What if we could have a national, digital public library that would allow anyone with access to the internet the ability to browse, read and view some of our treasured informational resources? Well, the Digital Public Library of America had just that idea, and it went online late last week.
It might sound a bit like Google Books, but it isn’t. Where Google Books had to work its way around copyright laws, the DPLA does not. The idea behind the DPLA is to make all library catalogues of every public library in the nation available at the click of a mouse. This means the information that is browsable on the DPLA website currently consists of items within the public domain — where the copyright has expired on them — or are owned by libraries who have the right to put the information online. Right now, they are starting with six pilot states’ libraries and are hoping to expand. Their affiliations include institutions such as the Smithsonian, New York Public Library, the National Archives, Harvard, the University of Virginia, Digital Library of Georgia, Minnesota Digital Library, and more.
According to Director of Content Emily Gore, “The goal here is not to have all these pockets be siloed… The goal is to use the technology we do have, including better bandwidth, to pull things together in one discoverable place, so that small historical societies and other small institutions that contribute to these aggregation points … can then be shared at a larger scale.
For internet searchers, students and avid readers alike, this sounds like a great idea, right? After all, it gives instant access to credible sources that everyone can access, right? Not so fast.
A February 2010 survey showed that more than 30 percent of Americans still don’t have access to the internet at home. Furthermore, almost a third of Americans — nearly the same percentage of Americans who don’t have the internet at home — don’t use the internet anywhere. While that is down six percent from recent years, that is still a huge percentage of the population considering the United States is one of the most developed nations in the world and we live in the Digital Age.
This lack of access to the internet can be for a number of reasons. The price of internet access at home has skyrocketed in recent years. Where I live in Illinois, the cheaper plans run about $25 per month and the more expensive can be over $100 per month. While $25 per month doesn’t seem like a lot, it can add up, and if you are worried about putting food on the table for your family, it would follow that a home internet package might not be worth the price. While some people without home internet access might be able to afford it, they might not know how to use it.
We may be living in the digital age, but just a few short years ago, cell phones were the size of bricks and the idea of a home computer was ludicrous. Many people living today would not have grown up with computers and the internet and, therefore, may not see its value or know how to use it.
All of this adds up to a deepening national digital divide. Those with access to the internet have information at their fingertips, and those without can’t even begin to understand what they are missing. This digital divide disproportionately affects the poor, who are already lagging behind when it comes to school.
While the Digital Public Library of America might seem like a great idea — and, in theory, it is — it is serving to deepen the digital divide. Those without access to the internet cannot access this information, putting them even further behind the rest of the country.
Photo Credit: Extra Ketchup