WASHINGTON (AP) — A nonprofit effort to digitize the nation’s libraries and create a Digital Public Library of America won a $1 million federal grant Thursday from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The grant will help form a new nonprofit organization and create the technical platform to share digital content across the nation’s many public libraries and archives. Digitizing books and building a system for libraries to contribute will take years, though, and millions more dollars from private partners, said endowment chairman Jim Leach.
The project is being spearheaded by Harvard University’s library in Cambridge, Mass., with libraries across the country.
An independent board will be formed within two months to establish a new nonprofit organization that will coordinate with statewide library projects with the goal of launching a national prototype by April 2013. Its budget and funding plan are still being developed, though most funding likely will come from outside government, Leach said.
The digital library effort is designed to be free for everyone. It could include partnerships with private groups, such as Google Books, to tap into content that’s already digitized. And it has the potential to enhance local libraries with more content beyond their physical walls, Leach added.
“This is a great progression in how knowledge is developed, how it is maintained and spread,” he said. “The digital world is probably the greatest democratization in the spread of learning that has ever occurred.”
Google’s efforts to digitize books have at times been thwarted in court due to copyright laws. Those restrictions may also limit content for a digital public library.
“Copyright laws are very thorny, so one has to work within that dimension,” Leach said.
The library effort is meant to complement the World Digital Library project being led by the Library of Congress and international partners. It also will integrate with the European Union’s Europeana digital library collection.
Even as more content moves online, physical libraries have seen demand rise in recent years.
“The relevance of libraries appears to be increasing — and that’s possibly counterintuitive to what one might think digitization would imply,” Leach said. “Libraries are really centers of local culture.”