Press: “Exercises in democracy: building a digital public library”

Posted by DPLA in May 6, 2012.

“Most neighborhoods in America have a public library. Now the biggest neighborhood in America, the Internet, wants a library of its own. Last week, Ars attended a conference held by the Digital Public Library of America, a nascent group of intellectuals hoping to put all of America’s library holdings online. The DPLA is still in its infancy—there’s no official staff, nor is there a finished website where you can access all the books they imagine will be accessible. But if the small handful of volunteers and directors have their way, you’ll see all that by April 2013 at the latest.

“Last week’s conference set out to answer a lot of questions. How much content should be centralized, and how much should come from local libraries? How will the Digital Public Library be run? Can an endowment-funded public institution succeed where Google Books has largely failed (a 4,000-word meditation on this topic is offered by Nicholas Carr in MIT’s April Technology Review)?

“Enthusiasm for the project permeated the former Christian Science church where the meeting was held (now the church is the headquarters of Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive). But despite the audience’s applause and wide-eyed wonder, there’s still a long way to go.

“As it stands, the DPLA has a couple million dollars in funding from charitable trusts like the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Arcadia Fund. The organization is applying for 501(c)3 status this year, and its not hard to imagine it running as an NPR-like entity, with some government funding, some private giving, and a lot of fundraisers. But outside of those details, very little about the Digital Public Library has been decided. ‘We’re still grappling with the fundamental question of what exactly is the DPLA,’ John Palfrey, chair of the organization’s steering committee, admitted. The organization must be a bank of documents, and a vast sea of metadata; an advocate for the people, and a partner with publishing houses; a way to make location irrelevant to library access without giving neighborhoods a reason to cut local library funding. And that will be hard to do.”

From Megan Guess’ post on Ars Technica, Exercises in democracy: building a digital public library