Harvard's Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) initiative has been around, at least as an idea, since 2010. David Rothman, co-founder of LibraryCity blog and founder of TeleRead, a website dedicated to sharing news about e-books, presents a vision for the funding of not one but two national digital library systems (one public, one academic) in his February 11 blog post "A national digital library endowment: How America’s billionaires could be modern Carnegies for real."
He certainly presents some challenging and at times inspiring ideas in his proposal of what an endowment from the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and other billionaires could achieve for public and academic libraries. Among his visions and ideals for what his proposed National Digital Library Endowment are key components such as expanding free WiFi, creation of what he calls a "Library-Publisher Complex," and a system like Netflix for books where library patrons could pay to bypass a wait time for popular e-book borrowing.
Claiming that publishers should focus less on copyright restrictions and instead try to grow profits from book sales, he banks on the idea that if library users saw a link to purchase an e-book while using their library's website, they would. This seems far fetched even with his citation of an online poll as evidence that "borrowers become buyers" (though the poll was done in part by OverDrive, an e-book distributor). Concern for low-income populations seems at odds with Rothman's efforts to convince publishers that they would benefit and see increased sales from his proposed "Library-Publisher Complex." This tactic also minimizes and ignores important evolving issues of copyright, piracy, and licensing tied to specific ereaders, as if to say "don't worry about those things, just focus on increasing profits for publishers and patron use for libraries." (You may have read our previous blog post about print vs. digital books. For another view of publishers' changing roles see this George Washington Law Review article by Niva Elkin-Koren.)
But at the crux of his argument is the need to persuade us all that a national library system, if there ever would be such a unified system, should specifically be digital, that we're all ready for it, and that the demand for primarily digital public libraries actually exists. Walden Library's director, Jennie VerSteeg, reacted initially that the Rothman "dramatically overstates the ease of use, the ubiquity and the usefulness of ebooks," and I agree. Throughout his proposal he returns again and again to that topic to convince readers and his preferred, potential investors that we're all ready, from our laws to our technology infrastructure, to make the digital dive. Or, at least, that we'll all catch up in due time.
We're interested in what you, our readers think. Had you ever even heard of the DPLA before this?
What do you think of the idea of "forking" a proposed national digital library into two parts, one public and one academic? ROthman's juxtaposition that "public libraries exist to please taxpayers and academic libraries are for such purposes as the growth and spread of knowledge, as well as cultural preservation" seems perhaps simplistic to the mission and goals of public libraries.
Do you think America's wealthy are even likely to get involved in such efforts?
As librarians we all love the idea of expanding access to information, making digital content accessible, easy to use, and cost effective. These are commendable if not daunting visions given the equally large kinks and cracks that would have to first be addressed.