through some of the collections that have family research potential. This is a saved workshop but it includes links to the collections discussed in the webinar.

Don’t pass up Open Bookshelf, a digital library of popular books free to download. These are public domain books along with a number of Creative-Commons licensed publications and freely available textbooks. To get started, download the free SimplyE mobile app from either the iOS or Android App Store then add the Digital Public Library of America as an account. No library card is needed. You just start browsing. All books are free to download and keep. The reader app is deceptively simple. It includes features like font options, changing text size, screen background and brightness. You can highlight text, set bookmarks and even look up words or phrases.

The Digital Public Library of America is an impressive resource for family historians but it is also a lot more. Spend some time getting acquainted with the broad range of resources it provides. You will soon find it an important tool in your research toolbox.

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