Why I’d Like a Digital Public Library of America

Next month I’ll be spending a few quiet days in Amsterdam at the end of a work-related trip. It’s been ages since I’ve traveled alone — years, even — and I’m looking forward to wandering from café to café with a stack of dense novels and several long stretches of spring afternoon during which I can read them.

I’m a fast reader, and during vacations I often find myself at the end of the last book I’ve brought with me before I’m finished traveling. I try to plan ahead by bringing thick, dense bricks that weigh down my suitcase but keep me entertained for as long as possible — fruitcake books, some call them. Today I posted a question to Ask Metafilter in search of these kinds of books to take with me on my upcoming trip.

A few moments ago, attempting to cross-reference Ask Mefi (among other things, my recommendation engine of choice) with Goodreads (where I keep track of what I’ve read and would like to read) and AbeBooks (used bookseller extraordinaire), I was overwhelmed with the number of tabs open in Chrome and the frustration of trying to use three different websites to get me to one final goal: finding books I want to read. Why isn’t there a website where I can do all three of these things — recommend, track, obtain — in one place?

And then I remembered, oh yeah, I’m currently working on a project that could eventually do just that. The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), currently housed at the Berkman Center and lead by an amazing Steering Committee of top-notch librarians, techies, and government and foundation representatives, is bringing together stakeholders from public and research libraries, the publishing industry, government, cultural organizations, and the academic community to figure out how best to “make the cultural and scientific heritage of humanity available, free of charge, to all.”

The project is still very much in the planning stages, and I don’t know what form it will take. If I get my way*, and if the DPLA turns out to be as awesome as I hope it will, I won’t have to open as many different tabs or log into as many different websites to find recommendations, track books I want to read, and obtain them, whether by checking them out from my local library branch, buying them, or downloading an ebook. If that concept (or some variant thereof) interests you — or if you wholeheartedly disagree about what a DPLA should look like and want to make your voice heard — you should check out our wiki and maybe add your name to our list of supporters.

*Note: As always, everything on this blog represents nothing more than the author’s own opinion, experience and predilection for referring to herself in the third person. I’m not speaking for my employer in the above; just sharing a nice little “oh, right” moment that, no matter how hard I tried, wouldn’t fit in a tweet. If it piques your interested in the DPLA, all the better!