Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Some brief notes about the Digital Public Library of America West Program #dplawest

 Digital Public Library of America is a vast program attempting to encompass everything from rare archival information to the modern best sellers- all through a single interface that will enfold all human knowledge. A rather ambitious endeavor. A great deal of this is born out of the wreckage of the Google Digitization project that was shut down by the courts due to copyright issues. In order to restart the program, the steering committee is rebooting the program on its own.

There is a good overview of what they want to do in the LA Times Opinion Page:

A universal digital library is within reach
"But the dream of a universal digital library lives on. Now a coalition of libraries and archives has come together to create a Digital Public Library of America to fulfill the original vision of a digital library for all. It could well be that an effort without commerce in the mix will have an easier time of it."

There is also far more thorough overview by Peter Brantley in Publisher's Weekly:
At West Coast Meeting, Digital Public Library of America Begins to Take Shape 

My initial observations after attending DPLA West last week:

The plan is to include everything, even the obscure paper that existed for a few years in a tiny rural community- a problem of unique, but obscure content. Negotiating the copyright to include the big newspapers, as well as modern popular authors, is a legal hurdle.

I was generally heartened about the support for rural libraries. A big problem that I see is that we are not moving fast enough. A lot of private companies want to digitize library content (especially newspapers), with quick and dirty techniques. Using simple OCR techniques is not enough; the text can be found, but the context is lost. We need the metadata and that is what Harvard just recently released.

Coordination strategy is important, but formal process even at the state level is too slow. They don't have the staff or the funds, and neither do local libraries. If we don't get the funds and the staff then how are we going to digitize anything?

If this gets off the ground, we would really have an accurate view of cultural content. Look up a topic and find everything- from web pages and images, to books, archival newspapers, and oral histories. Research that encompasses everything in one search, rather than using different websites for each type of research.

Digitize older books or negotiate for books in copyright; both take time and money. Which one will take priority? New books are sexier, but history is just as essential.

Program had a tough time with the ebook lending aspect. What is available and how is it getting distributed? We do need to get ahead as an organization, otherwise a private group will develop one and we will again be a bottom priority. We need movement on this issue.

This ambitious program faces the chasm and the wall. There is a chasm that represents the lack of digitization of archival materials. Libraries all across the country have such rich cultural collections that need to be scanned and preserved, but there isn't the funds, staff, or equipment to make it happen. There is a wall that represents the big publishers and authors. If we cannot gain the rights for distribution of this content, then not only will this project stall, but it places libraries in jeopardy. There is obviously a lot at stake here. It is an encouraging project despite these facts. DPLA is on the right track and with the right moves it can unleash the kind of service libraries have only dreamed about.

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