Worlds made by words and images

One of the most prominent individuals in the fight against the Google Books project, the historian Robert Darnton, has also been a key proponent of a major free alternative – the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). The first stage of the project is now up and running and available at

Darnton, who teaches at Harvard and is also the University Librarian, is an historian of great interest to communicators. His studies of communities of interest and the world of letters provide significant insights into communication networks and influence channels throughout history. His most recent book Poetry and Police: Communication Networks in 18thC Paris is a good example. Worlds Made by Words and The Case for Books are also well worth having a look at – the latter as an insight into the fact that the internet can also be an instrument of corporate and government control as well as other things.

DPLA is well worth a visit as it includes access to the digital collections of a huge range of US institutions – manuscripts, images and published work. DPLA is mainly funded by philanthropic foundations (including the Knight Foundation which supports media research, quality journalism and the arts). The DPLA also sits well with the European portal,, which provides access to digital collections in 27 European countries. The two sites are now hot linked so you can go backwards and forwards between them. Both offer regular newsletters which provide updates on new online exhibitions and new collections which can be accessed. DPLA also has a very useful time line so you can check when things happened.

In his new Penguin book, The Deserted Newsroom (originally published online by crikey), Gideon Haigh talks about how journalists now rarely leave the newsroom. (By the way, the newsrooms are deserted because of job losses so there is no contradiction between title and thesis.) However, journalists operate by phone because they increasingly get news by interviewing people – unlike I.F.Stone who got his from digging in official publications – and news (particularly political news) is more and more about what people say rather than what happens. Research has also moved online – mainly it seems to Google. But one can’t help feeling media content in Australia might be more interesting if journalists visited DPLA and Europeana more often than they interviewed pollies and business and industry association leaders in search of predictable quotes which provoke predictable responses from opponents.