Digital Public Library of America: A Great idea becomes a reality

Digital Public Library of America: A Great idea becomes a reality
Bernadine Racoma

The “Digital Public Library of America” has been recently launched, offering the public over 2 million pieces of historical items ranging from books to manuscripts to photographs and other artwork. The items have been collected from various libraries in the country, museums and archives included, for public consumption. It took all of two years for the DPLA to work on its initiative that has been funded with several millions to be able to digitize and present all of these collections online.

At that time Robert Darnton who was the library system director of Harvard University worked on the thought of setting up the digital library. He explained that the inspiration for DPLA came from what he saw was the huge progress that “GoogleBooks” was experiencing in terms of digitizing books from all over the world. Although he says that while he appreciated “GoogleBooks” and what it was doing, he was afraid that so much valuable information dominated by a company for profit would ultimately not be good for the public. From here, he started to come up with an option, that of a digital library for the public, which would incorporate digital content with books, pictures, manuscripts and audio coming from all over the country.

Resolving Issues

Executive Director Dan Cohen says that among the finest things that the public has discovered is that the library has incorporated numerous small collections, including incredible images of some of the very first flights of hot air balloons, from the historical society in Red Wing, Minnesota. He adds that it is very interesting and helps the public know more their interesting and amazing history.
Together with Robert Darnton, who is one of the key members of the library’s committee, issues are being resolved, primarily that of copyrights. According to Dan Cohen, it is the main cause of friction at the moment, especially for items such as books. He adds that prior to 1923, everything was literally for the public, but for the years that followed, several difficulties were encountered. An interest that both men share is coming up with more creative methods of getting more of these books to the public. Although it is important for both the authors of the books and the publishers to earn money, they recognize that for most books, making money happens during the initial 5 years before remaining in copyright through the years that follow. They think that there could be a lot more creative methods available to introduce the authors to the public.

For now, Dan Cohen is interested in seeing how the public interrelates with the digital library, as well as all of the different items that are offered for public use. He reports that he has received messages coming from the teachers who are incorporating DPLA into their classes, while it is also seen as a kind of technology platform that other people can start from. The Digital Public Library of America is, as Cohen puts it, “100% open.” The public can simply download it and make use of it for whatever purpose they wish to.


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