The trajectory of its development can be understood from the history of its origin—and it does have a history, although it is not yet three years old. It germinated from a conference held at Harvard on October 1, 2010, a small affair involving forty persons, most of them heads of foundations and libraries. In a letter of invitation, I included a one-page memo about the basic idea: “to make the bulk of world literature available to all citizens free of charge” by creating “a grand coalition of foundations and research libraries.” In retrospect, that sounds suspiciously utopian, but everyone at the meeting agreed that the job was worth doing and that we could get it done.
The user-friendly interface will therefore enable any reader—say, a high school student in the Bronx—to consult works that used to be stored on inaccessible shelves or locked up in treasure rooms—say, pamphlets in the Huntington Library of Los Angeles about nullification and secession in the antebellum South. Readers will simply consult the DPLA through its URL, http://dp.la/. They will then be able to search records by entering a title or the name of an author, and they will be connected through the DPLA’s site to the book or other digital object at its home institution.
For example, in serving as a hub, Harvard plans to make available to the DPLA by the time of its launch 243 medieval manuscripts; 5,741 rare Latin American pamphlets; 3,628 daguerreotypes, along with the first photographs of the moon and of African-born slaves; 502 chapbooks and “penny dreadfuls” about sensational crimes, a popular genre of literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; and 420 trial narratives from cases involving marriage and sexuality. Harvard expects to provide a great deal more in the following months, notably in fields such as music, cartography, zoology, and colonial history. Other libraries, archives, and museums will contribute still more material from their collections. The total number of items available in all formats on April 18 will be between two and three million.
Robert Darnton Introduces Digital Public Library of America in New York Review of Books Article
Filed by April 3, 2013on