Ever since the Library of Alexandria burned to the ground two thousand years ago, people have yearned to rebuild it. Today, thanks to the internet, the dream of a universal library seems closer to fulfillment than ever before. But as Google’s ill-fated Book Search project has revealed, the challenges to creating a comprehensive online library remain great – and they have little to do with technology.
In the new issue of Technology Review, I report on the latest and perhaps most ambitious effort to create “the library of utopia”: the Digital Public Library of America, or DPLA. Led by Harvard luminaries, the DPLA has big plans, big names, and big contributors, but it, too, faces big obstacles, not least of which is its hesitancy to define what it wants to be.
Here’s a bit from the article:
If you were looking for Larry Page’s opposite, you would be hard pressed to find a better candidate than Robert Darnton. A distinguished historian and prize-winning author, a former Rhodes scholar and MacArthur fellow, a Chevalier in France’s Légion d’Honneur, and a 2011 recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the 72-year-old Darnton is everything that Page is not: eloquent, diplomatic, and embedded in the literary establishment. If Page is a bull in a china shop, Darnton is the china shop’s proprietor.
But Darnton has one thing in common with Page: an ardent desire to see a universal library established online, a library that would, as he puts it, “make all knowledge available to all citizens.” …