Diffuse interstellar bands (DIBs) have been discovered for almost a century, but their nature remains one of the most challenging problems in the astronomical spectroscopy. Most recent work to identify and investigate the properties and carriers of DIBs concentrates on high-resolution spectroscopy of selected sight-lines. In this paper, we report detections of DIBs in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) low-resolution spectra of a large sample of Galactic stars. Using a template subtraction method, we have successfully identified the DIBs λλ5780, 6283 in the SDSS spectra of a sample of about 2000 stars and measured their strengths and radial velocities. The sample is by far the largest ever assembled. The targets span a large range of reddening, E(B − V) ∼ 0.2–1.0, and are distributed over a large sky area and involve a wide range of stellar parameters (effective temperature, surface gravity and metallicity), confirming that the carriers of DIBs are ubiquitous in the diffuse interstellar medium (ISM). The sample is used to investigate relations between strengths of DIBs and magnitudes of line-of-sight extinction, yielding results [i.e. EW(5780) = 0.61 × E(B − V) and EW(6283) = 1.26 × E(B − V)] consistent with previous studies. DIB features have also been detected in the commissioning spectra of the Guoshoujing Telescope [the Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fibre Spectroscopic Telescope (LAMOST)] of resolving power similar to that of the SDSS. Detections of DIBs of hundreds of thousands of stars are expected from the on-going and up-coming large-scale spectroscopic surveys such as Radial Velocity Experiment, SDSS III and LAMOST, particularly from the LAMOST Digital Sky Survey of the Galactic Anticentre (DSS-GAC). Such a huge data base will provide an unprecedented opportunity to study the demographical distribution and nature of DIBs as well as using DIBs to probe the distribution and properties of the ISM and the dust extinction.