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important partnerships, including one with Europeana, a Euro-
pean Commission--sponsored digital library with a similar concept.
However, the DPLA's decision to call itself a "public library"
has raised hackles. At a meeting in May of last year, a group called
the Chief O cers of State Library Agencies passed a resolution
asking the DPLA steering committee to change the name of the
project. While the state librarians expressed support for an e ort
to "make the cultural and scientific heritage of our country and
the world freely available to all," they worried that by presenting
itself as the country's public library, the DPLA could lend credence
to "the unfounded belief that public libraries can be replaced in
over 16,000 communities in the U.S. by a national digital library."
Such a perception would make it even harder for local libraries
to protect their budgets from cuts. Other critics have seen arro-
gance in the DPLA's assumption that a single online library can
support the very di erent needs of scholarly researchers and the
public. To strengthen its ties to public libraries, the DPLA added
five public librarians to its steering committee last year, including
Boston Public Library president Amy Ryan and San Francisco city
librarian Luis Herrera.
The controversy over nomenclature points to a deeper prob-
lem confronting the nascent online library: its inability to define
itself. The DPLA remains a mystery in many ways. No one knows
precisely how it will operate or even what it will be. Some of the
vagueness is deliberate. When the Berkman Center launched the
initiative, it wanted major decisions to be made in a collabora-
tive and inclusive manner, avoiding top-down decrees that might
alienate any of its many constituencies. But according to current
DPLA o cials and others involved in the project, the 17 members
of the steering committee also have fundamental disagreements
about the library's mission and scope. Many important aspects of
the e ort remain, in Palfrey's words, "to be determined."
No consensus has been reached, for example, on the extent to
which the DPLA will host digitized books on its own servers, as
opposed to providing pointers to digital collections stored on the
computers of other libraries and archives. Nor has the steering
committee made a firm decision about which materials other than
books will be included in the library. Photographs, motion pictures,
audio recordings, images of objects, and even blog posts and online
videos are all under consideration. Another open question, one
with particularly far-reaching implications, is whether the DPLA
will try to provide any sort of access to recently published books,
including popular e-books. Darnton, for his part, believes that the
digital library should steer clear of works published in the last five
or 10 years, to avoid treading on the turf of publishers and public
libraries. It would be a mistake, he warns, for the DPLA to "invade
the current commercial market." But while he says he has yet to
hear anyone make a convincing counterargument, he admits that
his view may not be held by everyone. Palfrey will only say that the
DPLA is studying the issue of e-book lending but has yet to decide
whether its scope will extend to recent publications.
Also unsettled is the critical question of how the DPLA will pres-
ent itself to the public. David Weinberger, a Berkman researcher
who is overseeing the develop-
ment of the library's technical
platform, says that no decision
has been reached on whether
the DPLA will o er a "front-end
interface," such as a website or a
smart-phone app, or whether it will restrict itself to being a behind-
the-scenes data clearinghouse that other organizations can tap into.
The technology team's immediate goals are relatively modest. First
the group wants to establish a flexible, open-source protocol for
importing catalogue information and other data (such as records
of how often books were borrowed) from participating institutions.
Then it aims to organize that metadata into a unified database.
And next it wants to provide an open programming interface for
the database, with the hope of inspiring creative programmers to
develop useful applications. Palfrey says that he expects the DPLA
to operate its own public website, but he is wary of making any
predictions about the functions of that site or the degree to which it
may overlap with the online o erings of traditional libraries. While
he hopes that the DPLA will be more than a "metadata repository,"
he also says he would consider the e ort a success even if it ulti-
mately provided just the "plumbing" required to connect diverse
and far-flung collections of materials.
It's hardly surprising that a large and diverse steering com-
mittee would have di culty reaching unanimity on complicated
and weighty matters. And it's understandable that the DPLA's
University of Michigan
librarian Paul Courant, now
on the DPLA steering com-
mittee, saw benefits for the
public in Google's plan.
ANGELA J. CESERE
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