The public library may be one of this nation's most important cultural and civic institutions. Yet it faces a number of threats - budget crises at the state and local level and the shift in the publishing industry from print to digital books. Of course, the library is more than just a repository for books - paper or otherwise. And even as libraries move to embrace more digital content, the local library will (hopefully) persist as a community center and as a portal to Internet resources.
But efforts are underway to create a DIgital Public Library of America, an online library . The project's steering committee have announced a "beta sprint," asking people to weigh in on what they think this library should look like. Librarians, archivists, developers, and the general public have been asked to contribute "ideas, models, prototypes, technical tools, user interfaces," and so on to the project, helping design how the DPLA might index and provide access to the digital content.
Geeks and Librarians Joining Forces
"We hope geeks and librarians, especially, will join forces to develop beta submissions in support of this initiative," says John Palfrey, the director of the steering committee and co-director of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The Berkman Center has been coordinating the planning of the Digital Public Library of America, and other members of the steering committee include representatives from the Library of Congress, the Internet Archive, and academic and public libraries.
As the call for submissions for this beta sprint suggest, the design of the DPLA is still very much under review. There are several models for what it could look like, including the Internet Archive and Europeana, the European Union's online cultural archives.
The Challenges of a Digital Public Library
But designing a digital public library will be no easy task, as many libraries and publishers are already finding themselves at odds over what exactly access and lending policies will be with electronic content. Furthermore, some interpreted the recent Google Books settlement (or rather, the federal judge Denny Chin's decision to throw out the Google Books settlement) as a sign that the road ahead for digitization efforts is still full of legal obstacles. However, Judge Chin himself commented that "the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many."
But a digital public library is quite a different thing than what Google has undertaken with its attempts to digitize every book ever printed. After all, a digital library won't be just about storing content, but it will be about making that content accessible.
Those interested in taking part in the Digital Public Library of America's beta spring must submit a statement of interest by June 15. Final submissions are due by September 1.
Photo credits: via Flickr user eflon