May 23, 2022

Video: "An Interview with Robert Darnton on the Digital Public Library of America"

Randall Stephens, Professor of History at Eastern Nazarene College and Editor of The Historical Society blog talks with the Director of the Harvard University Library, Professor Robert Darnton, about the Digital Public Library of America that’s in the currently in the planning stages.

The video interview (in two segments) runs about 20 minutes.

In a text intro to the video, Professor Stephens writes:

A little over a week ago I sat down with Darnton—award-winning historian, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor at Harvard, and director of the Harvard University Library—to discuss plans underway for a Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). Sitting in Darnton’s office right next to Harvard Square we discussed the nettlesome issues surrounding the DPLA, what the massive on-line collection might offer, and how such a virtual repository could serve the public. In the two videos embedded here Darnton also considers what this proposed library would mean for scholars in the humanities and history in particular.

The project has deep intellectual roots in American soil. In another essay that Darnton wrote for the New York Review, he reflected on the long history of the idea. “The ambition behind this project goes back to the founding of this country,” he remarks. “Thomas Jefferson formulated it succinctly: ‘Knowledge is the common property of mankind.’ He was right—in principle. But in practice, most of humanity has been cut off from the accumulated wisdom of the ages. In Jefferson’s day, only a tiny elite had access to the world of learning. Today, thanks to the Internet, we can open up that world to all of our fellow citizens. We have the technical means to make Jefferson’s dream come true, but do we have the will?” In the video interview Darnton ponders what is possible now that has never been possible before. The dreams of the Founders, spun out of Enlightenment optimism, could, at least in some ways, be realized today.

Direct to Blog Post and Video

See Also: “Digitial Public Library of America Workshop #1: Notes, Commentary and Other Materials” (March 3, 2011)

See Also: Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Wiki

See Also:
A web site offering commentary and news about the DPLA from David Rothman and Tom Peters

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.