From an article by Robert Darnton entitled A Library Without Walls
At Harvard, we have conducted a preliminary survey of the projects underway in other nations. We have even located an incipient NDL in Mongolia. The Dutch are now digitizing every Dutch book, pamphlet, and newspaper produced from 1470 to the present. President Sarkozy of France announced last November that he would make €750 million available to digitize the nation’s cultural “patrimony.” And the Japanese Diet voted for a two-year, 12.6 billion yen crash program to digitize their entire national library. If the Netherlands, France, and Japan can do it, why can’t the United States?
I propose that we dismiss the notion that a National Digital Library of America is far-fetched, and that we concentrate on the general goal of providing the American people with the kind of library they deserve, the kind that meets the needs of the twenty-first century. We can equip the smallest junior college in Alabama and the remotest high school in North Dakota with the greatest library the world has ever known. We can open that library to the rest of the world, exercising a kind of “soft power” that will increase respect for the United States worldwide. By creating a National Digital Library, we can make our fellow citizens active members of an international Republic of Letters, and we can strengthen the bonds of citizenship at home.
I think it is interesting that the call is for a national digital library, rather than an international one, as though ideas respected borders and as to requote from the article Thomas Jefferson’s “Knowledge is the common property of mankind.”
Also it seems to me that surely Google (a US company) is already creating an (international) digital library, it has digitised over 12 million books thus far, it has made agreements with a host of international libraries (UK, Spain, Netherlands, Germany etc.), and has committed to digitise every known printed book (all 129 million of them) by the end of this decade.
But aside from Google, there is also The Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg and a host of other smaller ventures by libraries, archives, museums, crowdsourced individuals working in combination and by commercial concerns.
As (nearly) all new books are now being made available in electronic form we will soon be coming to a period where every book is available.
So getting the digitisation done is being handled by both public and private concerns, and remarkably quickly too.
What will however be the issue is the reigning in of the major content producers and their multiple lobbyists and DRM lawyers, so that works are accessible, affordable, and able to be used for (as already gained in paper) fair dealing purposes such as research, criticism and reportage.
The terms in the latest released ACTA draft do not appear to be as bad as expected, so there may be hope yet.