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The Digital Public Library of America: Updates and Observations

By Rachel Frick

As cochair of the DPLA Content and Scope workstream, I am honored to be one of many who are contributing time and effort toward building a community, a conversational framework, and ultimately a distributed network of digital content free to all. This summer has been busy for DPLA. In addition to transitioning from a planning activity to a free-standing nonprofit organization, there has been a lot of activity around building the digital instance of the DPLA.

The Digital Library Federation program sponsored a think tank meeting on June 15, which gave DLF community members an opportunity to engage with the DPLA technical development team and provide feedback on the DPLA technical plan. At the meeting it was determined that the DLF could play a valuable role in providing structured opportunities for the DLF community to participate in the DPLA conversation and development. Watch for future opportunities later this fall.

The DPLA Audience and Participation workstream met in July at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore to discuss DPLA use cases. Winston Tabb, Sheridan Dean of University Libraries at Johns Hopkins, was one of many workshop attendees who contributed to a useful discussion about how the use cases highlight service and content needs for the DPLA, as well as opportunities for advocacy and policy discussion regarding fair use and copyright. Nate Hill (@natenatenate) adeptly facilitated the workshop; notes from the workshop are here.

In July, NEH awarded the DPLA $1 million to support the “content-hub” pilot. This pilot project will test the distributed network model for recruiting, harvesting, and providing access to digital collections metadata. Six to seven “hubs” representing various organizational and service models, as well as geographic regions, will work through policy, workflow, and other challenges to help inform the blueprint for a national content network. This will allow us to explore the benefits of working at scale, as well as to identify incentives for participation.

Emily Gore (@ncschistory), a Frye Institute alumna who is currently the AUL for technology at Florida State University, has been named the Director of Content for DPLA and will begin her term on September 1.

On August 6, the Content and Scope workstream hosted a meeting in San Diego. The meeting’s goal was to work through data provider agreements and expectations of services for DPLA content hubs, as well as to discuss what can DPLA do differently to avoid being, in the words of Dan Chudnov (@dchud) of George Washington University, “yet another aggregation.”

Past attempts to build large-scale digital collections have often been hindered by policy, process, and technology. How can we do things differently, in a way that ultimately moves the cart forward on this issue, and can yield big wins not just for the digital library community, but also for the communities we serve? This was the lead-off discussion for the August 6 Content and Scope workshop.

Among the ideas discussed:

  1. How do we facilitate building “emergent collections”—i.e., those created by combining information about many collections—and explore larger themes that cross collections?
  2. Can we be agnostic about metadata schema in order to get the richest metadata, so that we can provide richer services? Is it possible to “break” the metadata record and atomize the record’s elements and store only the “relationships” represented in the record?
  3. CCO for metadata is the only way we can provide remix, reuse, and/or semantic services, like a data store of linked open data.
  4. Location, date, subject/themes, and/or event information can be used to help users navigate through a large pool of data, to provide context to individual items, and to build other collection based services.
  5. Collections can be used to engage local communities in conversations about themselves and local history, and to facilitate teaching and learning.
  6. It is our special collections—our unique materials—that will provide the greatest impact in a national digital library.

What are your ideas?

Notes and other documents resulting from this meeting will be posted soon on the Content and Scope Workstream page. And, as always, comments and contributions are welcome at any time. This is an open community effort, driven by those who make the time to contribute. The DPLA is crafted not to be a top-down organization, but as an emergent community effort. The success of the DPLA depends on us.

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