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Digital Library Nearly Online

By Gautam S. Kumar and Julia L. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writers

The Digital Public Library of America, an initiative spearheaded by Harvard faculty members, is making fast progress toward developing a fully operational online database of existing digitized works by April 2013.

An international leader in the effort to organize digital copies of printed volumes, represents of the DPLA traveled to Washington, D.C. last week, where they accepted another significant donation from two separate foundations and established relationships with other organizations sharing a common mission.

To support DPLA’s transitional operations, the Sloan Foundation and the Arcadia Fund each donated $2.5 million to the project.

The combined $5 million will cover costs as DPLA attempts to bring together already digitized works that are not yet aggregated in one location.

Leaders of the initiative—including University Professor Robert C. Darnton ’60 and Harvard Law School Professor John G. Palfrey, Jr. ’94—also announced on Friday in Washington a new partnership that will expand the scope of the project.

In addition to long-standing partnerships with the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institute, DPLA will also collaborate with the Europeana Foundation, which works to compile digitized works in Europe.

“The Friday launch showed that things had come together, that we had gathered momentum and were moving fast,” Darnton said yesterday.

“I believe the DPLA is unstoppable,” he said.

Europeana leaders said that the collaboration will promote a framework for global digital archiving.

The two organizations will share a compatible technology infrastructure that encourages cooperation.

“Europeana was designed to be open and interoperable, and to be able to collaborate with the DPLA is a validation of that aim,” Executive Director of Europeana Jill Cousins said in a press release.

“By this combined effort on two continents, Europeana and the DPLA hope to promote the creation of a global network with partners from around the world.”

The DPLA is a little over one year old, according to Darnton, with the first discussions for the project beginning on Oct. 1, 2010.

From that initial discussion, Darnton said that leaders in the field of librarianship have been engaged in realizing the dream of a digital library.

“I invited about forty leaders of foundations, libraries, and computer scientists to discuss the possibility of creating an open-access, national digital library,” Darnton said.

“Although at first the project seemed utopian, everyone agreed at the outset that we could do it and that we could find the money.”

But the DPLA’s identity is evolving as it develops beyond a Harvard-based project.

“We are in an embryonic phase, and the embryo has a big H birthmark on it,” Darnton said.

“That identity will fade with time. The DPLA should appeal to a broad constituency, and there is a danger that the Harvard label could be taken as ‘elitist.’”

Darnton said that he wants the library to be open to “readers from every stripe,” and not just a tool for research-oriented professors—one of the reasons that he said shedding the Harvard label is critical.

The DPLA will decide how to pursue further digitization efforts after the database is established.

—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at

—Staff writer Julia L. Ryan can be reached at

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