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A Bookshelf the Size of the World


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Photo courtesy of Megamatt

The goal of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is to make the digitized collections of the greatest research institutions in the United States accessible to anyone anywhere at any time for free.

Harvard University library system director Robert Darnton, who conceived the DPLA, says in an interview that a digital public library will most likely be a distributed system. He says that other materials, besides books, such as videos, images, and music, will be included in the library.

Darnton believes that among the DPLA's users will be "people ... who just want to write something to express their own understanding of the world and need material to do that writing." Other users he anticipates include community colleges, K-12 schools, and retirement home residents that want to read books to entertain themselves. "I think what [the DPLA] will do ... is to democratize access to knowledge," Darnton says.

He thinks that monopolistic, for-profit digital library ventures such as Google Books would not necessarily serve the public good, and he expects a prototype of the DPLA to be operational within three years.

Darnton also sees projects such as the DPLA complementing printed information rather than rendering it obsolete. "I believe we should celebrate new possibilities of combining the printed codex with electronic technology," he says.

From Boston Globe
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