National Digital Public Library Slated to Launch This Month

The National Digital Public Library has scheduled its official launch for April 18. Students, educators and researchers will have access to a wide variety of research tools, archives, museums and an extensive database of publications. All of these resources will be available for free. However, this is just the first stepping stone for the creators of the digital library.

“About 14 million students are struggling to get an education in community colleges — at least as many as those enrolled in all the country’s four-year colleges and universities. But many of them — and many more students in high schools — do not have access to a decent library. The DPLA can provide them with a spectacular digital collection, and it can tailor its offering to their needs,” according to Robert Darnton, writing for The New York Review of Books.

“Many primers and reference works on subjects such as mathematics and agronomy are still valuable, even though their copyrights have expired,” explains Darnton. “With expert editing, they could be adapted to introductory courses and combined in a reference library for beginners.”

Darnton, who announced the launch and helped with the planning, explains how the idea stemmed from a group of foundations and libraries at a conference in 2010. From there the group agreed on the idea of a free library to create “an open, distributed network of comprehensive online resources that would draw on the nation’s living heritage from libraries, universities, archives, and museums in order to educate, inform, and empower everyone in the current and future generations.”

Unlike some libraries and educational initiatives, the group did not wait for government approval before starting the online public library. The group felt that it would be best to keep it a private project as they created committees with specific delegated tasks. The planning was done primarily using volunteers and multiple platforms of social media to keep the idea from losing momentum. Soon they had donations from universities, museums, and other institutions that have selected a portion of documents to help create the extensive database.

“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,” Darnton writes.

“The DPLA has designed its infrastructure to be interoperable with that of Europeana, a super aggregator sponsored by the European Union, which coordinates linkages among the collections of twenty-seven European countries. Within a generation, there should be a worldwide network that will bring nearly all the holdings of all libraries and museums within the range of nearly everyone on the globe. To provide a glimpse into this future, Europeana and the DPLA have produced a joint digital exhibition about immigration from Europe to the U.S., which will be accessible online at the time of the April 18 launch.”

The April launch event will take place at the Boston Public Library in Massachusetts.