DPLA as a national backbone

As most steering committee members of DPLA might have already acknowledged, the biggest obstacle is legal issues about copyrights. Instead of directly challenging or dealing with legal systems, in the first phase it could be more effective for DPLA to operate as a central metadata repository with links to other hubs or individual libraries. Such an idea is copied from the hierarchy of telephone switches. Each large-scale telecommunication company has its own layers of networks. Each phone call is originated at the lowest layer, this is, the route from household to local office. The call is then propagated to upper layers for searching the path to the destination. Similarly we can build a network of public libraries. DPLA can play the role of national backbone in this network at the highest level with the heaviest “bandwidth.” Each local library can hook up to this network either directly to this backbone or indirectly via its local hub. DPLA can publish API for local libraries to discover, search, and access to its metadata repository including hyperlinks.

In the second phase, when legal issues are resolved to a satisfactory level either with new laws or agreements with copyright holders, DPLA can start the digitization works. Even so, I do not suggest DPLA to implement a front end for users to directly access its digital contents. Instead, DPLA should still play the role of a “faceless” national backbone. Each local library acts autonomously with its own policies and access mechanisms. A side benefit is DPLA can minimize the concern over branding issues. It can thus avoid much of the politics.


7 responses to “DPLA as a national backbone

  1. I wrote about this in my post, but I don’t see the need for a clearinghouse of DLs. If the DPLA is just links to other DLs, what is its purpose? If it’s just a series of links, with no metadata structure that allows ties between the various resources, I don’t see a need for it. If it can take me from a painting to a letter from the artist to a death certificate to a map of the city the artist died in, I see value there. But if I have to perform 4 separate searches and visit 4 separate DLs, I no longer see much purpose.

    • I am sure in April DPLA will present a public web interface because it’s already under construction. What I was trying to say is the most significant contribution can be made by DPLA is its building a very solid and rich metadata infrastructure (backbone in my term) for all other libraries, even though it does not have front end. The quality of metadata and the “inferencing capability” from metadata are my concerns about search and access. Of course, DPLA won’t just provide simple links to other libraries. Sorry for the confusion brought by my previous posting where I used telephone switching system as an analogy.

  2. One quick thought I had in digesting this idea is that I think it would not serve the DPLA well to be so behind the scenes, especially when thinking of funding and support. It makes me think of the issue that academic libraries face on campuses where students and faculty just expect to have access to journals, but not realizing that those are paid for by the libraries budget. When cuts occur if there is a lack of understanding from the users that a cut to the library budget may mean a lack of access to a particular journal, they are less motivated to speak up to their administration, to voice support for the library, etc. I think that it is critical for future support efforts that the DPLA be very front and center in its role of leveraging and organizing new technologies and systems to bring digital content to its patrons

    • It seems like both a strong (even innovative) back end AND an attractive, user-friendly front end will be necessary for a successful DPLA. The DPLA will need to do a great job of organizing metadata and melding disparate collections behind the scenes but any web-based entity exists in the minds of its users (and potential funders), in part, as it appears when you type in its URL. As simple as it is, Google has a look and feel that makes it attractive. DPLA may actually do well to keep its front end “simple” to some extent no matter how complex it is under the hood.

      • Completely agree. I went through the DPLA wiki to see their research on other countries’ DLs and took a look at the front end of most of the sites. All of them are fairly simple but impressive. But there’s no point being attractive if you don’t bring the goods behind the scenes.

  3. As a cataloging/metadata nerd I am most excited about the DPLA’s “backbone” ability to share metadata. I have to admit my first reaction to the DPLA’s metadatata objective to “aggregate existing library data and create new data; it will operate as part of a global linked data environment” was “Doesn’t OCLC already do that?” But, my initial reaction was wrong, there is a major differences in metadata sharing cooperation between what the OCLC actually does and what the DPLA is proposing to do.

    Just as intellectual property controversy surrounds the issue of the digital representation of works, there are similar issues regarding the ownership of bibliographic metadata. In the past when a library uploaded or downloaded bibliographic metadata from OCLC, this metadata was technically the intellectual property of OCLC. This isn’t entirely the case anymore, OCLC has increased the degree to which its metadata is considered open source, http://www.oclc.org/news/releases/2012/201248.htm moving toward a quasi-public domain “Open Data Commons Attribution License” which means that data from OCLC can be shared if OCLC is attributed and the data meets certain community norms. The DPLA’s plan for metadata instead calls for the fully public domain use of library metadata. While the difference between fully public domain and quasi-public domain is subtle it can still be argued that from an open data/pro-public access perspective that the DPLA potion is superior because attribution could possibly be problematic especially if only partial sections of records are utilized by a particular library data mashup.

    For more about OCLC’s new metadata licensing policy and how it is problematic compared to a true public domain model check out this link: http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/33768

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