Pros: Great stories and essays give context, while startling, surprising images bring the past to life.
Cons: Language within the stories and essays might work better for adults than for kids, and it’s easy to feel lost in the vast virtual stacks.
Bottom Line: This digital glimpse into the NYPL’s holdings is a lot to take in all at once, but it’s a rewarding journey.
Teachers might have students use the text, images, and recordings in the app as their own primary sources for a research paper, a project, or an in-class assignment. Teachers might also assign students to explore different themes by reading all of the stories in a particular theme section. Working solo or in small groups, students might explore the app and present on surprising facts or explain the significance behind a remarkable image.
Editor's Note: NYPL Biblion: World’s Fair is no longer available.
NYPL Biblion: World’s Fair is the New York Public Library’s latest effort to make their vast collection accessible to a wider audience. Through the lens of the 1940 New York World’s Fair, users can explore more than 700 images, historical documents, videos, and audio recordings. These resources are organized into six thematic groupings that range from history and science to fashion and the future. Within those sections, users can read stories that give context and study critical essays that illustrate larger historical points.
Users can hold the tablet in both book view and gallery view, and each view mode offers its own color scheme and clear indicator for progress through a section. Users can also use the “stacks” view to get an at-a-glance look at the six themes, the stories included in each theme, and the different kinds of content represented in each story. In the same view, users can follow yellow “connections” boxes to discover the connections between different stories and different themes. Users can link out to the NYPL's main website through the app, taking their exploration further.
The launch screen for this app boasts that this is the “Boundless Library,” and the developers aren’t kidding. Perusing NYPL Biblion: World's Fair at first feels like trying to drink from a fire hose. There's an extraordinary amount of information here, and it's a little disorienting to keep track of where you've been and where you're headed next. A few moments with the Introduction feature make a big difference: It makes it clear how exactly to use the many resources that appear on-screen at once. Teachers could also offer their own orientation and help students target the content that interests them most.
NYPL Biblion: World's Fair illustrates a larger metaphor about what libraries can be: They aren't dusty repositories of old things, but rather, they're rich glimpses into the past. Each story and essay is just long enough, offering surprising insights about the images and documents, and inspiring users to link to other stories to learn even more. With a tone that’s both authoritative and inviting, each text offers users a textured, multi-layered look into the fair’s most serious and most silly moments. This is a truly powerful tool for enlivening historical events: It's an extraordinary opportunity to access rare objects with expert guidance.