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Press: “Alexandria is a Port: The Digital Library in Physical Space”

Posted by inibiadef on June 15, 2012 in Press.

“I have argued elsewhere — or, rather, elsewhere I have released a small balloon of an idea into the atmosphere — that the DPLA should or at least could be rooted in a physical space, a building. The genesis of that idea did not, in fact, come from my deep love of libraries as places, although that is a love that goes back to my childhood. Standing in a library, for me, is as heady as standing by the ocean, and in both places I always have similar vague impulses to escape to barely imagined islands just across the horizon. But no: the first notion I ever had that a digital library could be a physical library was sparked by nothing less than learning that one exists.

“The National Digital Library of Korea (also called the ‘dibrary’), which opened in 2009, is, in fact, a building. It took seven years to build, at a cost to the Korean government of about $112 million dollars US, and by some accounts it contains over 116 million ‘pieces of digital content,’ which would make it almost eight times as large as the Europeana digital library, which claims 15 million items. That 116 million number, however, is probably based on a definition of ‘pieces of digital content’ that includes (say) database records, and is therefore not measured in the same units as most digital libraries. But reports also testify, more believably, that the dibrary has digitized 380,000 books, and that is a very respectable number.

“Regardless of whether the Digital Public Library of America ever realizes itself in a building, it is important, I think, to remember two things. First: library, archive, and museum buildings are no longer the only gateways to culture and ideas — but the new gateways are also physical. To put it in a sound bite, hardware is the new harbor. If nothing else, libraries, archives, and museums can provide everyone, especially ‘the poorest,’ access to these new ‘transportation’ devices; the Gates Foundation has already recognized this truth in its support for putting public computers in public libraries. Second: digital libraries do bring people to physical places, especially when those places have unique originals of digitally ubiquitous representations. Putting digital content online, as many of you doubtless know, increases rather than decreases visitors: representation is no subsitute for presence.”

From Amanda French’s post on her personal blogAlexandria is a Port: The Digital Library in Physical Space