The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is a national digital library that brings together metadata from digital collections around the country into a single, searchable website. It also makes that metadata available to developers through an API (application programming interface), enabling reuse for all kinds of purposes – from visualization to data mining.

The North Carolina Digital Heritage Center is the North Carolina service hub for the DPLA. The Digital Heritage Center works with North Carolina institutions interested in sharing their collections by aggregating metadata feeds and preparing them for ingest into the DPLA. To learn more about service hubs, visit the DPLA website.

Why Contribute Metadata to the DPLA?

Since its launch in the spring of 2013, the DPLA has grown rapidly to include millions of metadata records from a wide variety of institutions. Content is contributed from partners all over the United States, including institutions like the National Archives and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as consortia like HathiTrustMountain West Digital Library, and South Carolina Digital Library. Sharing metadata through the DPLA means your institution’s digital resources will be searchable alongside digital resources from collections like these, as well as hundreds of thousands of digital resources from North Carolina. The DPLA will provide a high profile access point for your resources, reaching a larger and broader audience.

What Kinds of Collections Can I Share With the DPLA?

The DPLA does not have any restrictions on the type of content submitted. As long as your collection’s metadata meets the DPLA’s basic guidelines, it can be shared.

What Are the Technical Requirements for Participating?

To share metadata with the DPLA, your materials need to be in a content management system with an accessible metadata feed. Most common content management systems, including OCLC’S CONTENTdm, have built-in tools for sharing metadata. North Carolina Digital Heritage Center staff can help to determine how best to share metadata for your digital collections.

The DPLA is not able to harvest metadata from databases that are not accessible to the public or from online exhibits shared through websites.

What Will the DPLA Use from my Institution?

The DPLA will harvest only descriptive metadata and thumbnail images. The actual digital files represented in your collections — full size images, audio files, transcriptions, etc. — are not transferred to the DPLA. The only way users will be able to access those files through the DPLA will be by following a link to your institution’s website.

How Can I Tell if my Institution’s Metadata Meets the DPLA Guidelines?

The North Carolina Digital Heritage Center has prepared a guide for North Carolina institutions interested in sharing metadata. The DPLA has just a few required fields and some recommendations for formatting metadata. Some institutions may be required to make changes and/or additions to their digital collections metadata before it can be contributed to the DPLA. 

Will Any Changes Be Made to my Metadata?

The DPLA does do a little processing of contributed metadata when it’s displayed on the DPLA web site. The changes are primarily to make some fields more consistent across the massive amount of metadata that the DPLA displays. For example, the DPLA routinely removes spaces around dashes in Library of Congress subject headings. If a subject heading in your metadata reads “North Carolina — History — Civil War, 1861-1865,” it would appear in the DPLA as “North Carolina–History–Civil War, 1861-1865.”

The DPLA will also try to extract geographic information from contributed metadata. This process should not result in any changes to how your institution’s metadata appears in the DPLA.

Finally, when the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center adds your metadata, we may inform you of changes you need to make so that the right information shows up in the fields the DPLA requires. See “How to Participate: Metadata Requirements for more information on the types of changes that may be requested.

If I Include my Metadata, Will Users Go to the DPLA Instead of my Website?

While many users will discover your collections through the DPLA, they will still have to visit your institution’s website to see the full image or document. It is our hope that sharing metadata through the DPLA will result in an increase in both awareness and use of your institution’s digital collections. The North Carolina Digital Heritage Center will also be working with the DPLA to learn how often metadata records from North Carolina institutions are accessed on the DPLA’s website. 

Is There Anything I Should Know?

First, all metadata contributed to the DPLA must be shared under a Creative Commons “CC0” license, which places the metadata into the public domain, waiving all rights and restrictions. Your metadata will be available through the DPLA for anyone to harvest and re-use without asking permission. This policy is designed to encourage new and creative uses of digital collections metadata. Application developers are already using DPLA metadata to create innovative and exciting tools for exploring digital collections. If your institution is uncomfortable with the idea of your collection metadata being used by others without permission, you may not want to contribute metadata to the DPLA.

Contributing institutions should also be aware that the metadata in the DPLA will be updated at most once a month. If you manage a collection that has metadata that changes on a regular basis and it’s important to you to have the most current metadata available to users, that collection might not be a good candidate to share with the DPLA.

Updated September 2023