March 20, 2013

Countdown to the Digital Public Library of America launch


With just a month to go before the projected launch date for the Digital Public Library of America, Dan Cohen, the newly hired Executive Director, was recently interviewed in Library Journal about what exactly the project is intended to do and how it will relate to existing public library systems.

Cohen lays out the aims of the DPLA as the following:

The DPLA will provide a single place to discover and explore our country’s libraries, archives, and museums—a portal—and so will bring entirely new audiences to formerly scattered collections. Moreover, we will provide the means for others to use information about those holdings in creative and transformative ways—a platform, with an API, for others to build upon. Third, we will endeavor to work with public and academic libraries to try to solve some of the thorny issues that plague our current research and reading environment, such as restrictions on ebooks and the need for more open access materials.

The creation of this central digital library could indeed have significant effects on the future of discussions about e-book lending, though for the moment, the DPLA hasn’t staked out a position on the debates. John Palfrey, president of the DPLA’s board of directors, has been writing a series of articles for Library Journal about the project as it develops, and the most recent, “Why We Miss the First Sale Doctrine in Digital Libraries,” addresses this thorny matter, pointing to research and initiatives like the Berkeley Digital Library Copyright Project and the Internet Archive as possible guides and models.

Though the library intends to launch initially as a platform for public domain materials only, questions about licensing restrictions exist even for public domain materials. But it’s in the non-PD realm that the DPLA might really be able to pull some weight, and it’s clear that, buried among the niceties, the DPLA also sees its role as a potentially activist and combative one. Palfrey writes:

The DPLA is, at its core, an effort to solve the collective action problem facing libraries in a digital age… By working together on a public option, libraries can establish a public beachhead in the digital space today dominated by for-profits, including Amazon, Google, OverDrive, and commercial publishers.

Welcome sentiments, indeed.

But before the fight, the party! On April 18-19th, the DPLA will kick off its official existence at the Boston Public Library (more information about the launch here—send us pics!) with working days, plenary meetings, interactive exhibits, and hopefully also just some people sitting down over a beer to talk about a project we’re all excited to see come into being at last.







Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.