Digital Public Library of America

Website review by
Polly Conway, Common Sense Media
Digital Public Library of America Website Poster Image
Vast online library is a wealth of searchable info.

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The parents' guide to what's in this website.

Educational Value

Kids can learn about history, science, and culture as they sharpen their research skills in this huge database. Introduced to different styles of finding information, they'll discover what works best. (If kinds use the Map search function, they might end up learning a little geography as well--bonus!) They can collect data, add it to lists, and save to their personal pages for future reference. The front page Exhibitions highlight subjects like "Activism in the U.S." Though probably more interesting for older kids, DPLA is a researcher's dream and a labor of love that all students can benefit from.

Positive Messages

DPLA makes its records accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, upholding the underlying philosophy of public libraries everywhere.


Users would find the same level of historical violence found in schoolbooks; images are presented without comment, not glorified in any way.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this ambitious online resource contains an incredible wealth of information that kids can access safely. The Digital Public Library of America's mission: to make cultural and scientific works more accessible to the public. With a database searchable by map, timeline, format, and topic, they're hosting well over two million separate records, including text, images, and video. And while the library's vast archives are sometimes tricky to navigate, there's a lot of history to dig into here. Older kids will find the site pretty intuitive, but younger researchers may need a helping hand.

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What's it about?

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is an online resource pulling together an incredible wealth of information that kids can access safely. The searchable database of more than two million records includes text, images, and video. Kids can explore a timeline by clicking on a decade of history to see what documents appear. They can also browse current site exhibitions such as \"Activism in the U.S.\" or \"Leaving Europe: A new life in America.\" A searchable map lets kids access resources specific to a particular U.S. state or region.

Is it any good?

Sometimes you really have to know what you're looking for; a search for "illuminated manuscript" brought up over 1500 results, but "illuminated manuscript Gothic" narrowed it down to three. This isn't the place to find a cursory summary of a subject, but you can find some wonderfully specific and fascinating pieces of archival info. The design is a bit austere and serious for younger users, but libraries have never been known for their flashiness. The forums are pretty sparse, but the site just launched in April of 2013, so expect the community to develop and grow over time.

Overall, the Digital Public Library of America is a bit like walking into the Library of Congress: amazing, but a little intimidating. As physical libraries seem to be woefully underfunded, the breadth and quality of DPLA is a wonderful surprise.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can search together by year; if your kid was born in 2002, click that date on the timeline and see the historical and cultural events that pop up.

  • What makes a digital library different from a physical library? What are the benefits of each?

Website details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history and research

Themes & Topics

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