U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Update on the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)

Since we’ve discussed this exciting initiative in the past, I thought I’d update readers of this blog on the status of the Digital Public Library of America. Based at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, the DPLA aims, as its name suggests, to be a public, digital library.  Originally conceived as an alternative to Google’s private digital library, the DPLA took on greater significance when Google’s exclusive deal with publishers and authors of out-of-print works was rejected by a federal court earlier this year.

Back in May, the DPLA announced a “Beta Sprint,” a open call for groups and individuals to design elements of the eventual DPLA.  Statements of intents were due on June 15; final proposals will be completed in September. And in late October, the winning ideas will be presented to the public in Washington, D.C.

Here’s John Palfrey, Chair of the DPLA Process, giving a June 30 update on the current state of the DPLA project, in which he discusses both the Beta Sprint–they received sixty notices of intent–and the emerging overall vision for the DPLA:

If you’re interested in keeping up with things DPLA, I strongly suggest that you subscribe to their listserv.  Information about it can be found here (although this page will warn you that this is a high-volume list, you can set your preferences to receive a weekly digest, so that your inbox will not be taken over by DPLA-related discussions).
I find both the goal of the initiative and its intensely collaborative process fascinating. But, then again, I’m a total geek.

5 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Ben,

    Because you’ve been following this development a bit more closely than me, I am hoping you can answer a question that’s formed in my mind over the past month:

    Would books entered into the DPLA have the ability, when accessed, to yield to cut/copy requests from a browser?

    To me, this is the major (if necessary) annoyance of Googlebooks—most books entered in that domain offer only “snips” or “snippets,” wherein you can see some portion of the text but are not able to transfer the portion for citation and research purposes. …Obviously I’m hoping that DPLA will help save me text re-typing time on books important to my work.

    I suppose my answer lies in whether “a/the library” with which I have a professional connection has bought into the DPLA consortium?

    – TL

  2. The simple answer is that all of that is entirely up in the air. Palfrey is not kidding when he describes himself as chair of the DPLA Process. Exactly what shape the DPLA will take is in the process of being determined, and they’re going about it very deliberately with lots of input from both librarians and potential end users.

    One thing they are apparently shooting for is to have the data (“books” etc.) available to a wide variety of providers who can the give users access to it in different forms. Obviously the feature that you’re talking about would depend on the scanning technology used as well as the format in which the scans are presented. Being able to cut and paste books (especially ones that have fallen into the public domain and about which there are no copyright issues whatsoever) would obviously be a very valuable feature…especially for scholars. You–or anyone else–can become directly involved in the process and help work to make it a part of the DPLA.

  3. Here, incidentally, is the DPLA’s latest description of itself (from a post by John Palfrey):

    What is the DPLA?

    Libraries, and the communities that surround them, can contribute much more than we do today to make the recorded heritage of humanity broadly available through digital means. The DPLA initiative is a broad-based, public-private effort to realize the untapped potential of wide digital access to the information that we have traditionally collected and held in physical formats in libraries. In its most ambitious future form, the DPLA would make the cultural and scientific record of humanity available, free of charge, to everyone in the United States and the rest of the world. Many key issues remain unresolved — especially with respect to technical architecture, governance, and funding — but some elements of what a DPLA might be are beginning to become clearer through discussion and iteration.

    By adhering to the fundamental principle of free and universal access to knowledge, the DPLA will promote education in the broadest sense of the term. That is, it will function as an online library for students of all ages, from grades K-12 topostdoctoral researchers and anyone seeking self-instruction; it will be a deep resource for community colleges, vocational schools, colleges, universities, and adult education programs; it will supplement the services of public libraries in every corner of the country; and it will satisfy other needs as well–the need for data related to employment, for practical information of all kinds, and for the enrichment of leisure.

    The DPLA be open to everyone around the world, where possible, subject to legal constraints that may arise. Thanks to the worldwide reach of modern technology, it will be a vital part of the global knowledge infrastructure; its activities have already begun and will continue to be coordinated with those of digital libraries in other countries. The use of its holdings will be unrestricted, unless exemptions from copyright requirements may exclude commercial applications.

    continued below

  4. Palfrey’s description continued…

    The DPLA will consist of five elements:

    1. Code
    Code is the technical backbone of the DPLA. Where possible, the DPLA will make use of existing free and open source code; all new code funded by the DPLA will be free and open source. In order to facilitate and maximize interoperability, the DPLA platform will support open standards. It will be freely accessible for others to fork, host, and replicate with no discrimination based on use or field of endeavor.

    2. Metadata
    Metadata is a key part of the DPLA discovery framework; it describes content and resources in the DPLA, enables users to find them, and connects US holdings to holdings in other countries. The DPLA will aggregate existing library data and create new data; it will operate as part of a global linked data environment. All DPLA-created metadata will be made freely available in reusable form, except where doing so wouldviolate personal privacy. All metadata contributed to or funded by the DPLA will be placed in the public domain.

    3. Content
    DPLA will incorporate all media types and formats but will likely concentrate initially on the written record–books, pamphlets, periodicals, manuscripts, and digital texts–expanding into audio-visual 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. The content that is contributed to or funded by the DPLA will be made available, including through bulk download, with no new restrictions, via a service available to libraries, museums, and archives in the United States, where use and reuse is governed only by public law.

    4. Tools and Services
    The DPLA will provide a number of tools and services designed to facilitate both the digitization and presentation of digital content and broad public access to this content. The DPLA platform will be generative and open to public innovation to encourage 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. Through these tools and services, the DPLA should be a catalyst for the development of new modes of search and discovery. It should help to prompt new questions and new ways to answer them.

    5. 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.

  5. Ben: Thanks for this. It looks like numbers 3 and 4 on the elements list pick up my concern (i.e. “bulk download,” “research tools,” etc.). – TL

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