A Digital Public Library of (North?) America and Google Books

A couple of weeks ago the University of Toronto Faculty of Law hosted the Grafstein Annual Lecture in Communications. This year, Robert Darnton, the University Librarian at Harvard, spoke on “Books, Libraries & the Digital Future“. A webcast of the talk is available via the UofT’s Information Commons website.

I know a number of law librarians were disappointed to miss the talk as it was not publicised widely outside the University community. As it turned out Professor Darnton spoke to a packed house. His talk picked up on the themes in his widely read New York Review of Books article (commented on by Simon here).

The main part of the talk focussed on the challenges and possibilities created by the Digital Public Library of America project. The DPLA ultimately aims to provide free digital access to all American books and publications. Given that he was speaking to a Canadian audience, Darnton suggested that perhaps a DPL of “North America” is realistic. The talk highlighted the challenges this project will face, with special emphasis on the barriers that current understandings of copyright place on a public good undertaking such as this. Given the limitations of copyright the DPLA will focus on pre-1923 materials to start with.

If you have any interest in how we might get to a digital future I encourage you to watch the webcast – if only for the incredibly coherent and insightful analysis of the Google Books settlement close to the beginning of the talk. If like me, you felt that you could never really get your head around the implications of the settlement, Professor Darnton’s talk will be very illuminating.

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