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Pennsylvania Adds Cultural Resources to Digital Library

The state of Pennsylvania has announced the addition of select resources to the electronic Power Library, providing constituents with tools to learn new languages, learn about their heritage and more.

A book opens on the left side and laptop opens on the right side over a light blue background
This month, the state of Pennsylvania added new resources to its digital library to support constituents’ learning.

Libraries in the digital age remain a critical asset for communities, although the role of libraries has evolved in recent years.

For the state of Pennsylvania, providing a statewide database of library catalogs on a single website started years ago under the name of Access Pennsylvania; the service grew to include electronic databases, digital collections and more. In 2013, all of this was united under one web portal: POWER Library. Available to all Pennsylvanians with a library card, the state adds resources every five years using specific lines of state funding, according to Susan Banks, who is the state librarian and deputy secretary for libraries.

With this addition, Pennsylvanians will now have access to five new resources.

The addition features the MyHeritage Library Edition database to uncover family history; the Transparent Language Online software to learn over 120 languages; Britannica School Elementary to provide information for early learners; the Cricket Media Collection providing e-book access for young learners; and the ProQuest SIRS Discoverer which provides high-quality news coverage.

POWER Library offers electronic resources to learners of all ages in all areas of interest, although there is a specific focus on K-12 learners, aiming to provide additional support to supplement the limited resources of school libraries.

Every five years, the state uses an RFP process for vendors that supply this kind of educational resource. During this process, the state defines its needs and wants in resources to best support learners. Hosting Solutions and Library Consulting — the state’s technology partner for this work and manager of these resources — receives the proposals. From there, the state does a cost-benefit analysis to create the best combination of resources within budget parameters.

Banks noted that in addition to state funds, specific federal funds may also be used, in addition to Department of Education funds for resources that support K-12 learners.

Several of the newly added resources can benefit learners of any age. One example is the MyHeritage Library Edition database. It houses billions of historical documents from 48 countries, including historical photos, public records and additional resources spanning the past five centuries.

Genealogy resources were highly requested by the public, with each library receiving direct requests for this type of material. Banks noted that these resources can be expensive for individuals to access.

“I think MyHeritage is going to be accessible to folks just getting started, and it's going to be really interesting and useful to folks who are experienced in genealogy research,” Banks said.

Another important addition is the Transparent Language Online platform, offering support to learn over 120 languages, including Indigenous languages and American Sign Language, as well as English learning content for speakers of over 30 different languages. These resources are all free with a public library card.

As Banks detailed, the platform offers purpose-specific language learning, such as for business or travel. She stated that this resource will create a synergy between the resources Pennsylvanians come to libraries to use and supplemental education opportunities that can support their learning.

“But I think this is going to be a real game-changer for workforce development and skill building for the workers of Pennsylvania,” Banks said.

For those without access to the Internet at home, the first step to accessing these resources should be stopping at a public library, Banks noted. There, they can get a tutorial, as the state has trained librarians, teachers and school librarians to help expand use of the platform and resources within it.

Notably, digital resource collections have gained ground in the wake of book bans, which have pushed organizations like the National Coalition Against Censorship and EveryLibrary Institute to offer virtual resources to ensure continued access to information.

As Banks assured, the POWER Library’s resources intentionally make information available to specific age groups to ensure learning is age appropriate, but also reliable and accurate.

“And more than anything, it's important to provide access to correct and vetted information to children; that's the most important thing,” she said, underlining that these new resources, like the Encyclopedia Britannica, offer objectivity and accurate information from trusted and reliable sources.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.