Looking to the Future of Digital Libraries
John Palfrey, chair of the Digital Public Library of America steering committee
Librarians from all over the world converged on the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago on October 11 for the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Midwest conference. The two-day meeting is the third major public event to bring together librarians, technologists, creators, students, government leaders, and others interested in creating a national digital public access library.
“Risk taking and experimentation is particularly important to libraries, and we want to use this conference to find a fresh vision of where we are going,” said Brian Bannon, commissioner of the Chicago Public Library.
The first day had three breakout sessions where the staff of DPLA laid out what has already been done on the project and what needs to be done to move forward.
In the session titled “The Future of the DPLA,” John Palfrey, chair of the DPLA steering committee, joined ALA President Maureen Sullivan in a discussion about planning the structure of the digital library. “We would like to be an organization that meets the needs of the American public with information that is mediated by public libraries,” said Palfrey.
Throughout the discussion, he laid out a plan that he said would allow people to view 80% of the content from a site other than DPLA. The other 20% would come directly from the main site. “DPLA can’t have an ego,” he said.
In the long-term, membership and content are issues that will need to be dealt with in greater detail. One plan is to have the Scanabago—a Winnebago outfitted with scanners—tour the country, obtaining data from ordinary people. Plalfrey said that copyrighting is an issue but that they are working out the details with their legal committee.
In the short-term, the DPLA is looking to hire someone who can steer the library out of the theoretical. “We are officially recruiting for an executive director who wants to take a start-up and drive it forward into something that will change the nation,” explained Palfrey. He said the goal is to raise enough money to support an executive director and two staff members for two years so that DPLA is not “foundation-supported forever.”
Despite the name, the session put greater emphasis on the present than the future, perhaps because one cannot happen without the other. The project, conceived two years ago, has been relying on support from a variety of public and private foundations.
While many aspects of the future seem to be in flux within the DPLA, one thing is for certain: It is now an official organization. As of Friday, October 12, it will formally be called DPLA Inc., which would allow all funding to go to a single entity and be spread out among its various subgroups.