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Can the 'Digital Public Library' ever exist?

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Robert Darnton of Harvard University is working to create a "Digital Public Library of America" that would provide access to a wide range of books online.

Google Play Books iOS
Google Play Books iOS

When Google began scanning library collections for its Books project, Harvard University was one of the first partners. Since then, its library system's director, Robert ­Darnton, has become a vocal critic of Google Books, calling it a potentially "hegemonic, financially unbeatable, technologically unassailable, and legally invulnerable" monopoly on information. Instead, Darnton is working on his own project: the Digital Public Library of America, which would rely on charitable funding and collaboration between libraries to allow access to huge numbers of books online.

The problems facing such a library, however, are many. Besides the legal morass of copyright law, questions have arisen over whether the library would offer access to recent best-sellers, if it should offer its own user interface or rely on other libraries for distribution, and whether the existence of a massive "digital library" would cause politicians to cut funding from physical public libraries that offer many other services. The overview of DPLA at Technology Review is an excellent primer not only for Darnton's project but for the state of information in a digital age.