Digital Public Library of America Primary Source Sets

Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Primary Source Sets are designed to help students develop critical thinking skills by exploring topics in history, literature, and culture through primary sources.

Digital Public Library of America Primary
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Digital Public Library of America
Publication Year
Resource Type
Instructional Material
Product Type
Benefits and Uses

Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Primary Source Sets are designed to help students develop critical thinking skills by exploring topics in history, literature, and culture through primary sources. Drawing online materials from libraries, archives, and museums across the United States, the sets use letters, photographs, posters, oral histories, video clips, sheet music, and more. Each set includes a topic overview, ten to fifteen primary sources, links to related resources, and a teaching guide.


The DPLA portal provides access to the following categories of materials: 

  • Exhibitions - collection of digital exhibitions on a wide variety of themes
  • Map - search resource by source location
  • Timeline - search resources by historical date
  • Bookshelf - search entire collection of digitized books
  • Apps - search the archives in different ways or review and study features of the DPL itself, such as the flow of materials from sources
What the experts say

DPLA provides the user access to digitized primary source materials that cover a wide range of topics of historical interest. The website describes the resources as “a virtual library of Americana free and available to all.” These materials are easily accessible and appropriate for adults.

Use these resources to design and implement instructional activities that target the requirements of three key instructional advances in the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCR). Many of the original sources represent complex texts (Key Advance 1), the text-dependent questions require evidence from the texts (Key Advance 2), and the sets of resources build knowledge (Key Advance 3). 

The primary source documents provide text samples to use in developing CCR standards-aligned lessons.  You can use the resources to supplement a unit of study around a related theme or develop a new lesson or unit of study.  If you work with adults who are English language learners, you might use the sources to develop background knowledge of a historical theme or event. These resources may also be useful for developing CCR-aligned curriculum. 

The DPLA resources are appropriate for adult students and ready-to-use. You will, however, need to make individual decisions about which text set is appropriate for which of your students.[1]

Each primary source set has a “teaching guide” which includes discussion questions and classroom activities. The explicit alignment of those questions and activities to CCR standards is not made although these activities include text-dependent questions and an analysis of how two or more texts address similar themes (CCR Reading Standard 9).

  • ·The DPLA Bookshelf is an easy way to search DPLA’s books, serials, and journals.

The visual images and audio and video sources may be particularly helpful for working with students who are beginning-level language learners. In some cases, links to additional resources for research are provided. Related primary source sets are also highlighted.



[1] For help to determine text-complexity and reading levels, refer to LINCS CCRFoundational Unit 2: Selecting Texts Worth Reading.

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