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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A "national digital library"
It's Open Access Week this week and it seems like a good opportunity to talk about the Digital Public Library of America and how it is trying to promote greater access (or availability) of online resources.
Open access = Free, immediate, online access to information
Last Thursday and Friday, a group of librarians, scholars, industry leaders, and educators came together for the first plenary meeting to begin serious plans for a "Digital Public Library of America." As the name suggests, the DPLA hopes to build a national digital library of resources. These resources will (should?) be available to anyone in the United States.

Because this ambitious project is still in the planning stages, the specifics about what such a digital library would include, how people will access it, and who will contribute to it need to be worked out. Part of the planning also involves figuring out how the DPLA will be different from large scale digital archives like, Hathi Trust, Google Books, and, why not,

Each of these archives has taken enormous strides in making mass quantities of material available online. But with each one there is a drawback. Some are non-profits ( and Hathi Trust) that need to find support; some are not (Google and Amazon) and might not always be interested in providing digital materials online. Some make content freely (or partially) available to the public ( and Google Books); some do not (Hathi Trust and Amazon).

So, what is the grand promise of a "national digital library"? The grand vision is to provide comprehensive collections and wide-spread access. Why is this an issue?

If you have spent any time on our library website or reading this blog, you know that we have a variety of online resources that you can access from home—everything from newspaper article archives, to business information, to genealogy resources, to ebooks (with support for Kindles now too!). These are great resources that your taxes help make available (See our library value calculator for details).

Of course, there is the problem. As a resident of Des Plaines, you have (or don't have) access to content that someone in Park Ridge or Morton Grove or Skokie may (or may not) be able to use. The benefit is that we can select resources that we think will be most beneficial to you. The downside is that people separated by mere miles may not be getting access to the information that they need and want.

What do you think about the idea of a "national digital library"? What are the pros? What are the cons?

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