The Digital Public Library of America, which will be officially launched April 18, "is a project to make the holdings of America's research libraries, archives, and museums available to all Americans--and eventually to everyone in the world--online and free of charge,"
wrote Robert Darnton, Harvard University Library director and DPLA steering committee member, in a lengthy New York Review of Books essay that attempts to answer in detail a question he poses at the outset: "How is that possible?"
Using his own university as an example, Darnton noted that "in serving as a hub, Harvard plans to make available to the DPLA by the time of its launch 243 medieval manuscripts; 5,741 rare Latin American pamphlets; 3,628 daguerreotypes, along with the first photographs of the moon and of African-born slaves; 502 chapbooks and “penny dreadfuls” about sensational crimes, a popular genre of literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; and 420 trial narratives from cases involving marriage and sexuality. Harvard expects to provide a great deal more in the following months, notably in fields such as music, cartography, zoology, and colonial history. Other libraries, archives, and museums will contribute still more material from their collections. The total number of items available in all formats on April 18 will be between two and three million."