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Digital Public Library of America

South Carolina brings digital wealth to library project

A guest post from Annie Schutte, a librarian, teacher and consultant for the Knight Foundation

The following is part of a series that looks at The Digital Public Library of America  – the first national effort to aggregate existing records in state and regional digital libraries so that they are searchable from a single portal. It is written by Annie Schutte, a librarian, teacher and consultant for Knight Foundation. Photo credit: Clemson University Libraries.

The South Carolina Digital Library will bring a collage of historically rich documents  to the Digital Public Library of America launch in April, with topics ranging from the Civil War and slavery to the development of the U.S. Park Service, said Chris Vinson, Clemson University Libraries‘ Head of Digital Initiatives and Technology.

Vinson is the  Digital Public Library  service-hub director for the South Carolina Digital Library, which currently hosts nearly 200,000 objects and adds about 20,000 new items a year, despite having no central, full-time employees. Vinson expects that South Carolina Digital Library‘s position as a  DPLA service hub will allow it to help state organizations digitalize more than they ever have before and bring communities together in sharing and learning about their local history.

In this interview, Vinson shares his experience preparing the South Carolina Digital Library‘s metadata for submission to DPLA, excitement at being a part of the first major effort to aggregate our nation’s cultural history, plans for South Carolina’s first DPLA exhibit in April and hopes for the future of the project.

Could you start by telling me about your organization and how you became involved with the Digital Public Library of America?

C.V: Basically, it fell into our laps. The role that I fill now was previously filled by Emily Gore, who is Director of Content for DPLA, and I think she’s always had that special bond with South Carolina, and she’s always realized the power of the content that exists there. So, given that and our unique position and how our infrastructure for the digital library is set up—that we’re a content-DM-only site—she saw all of those factors and determined that we’re a really good test beta as a hub, just because we present so much diversity, and we do things in so many different ways and so differently from other places.

Can you tell me more about what’s unique about your collections and your services?

C.V: We have so much content. We are really focused on the production of content in South Carolina. It ranges from Civil War collections, slavery collections, first-hand accounts of the battle of Fort Sumter—which is part of our national parks collection—and it just runs the gamut. I think South Carolina itself is just a very unique place, and this material reflects that. I believe an old legislator from South Carolina once said that South Carolina is too small to be a country, but too large to be an insane asylum. I think that’s very fitting for the state in many ways. The services we offer, they’re all pro bono—I’m not sure if that’s something that’s typical across the nation or not—but everything that we do, we do for free. We go out and solicit material, and really we just want to make sure that people are up and online and that communities are ready to be engaged in the 21st century.

What will your first exhibit be? Can you give us a preview?

C.V: The title is “This Land Is Your Land: National Parks and Protected Areas.” We’re basing it around a number of themes, one of them being women in the parks. We’re going to show the progression of women and how their role in the Park Service developed over the years. We’re doing an exhibit on the relation of people to wildlife. I don’t know if you’ve seen photos of, say, Yellowstone National Park from the early 20th century. You have people driving their cars along the trails, and bears coming up to the windows, and people feeding them potato chips or whatever. So, pulling out things from the collection that show that relationship between tourism and the wildlife that’s there—that’s another exhibit we’re working on. Another subtheme we’re working on is building the parks—documents that show the building of many of the buildings within the parks. We want to show that. We want to show the documents that authorized the parks being allowed to open, that type of thing. We’ve got all sorts of things.

What local benefits will your position as a DPLA service hub offer?

C.V: It’s going to give us the ability to digitize more than we ever have. It’s giving us a chance to engage the existing Knight communities in South Carolina with digital content. For example, Columbia and Myrtle Beach are both Knight communities, and we’re already in the process of developing partnerships with organizations in those communities to leverage that and digitize things that would really help them engage the community or develop programs that would bring the community to them around digital content.

Could you talk about how you think that the DPLA launch will change the national landscape in terms of digital libraries and how people access content?

C.V: I think it’s going to bring it to the forefront in people’s minds a lot more. And I think it’s going to give us that sense of unification that is really nonexistent in the digital library world right now. There are a few initiatives out there right now—Internet Archive being one—but it doesn’t really feel like a national effort. The DPLA feels to me like the first real national effort to bring all of these disparate elements together into one place—not just online, but just in terms of the community. It’s one place that people can come together and talk about the issues that they’re facing and find the resources to help them bring their collections and their libraries on par with everyone else in the nation.

Why do you think the DPLA is gaining traction now whereas other projects haven’t been able to take off to this extent?

C.V: I’d say probably leadership. John Palfrey, for example, is amazing at what he does, and I think he’s laid out an amazing vision for the DPLA, and he’s found the right people to do the right job so far. Emily Gore, Amy Rudersdorf are both excellent hires. They’re movers and shakers who I think will get people really interested in it, one, and two, go out there and do the work to make sure it happens.

What challenges do you see moving forward after the DPLA launch as the project expands and grows?

C.V: I see the DPLA struggling to accommodate all of the differences and variances that are out there in digital libraries. I certainly think they can do it, but that’s probably going to be their greatest challenge. There are so many different, unique infrastructures out there for digital libraries, and figuring out how to bring that all into one, monolithic place is going to be a real challenge. South Carolina has presented its own challenges with metadata and metadata normalization. We did ours a little bit differently from the rest of the country, and I suspect that there are going to be a lot of others that will have that same issue once they move from the service hubs to a larger scale.

How have you all dealt with metadata alignment so far?

C.V: I appointed someone at the College of Charleston, Heather Gilbert, to be the face of it, to go out to our institutions—USC, to us even at Clemson—take a good, hard look at how we’ve been doing things, work with Amy at DPLA, and just figure out what’s wrong and then go in and fix it. Basically, scrub it so that it’s ready for the DPLA. And DPLA itself has been a huge help in that some of what they’ve been taking in, they’re fixing for us. It’s still wrong on our end, but at least on that scale it will be normalized.

What’s your hope for the future of the DPLA?

C.V: Well, I want to keep being a part of it. I think it’s a great role for South Carolina. I really would like to see it move into more of a global digital library. I would like to see it refine those partnerships with Europeana and create something more international in scale, which I think it will, and to have it facilitate collaborations between organizations here and organizations in Europe to find where’s that common ground where we can help each other with certain projects. That’s what I really see as the future.

By Annie Schutte, a librarian, teacher and consultant for Knight Foundation.