Review by Polly Conway, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2013

Digital Public Library of America

Impressive online collection of historic and cultural artifacts

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts
  • Social Studies

  • Character & SEL
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (2 Reviews)

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Pros: There's a mind-boggling amount of information available through DPLA, and the search tools are way cool.

Cons: The community still needs time to grow, and they might consider creating a sister site or special page for younger researchers.

Bottom Line: This epic database of history and culture is a labor of love that all students can benefit from.

Teachers can definitely recommend DPLA as a student source for research papers or projects. It's also great for multimedia assignments that may help bring a particular subject to life; a search for the Great Depression pulls up Dorothea Lange's classic photos but also some lesser-known images, like a homecoming parade captured by an unknown photographer in 1934. High school kids may be most adept at navigating all the search options and sifting through the mountains of info, but teachers can also use the site to resource classroom media for their younger students.

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The Digital Public Library of America is an ambitious online resource with an incredible wealth of information that kids can access safely. DPLA's mission: to make cultural and scientific works more accessible to the public. With a database searchable by map, timeline, format, and topic, it's 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.

DPLA users can choose to sign up for an account in order to save searches, access forums, and share information with others. However, the site is totally usable without a login as well. Three search options are map, timeline, and topic. Once kids complete a search, they can refine by format: image, text, moving image, or sound. Older kids will find the site pretty intuitive, but younger researchers may need a helping hand.

With DPLA, kids can really dig in and find information they never expected. Not only are kids learning about various subjects, they're learning how to search, which is a super-transferable skill in this age of information. Searchwise, sometimes you have to know what you're looking for. 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.

In general, the site's an amazing American accomplishment, and it's only going to grow. The design is maybe a bit austere and serious for younger users (though libraries have never been known for their flashiness), and the forums are still pretty sparse. However, the site launched in April 2013, so expect the community to develop and grow over time. Overall, DPLA 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.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

The site design is pretty dry and not necessarily geared toward kids; it's all about research. However, the rotating Exhibitions on the front page are more fun to look at, and kids can find some unique documents.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Kids can use DPLA searches as a jumping-off point to find even more information about their desired subject. Kids can easily transfer their newfound search skills to future research projects.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

DPLA's help pages don't offer a lot of technical details, but they do give guidelines on how best to use the site's resources. The most helpful advice is on how to make searching a little less overwhelming.

Common Sense Reviewer
Polly Conway Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

(See all 2 reviews) (2 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Danny C. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Terra Nova High School
Pacifica, United States
An amazing tool to delve into the past in a more digitally relevant way
The Digital Public Library of America is really a great tool for social science teachers looking to make their content and research projects more appropriate for a technologically driven 21st century. It's free and can be used to really delve into many time periods without having to just focus on a textbook or oral stories. Obviously, it can't go too far into the past because of digital restrictions in the early 1800s and before, but this is a great tool for teachers who want to teach about primary ...
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