Press: What is the DPLA? (Library Journal)

Posted by Vicky Zeamer on April 9, 2013 in Blog, Press.

This is the fifth in an occasional series of articles from John Palfrey that will explore issues surrounding the efforts to launch and expand the Digital Public Library of America. Below is an excerpt:

“The question that has most frequently come up in the course of the two-year planning process for theDigital Public Library of America (DPLA) has been a very simple one: What is it?”

“The DPLA planning process began, back in October 2010, with agreement on a broad vision statement. At a meeting in Cambridge, MA, 40 leaders from libraries, foundations, academia, and technology projects agreed to work together to create “an open, distributed network of comprehensive online resources that would draw on the nation’s living heritage from libraries, universities, archives, and museums in order to educate, inform, and empower everyone in current and future ­generations.””

“So far, so good. A diverse and prominent group managed to concur on a single sentence. The challenge since that time has been to make the vision more precise, to fill in the picture, and, in doing so, to expand the group of people who are excited about working toward this shared goal.”

“Since April 2010, the planning initiative has taken the form of an extended, national design phase to plan out what we should build together. The emphasis of this process has been to solicit diverse views as to what the “it” should be that we are working toward.”

“We have engaged more than 1,000 people, online and in person at dozens of meetings, on both coasts of the United States and many places in between. The process has been extensive on purpose; the idea has been to ensure that we are building toward a truly national resource and one that will serve as many people and libraries as we reasonably can. The design process and the decisions made along the way have been carefully documented online, on the project’s websitewiki, and multiple email lists. Participants have come from public libraries, academic libraries, publishing houses, technology companies, government agencies, funding institutions, and many other places and backgrounds.”

“On April 18, we will launch the first beta version of the DPLA. In its first iteration, the DPLA will combine a group of rich, interesting digital collections, from state and regional digital archives to the special collections of major university libraries and federal holdings. The DPLA will demonstrate how powerful and exciting it can be to bring together our nation’s digitized materials, metadata (including catalog records, for instance), code, and digital tools and services into an open, shared resource. Imagine the ability to access a vastly larger set of materials than ever before, both through a single web portal and through your local library, which has carefully curated a subset of the national database.”

“Distributed effort”

“The DPLA will operate on a network model, much like the Internet itself. The platform will serve as the central nexus for a group of “hubs.” These hubs are nationwide organizations that provide essential services and content for the DPLA. Presenting a geographically and historically diverse look at our nation’s archives, the seven initial service hubs span the United States: the Mountain West Digital Library (Utah, Nevada, and Arizona), Digital Commonwealth (Massachusetts), Digital Library of Georgia, Kentucky Digital Library, Minnesota Digital Library, South Carolina Digital Library, and Oregon Digital Library. Each of these organizations assists an even greater number of local and regional libraries, museums, and archives with digitization efforts, creating a broad network of contributors and a vast range of content that users can access.”

“Each of the DPLA’s service hubs contains unique, valuable materials. The Minnesota Digital Library, for instance, hosts resources from more than 150 cultural institutions statewide on its Minnesota Reflections site. Contributors to the collection range from the Minnesota Streetcar Museum to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in St. Paul. The collection, now ten years old, today includes maps, images, and documents pertinent to local historical research and to a comprehensive exploration of the state’s history and geography. The Mountain West Digital Library, meanwhile, contains the Western Soundscape Archive, a collection of nearly 3,000 sounds clips pertaining to the landscape and natural environment of the Mountain West region from the University of Utah’s content. Ever wonder what a Wyoming toad sounds like?”

“In addition to the service hubs, the DPLA will bring together content from major institutional digital collections, such as the special collections of Harvard University and the collections of the National Archives, which have both announced that they would become the DPLA’s first content hubs—to be followed, we hope, by many others in both the private and the public sector.”

“The structure of these hubs offers a preview of what the DPLA will accomplish on a national level. Each of the service hubs collects content from its region, assisting the libraries and archives responsible for that content in the process. The DPLA will help to aggregate the metadata and the materials and in turn connect users to the content across these many regional and institutional digital libraries. In much the same way that you might find a book not available at your local library through an interlibrary loan system, the DPLA will link digital collections from across the United States to make a wide variety of content directly available to users.”

READ THE FULL ARTICLE: From John Palfrey’s article for the Library Journal’s The Digital Shift, What is the DPLA?

Palfrey is President of the DPLA Board of Directors, and will be serving as a periodic columnist for Library Journal to discuss the “issues surrounding the efforts to launch and expand the Digital Public Library of America.”

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