The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is one of those projects a librarian (and perhaps any other geeky type) dreams of.
We’ve been blessed over recent years with access to the resources of so many powerful digital archives.
But until now, these efforts existed as silos. We’ve had no infrastructure to aggregate these wonderful collections–small and large–into one portal. We’ve had no effective strategy for making the items in these collections–documents, photographs, art, maps, audio, video—easily discoverable, physically and ethically usable, online and free of charge.
Officially launching on April 18th at the Boston Public Library, with approximately 2.4 million records, the DPLA’s goal is to create a resource that goes well beyond providing simple access to digitized or born digital content.
In a New York Review of Books essay , Harvard University Librarian Robert Darnton expressed the DPLA vision:
The user-friendly interface will therefore enable any reader — say, a high school student in the Bronx — to consult works that used to be stored on inaccessible shelves or locked up in treasure rooms — say, pamphlets in the Huntington Library of Los Angeles about nullification and secession in the antebellum South. Readers will simply consult the DPLA through its URL, http://dp.la/. They will then be able to search records by entering a title or the name of an author, and they will be connected through the DPLA’s site to the book or other digital object at its home institution.
Among the project’s impressive founding library and museum partners, or Content Hubs, are Harvard University, the National Archives and Records Administration, ARTSTOR, the New York Public Library, the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Virginia Library, the Biodiversity Heritage Library. A number of regional digital initiatives–like the Kentucky Digital Library or Massachusett’s Digital Commonwealth, will function as service hubs , or on-ramps for local museums and libraries.
The Sloan, Arcadia, Knight, and Soros Foundations, as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services offered initial support. Darton expects the project to grow organically as far as the budget and copyright laws permit.
There’s an idealism behind this great American project. The DPLA initiative sees itself as an advocate for open access and enrichment of the public spheres, encouraging Americans to hack the humanities.
In terms of code,
DPLA will make use of existing free and open source code and all new code funded by DPLA will be free and open source.
In terms of metadata,
the DPLA will aggregate existing library data and create new data; it will operate as part of a global linked data environment. . . All metadata contributed to or funded by the DPLA will be placed in the public domain.
In terms of content,
the DPLA will incorporate all media types and formats including the written record—books, pamphlets, periodicals, manuscripts, and digital texts—and expanding into visual and audiovisual materials in concert with existing repositories. In order to lay a solid foundation for its collections, the DPLA will begin with works in the public domain that have already been digitized and are accessible through other initiatives. Further material will be added incrementally to this basic foundation, starting with orphan works and materials that are in copyright but out-of-print. The DPLA will also explore models for digital lending of in-copyright materials. . .
In terms of tools and services,
The DPLA will provide a number of tools and services designed to provide enhanced use of content. There will also be tools to facilitate digitization of and broad public access to content. The DPLA platform will be generative and open to public innovation to facilitate new discovery, encourage new kinds of questions, and enable the creation of new tools and services, including social sharing and networking services, research tools, and as-yet unforeseen applications. Tools and services funded by the DPLA will be made available in forms that enable their reuse and extension.
In terms of community,
The DPLA will be designed as a participatory platform that facilitates the involvement of the public in all aspects of its design, development, deployment, maintenance, and support. The DPLA will actively support the community of users and developers that want to reuse and extend its content, data, and metadata.
I spoke with Luis Herrera, a member of the DPLA Board of Directors and a former Texas school librarian. He sees DPLA
as an opportunity to gather a huge and diverse array of resources together. To combine the scholarly content at Harvard with the archives from a small town in Kansas. To build bridges across the diversity of vast amounts of content and different material types. All free to public, all through one platform.
Users will search for and use content that include portraits and maps from the Smithsonian and photos from a neighborhood archive. We will support the digitizing of small collections and make them accessible to all.
What excites me, is that a student working on a project will now have access to news clips and digital photos about the freedom riders, daguerreotypes of the women’s suffrage in Kentucky, artifacts from the Minnesota Street Car Museum, audio from Utah relating to westward expansion–all public domain.
And it’s going to gain momentum, as more folks get involved and more libraries and museums want their collections to be discovered.