With the backing of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant, Berkman will bring together a large group to help "define the scope, architecture, costs and administration" of an online library of unusual scope.
Doron Weber, Vice President of the Sloan Foundation sketched the scope of the project.
"We're grateful to Berkman for coordinating this historic effort to create a Digital Public Library of America and to fulfill the vision of an open, distributed network of comprehensive online resources that draws on the nation's living heritage to educate, inform and empower everyone in this and future generations."
The Berkman Center is well known for its research into online topics, including filtering and aspects of online tyranny.
The project's Steering Committee is made up of library and foundation leaders. They plan to announced the schedule early next year, which promises to announce a full slate of activities in early 2011. Among their tasks will be to gather a group of partners that will include public and research library reps, cultural organizations, members of government and industry and authors and publishers.
The first meeting will be led by the official United States Archivist, David Ferriero. It will be followed by a host of meetings and workshops over the next year.
The steering committee includes Berkman co-director John Palfrey; Charles Henry, President of the Council on Library and Information Resources; Stanford University's Ida M. Green University Librarian and Director of Academic Information Resources Michael Keller; and Deanna Marcum, Associate Librarian for Library Services at the Library of Congress.
With the Internet and e-readers, the question might arise "Why do we even need a digital public library?" David Rothman, founder of TeleRead and long-time proponent of such a project, makes the case ably in a November essay in The Atlantic.
"(T)here is one thing I currently cannot do with my Kindle despite all the sizzle in the commercials--read public library books. Local libraries do not use the Kindle format for their electronic collections, relying instead on rival standards used by Sony Readers and certain other devices."
In short, those who own one type of reader or another can only buy a miniscule number of the books libraries contain. And anyone who isn't rolling in money can't even buy many of those. A DPL would solve both those problems, extending the joy of reading into a host of devices at no cost to the users.
A professor of mine once complained about his latest crop of students. "There has never been a generation more capable of finding data nor less capable of understanding it." Whether that's true or not this is: Books provide the context for making sense of data. A digital public library would extend the reading of books to most people in all places in the U.S.
Other sources: the super-ultra-mega awesome Resource Shelf