April 4, 2012

Harvard librarian promises free Digital Public Library of America by 2013


Harvard's Adams House Library

At a talk at Columbia Law School on April 2, Harvard University librarian Robert Darnton promised that the Digital Public Library of America, a nonprofit effort to offer free access to millions of digitized books, would become a reality by this time next year.

Darnton, a cultural historian and author of The Great Cat Massacre, as well as several notable books about publishing history such as Revolution in Print: the Press in France 1775-1800, was giving a talk titled “Digitize, Democratize: Libraries and the Future of Books” as the featured speaker at the 25th Annual Horace S. Manges Lecture.

Publishers Weekly reports that Darnton advocated for striking a balance between commerce and democratization of information, pointing to Google’s plan to scan library shelves as an idea that showed promise but failed to deliver, as it became a commercial library with no oversight.

Darnton also proposed steering clear of including books currently in the marketplace, suggesting instead “a moving wall” that would advance each year as rights expired, and giving rightsholders the ability to opt in or out. A point of contention arose toward the end of the talk, when Nick Taylor (who led the Authors Guild in filing lawsuits against Google) asked if authors were involved in planning the DPLA. Darnton acknowledged that the steering committee was not set up to accommodate them, though he pointed out that many of its members were authors, and understood authors’ concerns.


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.