Why a bestselling writer would be an excellent addition to the steering committee of the Harvard-hosted Digital Public Library of America

imageimageLike it or not, a lot more public library patrons care about bestsellers and other commercial books than about academic works.

Frustratingly, the Harvard-hosted Digital Public Library of America has no commercial writer or other nonacademic content provider on its 17-member steering committee. Nick Taylor, a prominent member of the Authors Guild, is wondering about writerly participation, and I don’t blame him. I raised a similar question in a Baltimore Sun article.

imageGranted, writers can be overzealous in trying to protect their interests, and I myself abhor such author-encouraged horrors as the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act and Draconian DRM

But maybe with writers and other content providers more involved in the DPLA, it could more quickly understand the needs of originators of popular content and come up with mutually beneficial solutions. Not to mention the publicity benefits.

So the DPLA could do worse than to enlist Stephen King and John Grisham and Stephenie Meyer (who has more than a few insights into the tastes of young readers) as allies and advocates. For time reason, none of the above might be able to sit on the steering committee, but they could at least function as advisors and encourage another well-known author or publisher to serve.

As a writer who has written for both commercial and academic outlets, I believe that the academic authors on the DPLA committee cannot understand, at the gut level, the business needs of commercial writers. Not everyone has tenure or even a steady, well-assured salary.

In my opinion, librarians and content-providers should strive to spend less time on the copyright wars and more time working toward the creation of a Librarian-Content Providers Complex that would be as efficient at lobbying for appropriations as the Military-Industrial Complex has been. A commercial writer on the DPLA steering committee would be a good start. Same for the inclusion of a publisher. Besides, writers and the like aren’t just experts at creating content and connecting with large audiences—they are among the most voracious consumers.

See why I’m happy to read of Taylor broaching the issue of a writer on the committee? The DPLA won’t win the support of providers of popular content without engaging them, and representation on the DPLA steering committee would be a good start. How the devil can the DPLA expect writers and publishers to negotiate with it if the organization doesn’t care about them? I am aware of DPLA originator Robert Darnton’s belief that the DPLA committee wasn’t intended to cater to “sectors” such as writers and publishers. But couldn’t their inclusion go a long way in expediting the availability of the most popular commercial content through national digital libraries?

Meanwhile DPLA should address other shortcomings of representation on the steering  committee—most urgently (far more than in the case of writers), the absence of any current K-12 educators. It also should commit to branching out into public and academic e-systems. The current DPLA’s academic orientation—and its failure to include a commercial writer or publisher on the steering committee—is one more indication of the need for a dual-system approach.

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