In my first blog post for this class, I struck a slightly pessimistic note. I mentioned that digitizing information was an excellent idea, but without a system to search or retrieve data, it wouldn’t get us very far. I don’t think that I’ve strayed too far from that stance in my subsequent posts. The desire to create digital libraries is easily understood; allowing the public access to more information, and safeguarding that information for the future is an admirable task. Through our readings and the fine blog posts of my classmates, though, I haven’t seen many digital libraries moving beyond that initial goal. The DPLA is a great idea, but to me, it just hasn’t struck any new ground. Most of its content is available elsewhere, and though it’s a nice looking website, the observatory and stacklife applications prove that maybe searching through the DPLA isn’t the easiest task for the public.
Last week we all posted job listings and from a lot of the posts and comments, it seems as though we all felt a little underprepared. Unfortunately for librarians working in the digital realm, this isn’t a feeling that we can overcome. Technology is marching forward and leaving a wake of born-digital items. We’re currently playing catch up on content to be digitized and fighting to allow for more of that content to be considered fair play. And while we work on that front, new formats and types of content are springing up all around us (see here for libraries using Vine). I decided to take this class because I am fairly sure that I will end up working with a library that is at least partially digital. My initial thoughts, though, were that I would just be cataloging, spending my days with spreadsheets, and that the acquisitions and copyright questions and budgeting would be more a part of the physical library. LIS 879 taught me that a digital library isn’t just the digital wing of a physical library and isn’t just a glorified database. When I responded to the Bush/Borges prompt, I assumed that making things searchable and retrievable would just be a matter of cataloging appropriately and making the search bar highly visible. Creating exhibits, pages, and new content in Omeka made me look at the possibilities again. By the time we were searching through the HathiTrust site, I was picking apart UI’s and questioning the legality of blocking new content.
Each week of the class, I felt as though we were learning about another pothole on the path to digital library perfection. Copyright laws, unusable interfaces, changing technology, and it may have taken a while, but around week 12, when we watched the video of the HathiTrust win, I realized that although there may be challenges for digital libraries, this is something that I want to tackle. This class wasn’t all encompassing, but it was an excellent step in the right direction, it made me want to learn more. I got into library science because I wanted to take my project management skills, and my software implementation skills and use them in a library setting. Working in most libraries would allow me to do that, but digital libraries will let me do more. As I mentioned, there’s always going to be a learning curve, it may change pitch, but we have to keep up with technology and that means educating ourselves. Whether it’s for incorporating new born-digital formats or for preservation purposes, there will always be something new to learn and strategies or products that you could implement to make your library better. It’s difficult to stay ahead of that curve, but the content and the patrons dictate the direction and the effort of the library.
And I think that is the future for digital libraries: to get that content in an available state and to make it easy to find and use. I don’t think that the future for digital libraries is in defining the term ‘digital library’ or ‘digital librarian’, it’s about taking the items that you have and allowing people to add them to their own personal memex’. Part of that future is working on the user interfaces and ensuring that the public becomes more comfortable with an online library presence. Another part of that future is pushing to allow copyrighted material into the public sphere. We have seen from the few lawsuits we’ve read about in this class that this is a difficult area to push, but it seems like less of a choice now. I understand the importance of the rights of copyright holders, but I also see the need to open up access. I think that the biggest strides for digital libraries in the next few years will be related to copyright and digitization. The Copyright and other Legal Matters Committee of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions is currently working with various organizations to allow for copyright exemptions for libraries in specific cases (see here for the Vancouver declaration by UNESCO regarding the digitization of items of cultural heritage). Overseas there have been success stories from libraries partnering with publishers, national legislation, and registries for authors that are happy to allow their works into the public domain.
It is an exciting time for digital librarians. The field is being shaped while we are studying it. I can’t predict what digital libraries will look like in 10 years, but I do think that I can guess what will be happening in the time leading up to 2023. Digital libraries and affiliated organizations will fight to expand the amount of copyrighted information that can be digitized and made available. There will be a bigger push for preservation and more effort will be put into backups and loss prevention. Digital libraries will continue to add content, but will also work to make digital libraries more attractive to, and more suited to their patrons. None of these guesses are Earth-shattering, but combined they make sure that digital libraries can expand, will be around longer, and can avoid being like Borges’ library and will help users to find what they need. I’m excited to be a part of it all.
Final thought: I get it. The DPLA is a thing and it’s now in the public sphere. But I still don’t understand its purpose. To expand the reach of public libraries? To get more resources out to areas without libraries? To give students a leg up on finding sources for papers with minimum source requirements? Who is the public that they’re trying to reach?