Archive for the ‘Robert Darnton’ Category

Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Is Launched

April 17, 2013

About a year ago, Anna reported on plans to launch the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) by April 2013 in a post that can be found here. While launch dates are often delayed, it is an auspicious sign that the DPLA will go live Thursday, April 18th, at 12 noon (ET). The festivities slated to take place in Boston in honor of the DPLA’s going live, however, have understandably been canceled due to the tragic bombings earlier this week (see the message from Dan Cohen, the DPLA’s Executive Director).

Since he first championed the idea for the DPLA several years ago, Robert Darnton has kept us abreast of progress and plans “to make the holdings of America’s research libraries, archives, and museums available to all Americans—and eventually to everyone in the world—online and free of charge” through articles he has written for The New York Review of Books (NYRB 25 April 2013). Thus, it should come as no surprise that he has marked the launch of the DPLA with another informative piece. Framing the DPLA as a convergence of the American strands of utopianism and pragmatism, Darnton sees the project as one deeply rooted in the eighteenth century and as holding the potential to “realize the dream of Jefferson and Franklin.”

Darnton’s article also offers a pithy summary of events that led to the development of DPLA, basics about how the software works, plans for sustaining the DPLA’s growth, notes about the well-respected foundations funding the first three years of the DPLA, and a description of the distributive management model DPLA has embraced in which operations are spread out across the country. As emob tweeted two weeks ago, Darnton sees legal obstacles as the key hindrance to the growth of the DPLA.

The DPLA has already attracted a host of impressive partners including Harvard, The Smithsonian Institution, ARTstor, University of Virginia libraries, the New York Public Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library, Biodiversity Heritage Library, and the National Archives. It is with great interest that we will be tracking its progress.

Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) to open April 2013

March 30, 2012

By April 2013, the Digital Public Library of America should be up and running.  With this announcement, Robert Darnton opened a recent talk about DPLA sponsored by Harvard Library Strategic Conversations.

Darnton reviewed DPLA’s brief history, including its origin at a meeting at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute on 1 October 2010, its successful coalition of foundations committed to providing financial support, its appointment of a steering committee, and its selection of John Palfrey as the steering committee’s chair.  Six “workstreams” have been designed to arrive at consensus-driven plans in the following areas:

To join a workstream listserv, consult the appropriate web page.

Darnton insisted that DPLA was not simply a response to Google, though DPLA is open to working with Google and has extended invitations to that effect.  He provided an incisive history of Google Book Search’s legal troubles, and noted that DPLA has much to learn from that history.

Next, John Palfrey (chair of the DPLA steering committee, and author of Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives), outlined some of DPLA’s goals, though he conceded that the exact nature of the DPLA was still be determined:

  • constructing a creative and technologically sophisticated learning environment beyond that created by e-books.  This involves imaginative work by architects, programmers, catalogers, users, and and just about anyone else prepared to think innovatively.
  • considering the following elements that will shape the still indistinct and ever-evolving nature of DPLA:
    • code will be free and open source
    • metadata will aggregate existing data and create additional data.  It has already arrived at an agreement to network with Europeana, Europe’s digitized knowledge-sharing platform.
    • content will include all media types
    • tools and services will facilitate public innovation.  Palfrey provided as an example the use of a “scanabego,” a truck with scanning tools that would be driven across the country to local historical societies, offering to digitize their records in exchange for linking those records to DPLA.
    • DPLA’ community will be widespread and participatory.  According the DPLA web site, “DPLA will actively support the community of users and developers that want to reuse and extend its content, data, and metadata.”

In the discussion that followed the presentation, one of the most interesting comments was Charles Nesson’s description of a Digital Registry Project to address the copyright issues that plagued Google Books.  The Registry seeks pro bono commitments from major law firms “to defend the copyright status determinations of major cultural institutions such as libraries and universities” (see the memo available on Charles Nesson’s web site.)  According to the DPLA web site,

The objective of the Digital Registry Project is to create a comprehensive registry to undergird digital exploitation of intellectual property—for personal, educational, or commercial use. This vision encompasses all copyrighted works, all orphan works, and all works in the public domain. The Digital Registry seeks to kick start the registry process by beginning with those works that belong no one and therefore belong to everyone: the public domain. This registry is intended to be a simple and unassailable starting point for all larger registries.

More information is available at the extensive and carefully designed DPLA web site and the DPLA blog, which is guaranteed to interest emob readers.

A Digital Public Library of America

March 8, 2011

Robert Darnton has championed the concept of a national digital public library through a series of galvanizing essays in The New York Review of Books.  In October 2010, he convened a community of what Harvard Magazine described as “forty-two leaders of research libraries, major foundations, and national cultural institutions” in Cambridge to discuss strategy for building a digital public library of America.  That same month, Darnton’s opening talk at that conference was published in the New York Review of Books.  His The Library: Three Jeremiads, appeared in NYRB in December, further delineating the complex relation between digital libraries and their brick-and-mortar counterparts.  Details of the conference were published both by Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle of Higher Education and by the Harvard Magazine, which cited Darnton as describing the project as

the digital equivalent of the Library of Congress…bringing millions of books and digitized material in other media within clicking distance of public libraries, high schools, colleges, universities, retirement communities, and any individual with access to the Internet.

Responses to the concept of constructing a national digital public library have been positive.  In December, David Rothman published “Why We Can’t Afford Not to Create a Well-Stocked National Digital Library System” in the Atlantic, arguing that one of the benefits of the project is that it digitizes more than the commercial selections offered by Kindle’s and iPad’s digitization projects: significantly, it digitizes library books.  Referring to a digital public library, Rothman claims it’s a cause

I’ve publicly advocated since 1992 in Computerworld, a 1996 MIT Press information science collection, the Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, the Huffington Post, and elsewhere, including my national information stimulus plan here in the Fallows blog?

Rothman departs or seems to depart from Darnton, however, over the issue of access.  Rothman wants the digital public library to be a genuine public library, open to all citizens, not simply those affiliated with research libraries.

Details of the plans continue to emerge.  Michael Kelly provides an overview of Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet and Society and its plans for a year of workshops regarding the project in Library Journal.com.  Recently (Feb. 18th), Jennifer Howard again interviewed Darnton for the Chronicle of Higher Education to obtain updates on the progress made by Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet and Society on the Digital Public Library of America.

Now that Oxford and Cambridge are making plans to digitize their backlists, this may be a good time to discuss the benefits and consequences of having a national digital public library.  Will digital books be read?  Do readers need POD (Print-on-Demand) options?  Is this project getting the attention it deserves?

“Why Books?” Conference at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute

October 31, 2010

Why Books?“–a two-day conference sponsored by Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute, October 28-29–promised to “bring[] together speakers from a variety of disciplines–from literature and history to sociology and computer science–to probe the form and function of the book in a rapidly changing media ecology.”  It did just that.  The conference’s first day offered a broad variety of site visits allowing for detailed discussion of a given topic; day two gathered a series of plenary speakers to discuss the future of the book from their disciplinary perspective.

The two site visits I attended were splendid.  The first was Lindy Hess’s “How to Get Published,” in which Susan Ferber (Executive Editor at Oxford University Press), Lindsay Waters (Executive Editor of Humanities at Harvard University Press), and Janet Silver, (Literary Director of the Zachary Shuster Harmsworth agency), discussed the features of successful book proposals, addressed determining whether a manuscript belongs with a trade or university press, when to use an agent (when approaching a trade press), the need to use word counts rather than page counts, and the need for consistently good writing.  Both Waters’ Enemies of Promise and “A Call for Slow Writing” should be mandatory reading for all academics.   Susan Ferber shared valuable and detailed advice from her experience editing manuscripts and disseminated “Tips for Book Proposals” and has since added “An Editor’s Book Publishing Tips for the Uninitiated.”   She also recommended William Germano’s Getting It Published: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious about Serious Books (University of Chicago Press, 2nd ed., 2008).  Silver helped distinguish between trade books and university press monographs but also acknowledged that some manuscripts might function as a bridge between academic and trade publishing.   This kind of sane and honest discussion, full of lucid advice from those who understand the publishing business is something we should see more often at annual meetings of professional societies.

In a second session, called “Preserving Web-Based Digital Images,” Andrea Goethals discussed the need to preserve web content, showed participants the complexity of doing so, and demonstrated web harvesting in progress.  She distinguished between domain harvesting and selective harvesting.  The former might include sites from France with the “fr” domain; the latter might be organized around a theme, say, Olympics 2012, or Katrina, or Obama.  This was a useful introduction to the complexities of preserving the human record now contained on the web.

The series of talks on Friday are summarized below:

Opening Conversation: “Future Formats of Texts: E-books and Old Books”

Robert Darnton noted that old books and e-books need not represent contradictory extremes along the spectrum of communication.  Though he first saw Melville’s copy of Emerson’s Essays at Houghton’s reading room as an undergraduate, it is now online for free.  Additionally, the new digital technology allows (as he discusses extensively in The Case for Books) for monographs to be accompanied by online archives.  His forthcoming book, Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris (Harvard University Press) will be accompanied by online recordings of the ballads that Darnton argues Parisians used to record and disseminate information, suggesting that forms of “going viral” existed long before the internet.   These examples demonstrate the utility of a hybrid combination of the book and digital sources, and provide models for the future of the scholarly monograph.

Stuart Shieber provided a detailed comparison of what readers appreciated in books and what they appreciated in e-readers like the Kindle.  He distinguished between the functionalities of e-book readers and those of e-books.  The Kindle might have an edge over the codex in its weight, its search function, its reference access, its aid to the poor-sighted, and its ease of acquisition.  But the codex still seems preferable to the e-book.  His conclusion nicely summarized the conundrum at the heart of his talk: “ebook readers are preferred to books, but books are still preferable to e-books.”

Session 1: “Storage and Retrieval”

Adrian Johns looked at the final purposes of universal libraries, tracing the history of copyright with its obligatory deposit requirement to argue that the current trouble Google is experiencing with orphaned works originated in ever-expanding term of copyright and an increasingly exhaustive claim to the right to copies on the part of deposit libraries.  He also wondered whether the public use of reason–something he connected to the mission of deposit libraries–required a degree of privacy that e-reading might diminish.

Matthew Kirschenbaum detailed the kinds of things scholars of the future might want to explore when looking at, say, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom: A Novel.  Will scholars of the future want not only Franzen’s desktop, his 100s of saved drafts, but also a record of his Windows use and his iTunes playlists?  Turning to the kind of digital forensics necessary to study such material, he suggested that some kind of computational analysis of these records will be necessary as will skill sets  in both the sciences and the humanities.

Session II: “Circulation and Transmission”

Isabel Hoffmeyr looked at the Indian Ocean Book trade to suggest models for modes of production and consumption that depart from print capitalism theories of circulation.  She suggested that the cosmopolitan networks made possible by the Indian Ocean’s trade routes, with their dismissal of copyright and libraries, more closely resemble today’s new print environment than standard theories of circulation.

Meredith L. McGill looked at the printed poetry of Francis Ellen Watkins Harper and asked two related questions: 1) what print occurs outside the book? and 2) what would it mean to sift books by format?  A printer’s decision to use one format over another directs our attention to the kind of circulation envisioned.  In that sense, circulation might be considered as occurring, or being envisioned, before textual production.

Session III: “Reception and Use”

Paul Duguid reflected on the limitations of digital projects such as Google Books, which contains what he called “splendidly corrupt editions” and suffers from a naivete about both bibliography and books that hinders its goals.  A work like Cotzee’s Diary of a Bad Year, in which page design enriches meaning, simply cannot be adequately scanned onto the limited format provided by Kindle.    Eventually, the digital world will need to move away from a narrative of liberation that posits a world of endlessly digitizable texts to a more carefully corralled world, in which the overload of information is sifted and constrained.

Elizabeth Long pondered reader’s experiences with e-readers, finding that readers liked e-readers’ storage capacity, portability, downloading powers, reduction of bookshelf space, and their instant gratification.  Readers were less satisfied by the experience of flipping back and forth, the impossibility of writing marginalia,  the difficulty of note taking, of viewing maps and illustrations, of measuring how much was left in a given chapter, their lack of page numbers, and the difficulty of citing etexts.

In closing remarks, Peter Stallybrass noted that the expected oppositions had not come up in the day’s talks.  He reminded us that technologies do not displace one another and that targeted binaries, such as oral vs. literary, or print vs. manuscript, often impede rather than enrich discussion, though this was not an issue at this conference.  That reading rooms at libraries are more packed than ever before suggests that whatever else the digital world may do to the future of the book, it has not made the book of less interest or less valued.

Randy Robertson’s “British Index, 1641-1700″

January 16, 2010

Randy Robertson has generously made available his annotated Index of Books and Pamphlets Censored in the British Isles and British North American between 1641 and 1700.  Items are listed chronologically by the date of suppression or questioning.  The link above will take you to his account on academia.edu.  That page has a link for the Index.

Plans are in the works for Penn State Press to publish the Index but first the massive Word document will have to be transformed into an Excel document to make all of its fields searchable, a summer project.  For now, however, he is generously sharing the Index with readers and inviting suggestions directed to him for how it might be made more useful.   He hopes to add EEBO links for each item and also a list of relevant secondary sources.

This is the kind of project that suggests how web publishing might be particularly useful to students of book history.  In an excellent article published in Studies in Bibliography 56 (2003-4), 140-170, Michael Suarez wonders whether the web might provide a richer medium than a printed volume for a national history of the book because, in part, it is expandable in a way that the printed text is not.  More generally, Robert Darnton has long held that web publishing provides opportunities of particular interest to scholars.

It would be interesting to hear from readers how Robertson’s British Index might be used in conjunction with the electronic resources we have been discussing, both in scholarship and in the classroom.

The Case for Books on NPR (Monday, Nov. 23rd)

November 23, 2009

Robert Darnton will discuss his The Case for Books on the Diane Rehm show (NPR, WAMU station) Monday, November 23rd, from 11 am to 12 noon (EST). While one can listen to the show in real time, the full archived version will be available on the show’s website (and then in its archives) about an hour after the program has aired.

Anna has provided a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of Darnton’s book in series of comments for a previous emob post, The Digital Revolution and the Scholar: Darnton’s View.

The Digital Revolution and the Scholar: Darnton’s View

November 10, 2009

To continue the discussion begun by our consideration of Ken Auletta’s Googled, we move to another recent work. Robert Darnton, who has opted out of the Google Book Settlement for Harvard, has faith that we can do better in terms of providing digital access. His The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future presents his vision and recommendations. As he asserts in a recent article for Publisher’s Weekly:

Today, however, we have the means to make that utopia a reality. In many societies, despite enormous inequalities, ordinary people not only read but have access to a huge quantity of reading matter through the Internet. I would not minimize the digital divide, which separates the computerized world from the rest, nor would I underestimate the importance of traditional books. But the future is digital. And I believe that if we can resolve the current challenges facing books in ways that favor ordinary citizens, we can create a digital republic of letters. Much of my book is devoted to this premise and can be summarized in two words: digitize and democratize.

Because versions of the chapters in Darnton’s The Case for Books have appeared elsewhere, those who do not have a copy of his book might find the following list of sources helpful. (The first two chapters are most recent).

Chapter One comes from “Google & the Future of Books” that appeared in The New York Review of Books, (February 12, 2009).

Chapter Two comes from “The Library in the New Age,” New York Review of Books, (June 12, 2008).

Chapter Four comes from “Lost and Found in Cyberspace,” Chronicle of Higher Education ( March 12, 1999).

Chapter Five comes from “The New Age of the Book,” New York Review of Books, (March 18, 1999).

Chapter Eight comes from “The Great Book Massacre,” New York Review of Books, (April 26, 2001).

Chapter Nine comes from “The Heresies of Bibliography,” New York Review of Books, (May 29, 2003).

Chapter Ten comes from “Extraordinary Commonplaces,” New York Review of Books, (December 21, 2000).

Chapter Eleven comes from “What Is the History of the Books? (widely reprinted), Daedalus (summer 1982): 65-83.

Darnton has been interviewed by a number of sources about this book. Rebecca Rego Barry” “Google v. Gutenberg: Robert Darnton’s new book on old books and e-books” appears in Fine Books & Collecting.


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