As the Digital Public Library of America—a new online repository for text and media sources—prepares to launch next month, faculty and administrators at the University said they hope its creation will mark the beginning of a nationwide push for open access.
According to Robert C. Darnton ’60, Harvard University librarian and one of the original visionaries behind the DPLA, the initiative is the first step towards the creation of a national digitized library that is free and open to the general public—or, as Darnton envisions, a “modern, digital Library of Alexandria.”
Though it was first envisioned at Harvard in October 2010, the DPLA has since collaborated with other schools, national public libraries, and international enterprises in an effort to expand its reach and gather support.
The DPLA will launch on April 18 with its special collections that have already been digitized, allowing anyone with an internet connection to access its treasure trove of academic articles and primary sources in one centralized location.
“[The DPLA] is ambitious, it’s helpful, it’s the leader in providing access to the cultural heritage of an entire nation,” said Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Open Access Project—an initiative at the Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society aimed at expanding open access to research.
A push for open access has long been a trend at Harvard. In 2008, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences passed its first open access policy, which made the scholarly work of Harvard faculty and researchers available through the Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard repository.
According to computer science professor Stuart M. Shieber ’81, who authored the original open access policy, over 9000 scholarly articles have been deposited to DASH since 2008.
Twenty-four universities around the world have created open access initiatives based on the Harvard model since 2008, said Suber, who is currently advising 12 other universities that are also designing open access models.
Faculty and administrators said once the DPLA launches, the new digital library will assist professors in their research and provide them with a broader audience for their publications.
According to history professor David R. Armitage, the opening of the DPLA will make a large amount of previously inaccessible historical resources, especially those focused on American history, available for teaching and research.
English department chair W. James Simpson said he thinks the DPLA will also give the humanities the public exposure more often granted to the sciences.
“I think as long as the law permits it, then open access is exactly what the humanities need,” Simpson said.
But even as the DPLA’s launch date creeps closer, Harvard is far from accomplishing its goals in terms of open access. Suber said that he is working on building the rate of deposits in the DASH and hopes that more universities will commit to open access.
Shieber said that overall he is optimistic about the future of a digital library.
“Even though we are not even close to being there, the research community and the publishing community have come to the realization that that’s where we’re headed,” Shieber said.
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