I don’t think there’s any assumptions about funding at all, except for the fact that I know that there are foundations that are very interested and very supportive of this effort, and we’ve been supported by the Sloan Foundation thus far in just getting this work off the ground. I think it’s important for all of us to think about sustainability. You know, many libraries are still looking at digitization or digital operations as this special other thing, that needs extra support from somewhere. And even though a project like this would certainly need some kind of infusion of money to get started and to build infrastructure, I think it’s everyone’s goal—to stop having digital be this special, extra thing. It can’t be! It is the way people find information now.

So if anything, hopefully part of what DPLA accomplishes is to be an advocacy platform, and a way for libraries to start shifting their budgets into operations that will be of benefit to the whole community rather than just locally. You still have so much duplication of efforts in so many things, and that just has to stop—it’s such a waste of money. Public libraries have a lot of services that you won’t be able to duplicate in the digital world, of course, but still, a large part of what they do is digital and could benefit from being more closely networked with other digital libraries.

So what would this mean for traditional public libraries, when and if this project becomes a reality—in terms of the funding they might get, or how they’ll be used in the future? Is that part of the discussion?

Yes, absolutely. We had a lot of public librarians at this meeting who were able to speak to those issues. Hopefully, it wouldn’t have any effect on their funding, because public libraries do provide so many services that are local, and important to their communities. This would be a complement to the huge collections that local libraries already have. In addition, a lot of libraries have wonderful local history collections, that would be an important part of a DPLA. That’s one of the challenges we’re looking at: local history collections and genealogy materials are always among the most sought-after material in libraries. So how do you get that stuff digitized, uploaded, and part of the whole? Those are some of the really fun and interesting problems that we have to solve.

What do you imagine this would look like on the user end?

I hope that there’s not one predefined front end to what gets done. I hope that we think about serving mobile users, I hope that we think about incorporating a large degree of interactivity from people out there: something like the Flickr project with the Library of Congress project, where the Library of Congress posted a lot of their photographs, and then had users creating metadata and tags for them, and there was a real exchange of data that went back and forth. I think you have to be able to tap into what people know about, and what interests people. There’s also so many different naturally occurring communities of interest, so ostensibly, each one of them would be able to tap into materials that serve their interest. I hope we don’t have just one way in to all this.

How is this project different from Google Books?

Google has done a great job in digitizing millions of books, and, actually, they’ve helped by showing us what’s possible. But there are other materials: there are images, there are manuscripts, there are audio/visual materials—it’s not all books. Who knows, maybe Google will be a part of this, too. There’s been an enormous amount of work that’s been done already. Many of the libraries involved in this effort have worked closely with Google as well. I think that public/private partnerships are going to be a part of this in lots of ways. There’s open content that’s totally open and totally free, and then there’s content that might appear free to the user, but that has something happening on the back end—someone is paying for it somehow—which is how libraries have been paying for content already anyway.

The Google settlement has been held up for a very long time now, and who knows what’s going to happen to it. It’s a great pity that we don’t have an answer to the orphan works problem. Part of what DPLA will do is to try to help create legislative solutions to this problem. I mean, Google created a private contract around a problem that really should be legislated. And so no one has given up on the desire to create a true legislative solution for everyone, for the orphan works problem.

Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner