National digital libraries should be for ALL, says Europeana executive director—not just academics

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imageNational digital libraries should be like the brick-and-mortar variety—serving everyone, not just academics and the like. I myself have been preaching this message since the early 1990s, most recently on the Atlantic’s Web site.

So I was pleased to read Natasha Singer’s thoughtful New York Times article, Playing Catch-Up in a Digital Library Race, where she quoted Jill Cousins, the executive director of the Europeana library portal.

As reported in the Times, Ms. Cousins says that “the great American research libraries could do much more than simply increase access to scans of scholarly material.

“’What’s sort of missing is digitization of the accessible literature,’ like the popular novels and biographies readers seek at brick-and-mortar public libraries, she says. A few institutions, like the National Library of Norway, are already venturing into this area, via novel arrangements with copyright holders.

“’It would be nice to conceive of something bigger that has more to do with the public good than with the academic side of the equation,’ Ms. Cousins says.”

Ideally Harvard’s national digital library initiative (also mentioned in the Times) will be able to address the questions that Ms. Cousins, LibraryCity coordinator Tom Peters and I are raising and go for a true public library approach.

Meanwhile I’m delighted to learn that the initiative is open to participation by public librarians, including on the steering committee.

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2 comments to “National digital libraries should be for ALL, says Europeana executive director—not just academics”
2 comments to “National digital libraries should be for ALL, says Europeana executive director—not just academics”
  1. David, I have a public library background and couldn’t agree with you more…and I won’t speak for other members of the Steering Committee but I am quite sure they feel the same. The DPLA planning initiative’s goal is to bring all stakeholders together (including public libraries!) to define the ideal vision and then take steps to make it happen.

    • Great to hear from you, Maura. We’d love to run essays from you and others at Berkman and elsewhere on the possibilities of the universal approach. By “universal,” we mean not just in an access sense but also in terms of content and functions serving the general public. Beyond economies of scale and usefulness to society, a universal system could actually be more helpful to academics and other researchers if it were at least somewhat interactive and even included curated user contributions–sources for future research in the social sciences and other disciplines.

      If you can write in the context of your public library background, with illustrative examples or anecdotes if possible, that would be wonderful.

      In academic circles, much and perhaps most of the discussion has been about Google Books-style activities and national heritage and related topics–and, in fact, those are essentials. But in our opinion there are so many other possibilities, too, and in fact, I was delighted to receive a Berkman questionnaire with apt questions about the scope of the library and the collections to be included. While it’s encouraging to learn of your own publib background, I’m rooting for more people with similar qualification to get on the SC, with everyone still paying attention to research libs as well.

      Best wishes and thanks!

      David / 703-370-6540

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