Reviewed June 2019
Dana Statton Thompson, Research and Instruction Librarian
Waterfield Library, Murray State University
The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is a non-profit and digital library that aggregates metadata and thumbnails for photographs, manuscripts, books, sounds, moving images from libraries, archives, and museums across the United States and makes that information freely available online. One of the ways the DPLA does this is by creating online exhibitions. In Focus: The Evolution of the Personal Camera is one such example created as part of the DPLA’s Digital Curation Program. The exhibition examines the emergence and development of the personal camera and its influence on culture in America. It was created by students in Dr. Joan E. Beaudoin’s 2015 course “Metadata in Theory and Practice” at the School of Library and Information Science at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Users are likely to encounter the exhibition through the ‘Browse all Exhibitions’ tab on the homepage of the DPLA. At the time of this writing, it is one of thirty-two online exhibitions curated by DPLA staff, partner institutions, and graduate students in library and information science and public history.
Users will first land on a home page which outlines the five sections of the exhibition and provides a short introduction to the entire exhibit. The user will then click the “Explore Exhibition” to enter the exhibition, which leads to the first section, “Early Photography.” There are five sections, which include: Early Photography, America Meets the Personal Camera, The Polaroid Era, Digital Photography, and The Photography Business. Each section has two to three subsections with one large image and three to four thumbnails of photographs or illustrations on each page and two to three paragraphs of text. The user can zoom in or out of the selected image and even make the image full-screen to examine it closer. The resource follows the technological advancements of the camera as it relates to personal use, with most attention given to daguerreotypes, the Kodak Box Brownie camera, Polaroid camera, and digital camera.
The exhibition provides a decent overview of the subject. However, generalizations about historical facts and the current state of photography which make the resource less valuable as a research tool. The image captions are not consistent between the sections, or between images on the same page, indicating a lack of attention to detail. This is an issue indicative of the more significant issue surrounding the elusive image citation standard, which is not the fault of the creators. However, the headings of the sections are not standardized either, so the overall design is not as intuitive as it could be. The casual language also detracts from the research value of the resource. Unfortunately, the last page, which should lead the user to the Resources information, returns an error message. This error could mean that the site has not been updated recently. However, there are no sources cited in the text, so it does prove problematic from a researcher’s perspective.
Overall, the resource serves as an example for other educators to follow when incorporating student-created online exhibits into their curriculum. It seems especially appropriate for projects with limited budgets as the materials within the DPLA collection are free to access and use. As part of the DPLA platform itself, the resource is free to use with no account or specific software needed to access the site.