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Extending Light Against the Darkness

By Rachel Frick

This is not the blog post I had planned to write.

When asked a few weeks ago to write a post for this week, I prepared a draft outline about the Digital Public Library of America launch and celebratory events. I was going to mention how CLIR was continuing its support of the DPLA. It would have been a post that wrote itself.

But then, in a space of a breath, our collective American experience changed.

This week’s tragic events in Boston and West Texas upset our plans and shifted our perspectives.

On Tuesday, DPLA Executive Director Dan Cohen sent out an eloquent message,, putting into words what many of us who have worked on the DPLA were feeling. It was his closing sentiment that has stayed with me throughout this entire week:

“I see the building of a new library as one of the greatest examples of what humans can do together to extend the light against the darkness.”

It is this light, this hope, that I look to sustain what my European colleges often refer to as American idealistic optimism. How can we rally in the face of what is so grim? What can we do?

I had an idea, sent some emails, called on my friends and my community, and asked a favor. And that is how, on Thursday, instead of traveling to Boston, a few of us gathered at the Smithsonian to mark the launch of the DPLA. Martin Kalfatovic and I sent out the word of an informal “meet-up” and we had a great turnout. We had our local contingent, but we also had representation from Baltimore and the Berkman Center. Dan Cohen, Emily Gore and Amy Rudersdorf skyped into our gathering from Boston to say hello; The Archivist of the United States stopped by. We played with the DPLA portal displayed on smart boards. It felt good to see familiar faces and talk about plans. It was a small, respectful, restrained event—but it marked the moment. Maybe more importantly, we had managed to find some light and generate some of our own to share.

Meanwhile on the web, the DPLA was getting over 500,000 views per hour. Folks were tweeting their favorite photos and sending their positive remarks, casting more light.

And to me that has always been the best part of the DPLA—the people, our community, and our purpose—to be a beacon of hope, a path for understanding, that is open and free to all.

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