Two-and-a-half years ago, at a meeting in Cambridge, leaders of 42 of America's top libraries and research institutions decided that the time had come to buildsomething together. But what was that thing? After a half hour, Robert Darnton told The Atlantic last year, the group was able to agree on a single sentence: "It's a worthy effort, and we are willing to work together toward it." The "it" in question: a national, digital public library.
If that moment was the Digital Public Library of America's conception, then today is its birth, with the launch of DP.LA, the effort's online home. I asked executive director Dan Cohen about what the DPLA had become in those intervening 20 months, and how he saw its role in American public life going forward. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
What is the Digital Public Library of America? What do you hope it will become?
The idea behind the Digital Public Library of America is fairly simple actually -- it is the attempt, really a large-scale attempt, to knit together America's archives, libraries, and museums, which have a tremendous amount of content -- all forms of human expression, from images and photographs, to artwork, to published material and unpublished material, like archival and special collections. We want to bring that all together in one place.
One big part of the DPLA will be its brand-new website, DP.LA -- a nice, short URL. It works great on mobile phones too. It's a modern, responsive website.