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USA: Can We Create a National Digital Library?

Submitted by Bernardo Parrella on Wed, 10/11/2010 - 02:15

Harvard hosted a Conference on a question of vital importance to the US cultural life. [8nov10]

In the Conference opening talk, published on the New York Review of Books, Robert Darnton explains:

«Simple as it sounds, the question is extraordinarily complex. It involves issues that concern the nature of the library to be built, the technological difficulties of designing it, the legal obstacles to getting it off the ground, the financial costs of constructing and maintaining it, and the political problems of mobilizing support for it. [...]

The ambition behind this project goes back to the founding of this country. Thomas Jefferson formulated it succinctly: “Knowledge is the common property of mankind.” He was right—in principle. But in practice, most of humanity has been cut off from the accumulated wisdom of the ages. In Jefferson’s day, only a tiny elite had access to the world of learning. Today, thanks to the Internet, we can open up that world to all of our fellow citizens. We have the technical means to make Jefferson’s dream come true, but do we have the will? [...]

I realize that intellectual property is a complex subject. Instead of raising the vexed question of copyright at this stage, I want to make a different point, one that has to do with the principles behind the founding of our country. [...]

I propose that we dismiss the notion that a National Digital Library of America is far-fetched, and that we concentrate instead on what we can learn from others about issues such as: How can we deal with the problem of copyright and of orphan books, i.e., books whose copyright holders can’t be located? How can we cope with the complexities of metadata—that is, catalog-type information necessary to locate digital texts in the ever-changing environment of cyberspace? How can we find funding and develop a business plan that will resolve the long-term difficulties of collection management and preservation? I hope this meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss these “how” questions. [...]»

Read full article here - and also its follow-up discussion.

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