Digital Public Library of America

(Two-minute read)

Policy in Brief:

Author Clem Guthro highlights that visionaries, pundits, cynics, and ordinary citizens have, over the years, waxed eloquent over the idea of a digital library that would make all knowledge accessible. Major players such as the Library of Congress, Internet Archive, members of the Association of Research Libraries, and various state libraries and cultural organizations have digitized books, photographs, sound records, and films from their collections and have built “digital libraries” on a small scale.

Fascinating Features:

Private enterprises entered the digital library picture when Google announced in December 2004 that it has signed agreements with major universities and libraries. It provided the first glimmer of hope that a large-scale digital library might indeed be possible.

Using a grassroots approach, funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and a hosting commitment from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the DPLA kicked off a two-year planning process with the goal of having a formal organizational structure, content, and a working prototype by early 2013.

The secretariat, a small group from the Berkman Center, under the leadership of Maura Marx, was charged with the day to day operations and coordination of overall activities and work streams. The DPLA chose six work streams:

  1. audience and participation;
  2. content and scope;
  3. financial/business models;
  4. governance;
  5. legal issues;
  6. technical aspects.

Though it is tempting to see digital libraries predominantly as technology projects, the DPLA is that and much more. The DPLA sees itself as consisting of five major areas:

  1. code;
  2. metadata;
  3. content;
  4. tools and services;
  5. community.

As with any library collection, content is king. DPLA will include all media types:

  • print;
  • images;
  • audio;
  • video.

DPLA intends to provide more than content and an interface, but also a robust set of tools and services that will allow users, programmers, and other members of the community to use the content in new and interesting ways and to build additional tools and services that will further its work, reach, and influence.

Other Digital Library Projects:

Major digital libraries exist in France, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, and Australia. In 2008, the European Union created Europeana, an overarching digital library of European cultural heritage.

Policy Implications:

The challenges will be predominately funding and policy issues, neither of which are insignificant in today’s economic and rancorous political climate. The public policy implications of copyright and intellectual property in the digital age are also concerns. These are not merely legal concerns but important social and economic ones.

There are three major areas where current policy will affect whether Maine will be able to participate in DPLA on equal footing with other states:

  1. A robust, high-speed, broadband digital infrastructure is necessary for the state’s economic well-being, which has not been a strategic priority of state government.
  2. There is a lack of digital and administrative structure and funding. Without such infrastructure, Maine content will be noticeably absent, and the citizenry of Maine underserved.
  3. There is a lack of awareness of “digital government” and “digital education,” which will be part of the future for most of the United States. Digital government refers to the digital infrastructure and services that meet the needs of government and help government meet the needs of citizens for both information and services.


DPLA is certainly positioning itself to make a difference in education across the spectrum from kindergarten through university. Its impact on Maine could be great if we embrace the need for digital government and digital education in a serious and thoughtful way.

Dig Deeper:

Guthro, Clem. “Digital Public Library of America.” Maine Policy Review 22.1 (2013): 126 -129.

From MPR’s Archive:

Podgajny, Steve. “Public Libraries and the Immigrant Community.” Maine Policy Review 22.1 (2013): 89 -90.

Silka, Linda, and Joyce Rumery. “Are Libraries Necessary? Are Libraries Obsolete?” Maine Policy Review 22.1 (2013): 10 -17.

Zurinski, Stephanie, Valerie Osborne, Mamie Anthoine-Ney, and Janet McKenney. “Libraries in the Community: Changing Opportunities.” Maine Policy Review 22.1 (2013): 71 -79.

Related Resources:

Digital Public Library of America


National Library of Korea