Three days after the bombing at the finish line, something happened of a very different kind, but which got little attention in the press. The Digital Public Library of America opened online and is now available—even if in a limited way—at URL dp.la. Type in those four letters in the address line of your browser, hit return, and you’re there. This is important to us because, like epub, it’s going to give gay people—and other minorities—access to documents about their communities which currently reside in research libraries and institutions and museums around the country. On the Digital Public Library of America, gay people will have access that is direct and unencumbered by gate-keepers, and free. To a community whose past has been expurgated and censored by others, and poisoned by the concept of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the opening of the Digital Public Library of America is a step toward freedom.
According to Robert Darnton, the University Librarian at Harvard, in an article titled, “The National Digital Public Library is Launched!” in The New York Review of Books, the DPLA has been in the works since October 1, 2010. A small group of representatives from foundations and libraries met at Harvard to discuss making “the bulk of world literature available to all citizens free of charge” by creating a “grand coalition of foundations and research libraries.” Since then, a mission statement has been written in somewhat more technical language. “The DPLA would be an open, distributed network of comprehensive online resources that would draw on the nation’s living heritage from libraries, universities, archives, and museums in order to educate, inform, and empower everyone in the current and future generations.”
They have started with the libraries, and the libraries’ holdings, which are already digitized, but by degrees the DPLA will be able to offer increasingly comprehensive collections from its participating libraries and foundations. I expect that gay people are going to have to wait for a while for useful documents to be available through DPLA. But this is going in the right direction, free to all, and comprehensive. Imagine what that means to us. Even if what DPLA achieves is only to make it easier for someone on the East Coast to get documents from the Huntington Library on the West Coast, that is going to make a difference in our ability to access our past.
Check out dp.la. Explore a little. You’ll see what possibilities this has. Then keep coming back, as this thing grows. And read about it, here, here, and here, among scores of other places. This is going to make our lives—including the lives of gay writers and readers—better.