Visit MOCH at the University of Memphis for a calendar of events and more

Monday, October 21, 2013

Dr. Robert Darnton - “Digitize and Democratize: Libraries, Books, and the Digital Future”

Dr. Robert Darnton, Director of the Harvard University Libraries delivered the second lecture of the 2013-214 Marcus Orr Center for the Humanities Season at the University Of Memphis University Center Theater on October 10, 2013 to a gathering over just over 200 guests.

Darnton opened his remarks by relating the history of Harvard’s library.  John Harvard was a great benefactor to the University, donating large sums to the library.  So, the school began as a small college with a huge library.  The library became so prominent that the college ended up assuming the name given to the library in recognition of its generous benefactor.  Darnton noted, “The library is the heart and soul of the University, and added, “In the same way that public libraries are the heart and soul of communities.”

Darnton, along with many others, was responsible for launching the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) on April 18, 2013.  What he and his collaborators had hoped to be a major news event, the launch was lost in the coverage of the tragic “Boston Marathon Bombings. The mission of the DPLA is to serve everyone. Darnton feels that the public should have access to all knowledge, especially things that are produced with public funds. The DPLA is working towards getting as much information to the public as possible.

Darnton gave some examples of how some libraries contain so much knowledge, but they do not want to share it with the public. He discussed how The Great Library of Alexandria was a collection of all the books in the world, yet it was closed off to the public. He said that as such, it was not really a library. He also spoke of how great universities such as Oxford and Cambridge limited the information in their libraries to “the privileged few.” The universities have huge gates with spikes at the top to keep “the outsiders” from getting in.   Darnton illustrated his point by sharing a picture of him with a friend when he attended Oxford The re showing them going through one of the passageways that the students would use to avoid getting locked out at the main gates.   Darnton stressed that libraries should “digitize and democratize instead of walling themselves off.”

Darnton is encouraging authors to participate in an “authors’ alliance,” where-by authors give up their copyright to the DPLA.  Darnton jokingly explained, “I published a book in 1968. I make enough from it to take my wife to dinner every two years, if she pays for her dinner.” His point is authors make so little profit on their publications, they may benefit from the alliance.

Dr. Darnton concluded his remarks by explaining that the DPLA cannot make everything available at once, but it will eventually provide the public with knowledge. This is just the beginning, and there is still a lot of work to do.

For more information about the Digital Public Library of America, visit

Jasmine Morton - MOCH Honors Intern

No comments:

Post a Comment