New App Can Take You Back in Time

iPads may seem like they're from the future, but they can actually provide insight into the past. The New York Public Library has released an app that allows access to the famous library's stacks. The first issue is a virtual ticket to the 1939-1940 World's Fair. So step right up!

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The App

The New York Public Library (NYPL) has jumped into the mobile entertainment game with a free new app. Rather than offering static content, this app, called Biblion: The Boundless Library, will be released in editions that highlight different parts of the library's extensive photographic and historical document collections. In the first issue, users can explore photographs, read essays and examine exhibits and other ephemera from the 1939-1940 World's Fair.

The World's Fair was once a major event, drawing artists, inventors and businesses to put on exhibitions for the delight and entertainment of thousands of visitors. Though these events no longer occur, they were once a major source for international collaboration, with different nations offering their own exhibits on a national pavilion. It can be amusing to examine the creative efforts from a less technologically sophisticated era. But the historical implications of the World's Fair offer a more serious, educational slant. For example, Biblion: World's Fair allows its users to learn what happened to the 1939 Czechoslovakia pavilion after Hitler's invasion of that country.

But I Don't Have an iPad!

If you are the proud owner of an iPad, you should check this app out. The photographs are of an impressive quality, and navigation around the app offers an interesting user experience. The fact that it's free, coupled with the promise of further Biblion editions in the future, should be all the motivation you'll need to satisfy your inner history buff.

But what about those of us who don't have iPads? Luckily, the New York Public Library has an excellent website that features an extensive digital collection of photographs. Though searching through this collection won't necessarily offer the same curation and simple user interface as the app, it gives plenty of access to those who don't have the proper technology to use Biblion.

You can browse the image collection by letter, clicking on everything from watermelons to Kurds - clothing and dress - 1700-1799. If you'd rather take a more guided approach to exploring these digital images, the NYPL has provided handy collection guides to give you quick access to collections of portraits in categories like 'Popular American Song Sheet Covers, 1890-1922' or 'LGBT and HIV/AIDS Activist Collections.' You can even search by subject. Searching for 'New York World's Fair (1939-1940)' will give you access to many of the same images offered in the Biblion: World's Fair app.

Libraries aren't the only institutions getting into the app game. College newspaper apps are also increasingly available.

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