“I propose that we dismiss the notion that the National Digital Library of America is far-fetched, and that we concentrate on the general goal of providing the American people with the kind of library they deserve, the kind that meets the needs of the twenty-first century. We can equip the smallest junior college in Alabama and the remotest high school in North Dakota with the greatest library the world has ever known” (Harvard University Librarian Robert Darnton, 2010)
Darton’s vision statement for DPLA, serves as a rebuff of those who would challenge the advancement of the idea of a National Digital Library. It is clearly evident that great care and thoughtfulness have been used in undertaking the DPLA. Through the forming of countless committees, seeking public input, taking pains to be transparent, and utilizing open access models for creating code, it appears that those responsible for the DPLA are endeavoring to be respectful, inclusive and on the edge of current technology. These efforts have not squelched some rather vocal critics though.
I’d suggest that some common issues raised with DPLA surround three topics: Funding, Scope, and Branding. These three are offered as discussion-provoking starters to get our conversation going. I hope their are some who defend the DPLA’s vision too and can offer perspective as to why some of these reservations may be overblown.
There is certainly skepticism as to challenges faced with hiring and paying adequate staff for the amount of work proposed. Who will prepare these vast quantities of materials to be digitized, scan them, and create the appropriate metadata? If this is a privately funded endeavor, what influence could well-heeled corporations/institutions/universities have? Could they end up placing their priorities above others? Will there be attempts to monetize the library ala Google to see revenue in the future. Will there be items within the collection that require payment to view? Who are the future sources of funding and support for the DPLA? Is it possible in this economic climate that the Federal Government might be involved? Will there be some problems with incorporating materials that have already been digitized at taxpayers expense?
Is the content of the DPLA, proposed in part to be derived from many university collections, too academic? How likely are they to manage sticky issues like copyright and “orphaned works” any better that they are currently being managed? Is all of this content going to reside on one server, or are there likely to be many satellite institutions that share their depositories? There have been many who have offered up the observation that perhaps the DPLA is redundant to efforts already underway, in particular the Google Books Project and The Hathi Trust
As mentioned in Dillon’s interview with there exist some controversy over the use of the word “Public” in the branding of the library. There was even a resolution presented by Chief Officers of State Library Agencies asking the steering committee to reconsider the name, “fearing that the inclusion of the word “public” would have the unintended consequence of giving governments the excuse to reduce public funding”. (Dillon, p. 103) Do you think this is a valid concern? Is the library truly public if a majority of materials made available would be better suited to academia and not your typical public library users?
Finally, for some further critique of DPLA, I recommend Nicholas Carr’s piece The Library of Utopia in MIT Technology Review
Looking forward to a lively discussion this week!