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Digital Public Library of America

October 2011 Plenary: Perspectives on the Digital Public Library of America

Maureen Sullivan, the President of the American Library Association, moderated the third session of the October 2011 plenary meeting.  She brought out a number of prominent speakers’ responses to the question “What is the DPLA?”  This session featured presentations from John Palfrey, Chair of the DPLA Steering Committee; Peggy Rudd, Texas State Library and Archives Commission; Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive; Amanda French, Center for History and New Media; Jill Cousins, Europeana; and Carl Malamud,

At the beginning of the session, Maura Marx, Director of the DPLA Secretariat, introduced Jill Cousins, the Director of the Europeana Foundation, to make a special announcement.  Jill Cousins announced the new partnership between Europeana and the DPLA.  The two libraries will illustrate the principles of interoperability and linked open data by collaborating on an exhibition about migrations from Europe to America.  The exhibit will contain records, photographs, and documents of all sorts which will explore our shared heritage.  Users will be able to interact and contribute to this project as well.

John Palfrey kicked off the Perspectives panel by discussing the five essential components of the DPLA: Code, Metadata, Content, Tools & Services, and Community.  He espoused the idea that the DPLA will be a collection of collections rather than one centralized digital library, and spoke to the need for common formats to facilitate this sort of interoperability.  In discussing Code, he elaborated that the DPLA should be more than the digitized materials it contains.  Instead, he posed it as a repository for, in addition to content, code that can be repurposed on smaller scales.  To this end, the DPLA will promote the principles of open access.  The Tools & Services of the DPLA are the discovery components and unique modes of presentation that will attract people to the project.  He cited, specifically, Emily Gore’s Scannebago idea.  In concluding, John Palfrey expounded on the value of the DPLA community.  The ambition of the DPLA project is such that no one institution could realize it alone, but the goal of the big tent approach is to bring public-spirited organizations with unique and excellent experience together to build something heretofore unimaginable.

Peggy Rudd, Director and Librarian of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, spoke next, and focused much of her presentation on issues of access.  As one of the conveners for the Audience & Participation workstream, she spoke about ways to make the DPLA a ubiquitous and trusted service for users seeking all sorts of information.  To illustrate her point, she proposed that the library could achieve the sort of cultural significance of Google, and that people would similarly thing to “DPLA” something.  She explained that public libraries will need to serve as a point of access for new digital tools—a digital literacy core—and called for the DPLA to provide resources that meet all potential users’ needs.

Brewster Kahle, Founder of the Internet Archive, began his session by reaffirming the Archivist of the United States’ point that “if it’s not online, it doesn’t exist.”  He said the DPLA was a key component in the building of a digital America as opposed to the paper America of yore.  He elaborated several fundamental goals for the DPLA, and then expanded those goals into a plan for putting a large, 10 million volume library online.  He broke down the components of that library by type of book:  2 million are public, 7 million are out of print, and 1 million are in print.  Public domain material would be immediately incorporated into the library; out-of-print material should be digitized to be lent, which is currently in process; in-print should be purchased and then lent, in a model similar to physical libraries.  He posed the DPLA’s goal as achieving that core 10 million book collection, and then helping all libraries get complete digital collections.  Hosting these collections would be cheap, he suggested, thus the DPLA should not be one centralized repository.  He concluded by stating that the DPLA would bring about “universal access to all knowledge for an inspiring generation.”

Amanda French, THATCamp Coordinator at the Center for History and New Media, began her presentation by reading John Donne’s “The Sun Rising,” using a discussion of the relationship between the aubade and serenade forms of poetry as a metaphor for the current state of libraries.  She went on to assert that the DPLA should be more than just a website or content bed, that it should be a variety of services—both technical and social—and information principles.  She concluded by calling for a physical component to the Digital Public Library of America—one that would affirm and illustrate its core principles.  Full text of the presentation is available online.

Jill Cousins returned for her formal presentation.  She jokingly explained Europeana’s selfish motives for helping the DPLA: that the two projects could collaborate and improve one another (and that Europeana could contribute pertinent content to the DPLA).  She spoke about Europeana’s recent plan. It consists of four major themes: Aggregate (build an open, trusted source for European cultural heritage content), Facilitate (knowledge transfer, innovation, and advocacy), Distribute (to all), Engage (users to participate in their cultural heritage; see Europeana’s Remix project for more information).  These four components illustrate her own vision for the DPLA.  She envisioned that the websites’ content should be able to work with other services’ APIs so that the users will be able to meet the content where they most need it.  She spoke, too, of preserving the public domain status of digital counterparts of analog public domain materials.

Carl Malamud, President and Founder of, spoke next of the sorts of important information we need to provide through the DPLA. He described locked up reservoirs of knowledge that could be liberated through the site.  He illustrated this with the examples of law and government information, both of which are relatively inaccessible due to the vast structures that surround them.  He posed the DPLA as a common reservoir of knowledge to which all would have access.  He concluded by calling for public works projects for knowledge, asserting that “We need to start a national digitization initiative—a decade long commitment to scanning…if we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we launch the Library of Congress into Cyberspace?”

The session concluded with a Q&A session.



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