Robert Darnton’s Digital Library and eLearning’s Future

Jennifer Howard of The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that a group of 42 top-level representatives from non-profit organizations across the world recently met to talk about the possibility of a national digital library, what Robert Darnton, Harvard’s chief librarian, and the group’s leader, calls a “Digital Public Library of America.”

Howard interviewed Darnton to talk further about the library, the goals of the project, and the problems such a massive undertaking might face. In response to her question about the consensus of the group, Darnton said, “Everyone thought the library should be one for the American people, by which I mean, not an exclusive research library but a grand collection of books that could be used in junior colleges and high schools and institutions of every sort throughout the country.” His statement to Howard summarizes a lengthy essay Darnton recently published at the New York Review of Books blog.

Robert Darnton’s Digital Library and eLearning’s Future

For the world of eLearning, Darnton’s project has great potential. If it succeeds, then it will make available to students, teachers, and trainers all manner of educational materials. Training programs and course modules will obviously have to adapt to this new resource, and some will struggle to adapt; however, the ones that can best figure out how to make use of the digital library will greatly benefit. For example, one advantage of the digital library will be how it can lead to more streamlined lessons. Rather than build into the lessons the required reading, perhaps designers could link directly into the library’s archives, thus closely integrating educational objectives with one information source. Certainly, some courses do this now with the many individual databases out there but think how easy it could be if all the material were hosted by one specific organization.

Unfortunately, no matter how eloquently Darnton explains his goals, there are many logistical problems that this project must overcome, perhaps the greatest of which is the copyright problem. How he plans to deal with this issue, Darnton has not revealed, though Howard did note that he told her several law professors well-versed in copyright law attended the meeting, though he declined to name names at the time. And, another problem more applicable to the eLearning community is money: how will this project be funded? Darnton has expressed the hope that the founders of the non-profit group that backs the library will put up most of the money, but will this be enough? Likewise, will organizations interested in the library be treated differently than individuals? Only time will tell us how well such a library might help the eLearning community.

Of course, one way to monitor the developments of this program is to somehow get involved with Darnton. Leaders within the eLearning community would do well to offer their own input, support, and so on. The eLearning community is, after all, a significant contributor to the world of digital learning, and as such, could be a great help to this project.

Author infoThis is a guest post contributed by Alvina Lopez, who writes on the topics of accredited online colleges. She welcomes your comments here or at her email: Alvina.lopez @gmail.com.

Updated: July 21, 2018 — 6:47 am

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