Notes on the Digital Public Library of America

I had the pleasure of seeing Robert Darnton and John Palfrey speak about the Digital Public Library of America (or DPLA) initiative they are a part of. I could sum up my thoughts in but a single word: brilliant. Yet, if I left it at that, I wouldn’t have much of a blog post. There was so much good stuff in that lecture that I could go on for oodles of pages but in the interest of being succinct (because, after all, information on the web is generally presented in much smaller amounts than it is on the printed page) I shall touch upon some highlights by way of a bulleted list. But first a quick introduction on the DPLA.
The idea was born at Harvard during a meeting on October the 10th 2010. As so often happens in meetings about serious subjects, the idea was met with universal approval. Please re-read the preceding sentence with heavy sarcasm. Incidentally, that brings up a technological limitation, the lack of clearly defined sarcasm on the web. Methinks the World Wide Web Consortium should get on that, make it an attribute of font-weight or something. But I digress. I think it stresses a monumental occasion wherein an idea of such magnitude was met with unanimous approval. Better still, if I may be hyperbolic for a moment, the fact that the idea bore the mission statement of “give everyone access to information” speaks volumes for the altruistic nature of people.
So, because I don’t want to come across as some fanatic acolyte of this idea, allow me to present some facts and you can make up your own mind on whether or not you agree with the initiative.

  • It is meant to supplement public libraries, not replace them
  • They know they don’t have it all figured out
  • It is being built with open source code
  • Open Access Metadata  if everyone uses the same metadata tags for bibliographic records, then it’ll aid not only organization but also retrieval of information
  • It will be a distributed network not all in one place.
  • In the stead of building many different User Interfaces, they’ll build one and allow folks to download and customize it to suit their little neck of the woods
  • They’ve asked Google Books to join the effort, but haven’t heard back
  •  They’re forming a coalition of foundations to help raise the money they need
  • They’re forming a coalition of libraries to help gather the books they need

A quick disclaimer before I let you go on your way: any errors in this post are solely my own. Don’t hold it against the DPLA. Whether or not you’re a convert or a contestant, you should check back here for more information. I’ve still got some notes to organize from the lecture. But more importantly, keep your eyes on your computer come April 2013 and you can see the DPLA in action.


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