Since our launch almost three years ago, the Digital Public Library of America has sought to maximize access to our shared culture. Thanks to our many library, archive, and museum partners, we’ve been able to share over 11 million items, including a wide range of artifacts, documents, artworks, photographs, audiovisual materials, and, of course, many books.
We’re extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished in a relatively short time, but always seek to do more to connect the greatest number of people with the largest number of works. Over the last year, the case of popular contemporary ebooks has been of special interest, since we cannot pursue them in the same way as for other materials, through digitization and open access on the web. Publishers maintain copyright on most of these books, and many readers wish to read them on tablets and smartphones.
So we were thrilled when the possibility arose a year ago to contribute to the White House ConnectED Initiative, partnering with The New York Public Library and First Book, with help from Baker & Taylor and financial support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to receive a remarkable $250,000,000 in ebooks from big publishers, and to make them available to those most in need. Critically, qualified kids will be able to read any of these ebooks on a whim, and at the same time, unlike with apps that require a reader to check a book back in before it can be read by someone else. This is truly “all you can read” for children in low-income areas of the United States.
Last summer the DPLA recruited a diverse corps of librarians to help us shape the collection, selecting great books which represent a variety of perspectives, experiences, and voices. It was our intention, as it is with every library, to create a collection that excites and inspires children to read, sparking their curiosity to learn more.
There is undoubtedly much left to do to fulfill our mission, and no program is perfect or can solve all issues. We see the Open eBooks Initiative as a first—but quite major—step for DPLA to bring more modern ebooks to children and adults in an expansive way. With slightly less fanfare than the Open eBooks Initiative we have been pursuing alternative means of providing ebooks, by working with publishers and authors, and by assessing the existing riches within our hubs’ open access collections for gems that the public would like easier access to.
Today, with our partners, we launch a national program for children in need, to help them discover the joy of reading and to complement their public library, which holds thousands of other books to explore. Tomorrow, we will provide many more ebooks to even larger audiences. Stay tuned, and join us in this mission.