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Inside the Quest to Put the World's Libraries Online

Inside the Quest to Put the World's Libraries Online

www.theatlantic.com
Paige Leavitt Paige Leavitt
3 months ago
a centuries-old conception of the library as an enclosed instantiation of the universe's mighty sprawl.
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But as with any new frontier, formidable challenges attend exciting possibilities—and nowhere has this been more apparent than in the efforts of the Digital Public Library of America, a coalition spearheading the largest effort yet to curate and make publicly available the "cultural and scientific heritage of humanity," with a focus on materials from the U.S., by harnessing the Internet's capabilities. The DPLA hopes to create a platform that will orchestrate millions of materials—books from public and university libraries, records from local historical societies, museums, and archives—into a single, user-friendly interface accessible to every American with Internet access.
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While ambitious, the project was not unprecedented. The creation of a large-scale digital library catering to public access has been attempted for decades, by a cast of characters worth noting. Aside from Google, there's the Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library based in San Francisco that sees itself as a bulwark against a modern-day version of the loss of the Library of Alexandria. Brewster Kahle, who founded the Internet Archive in 1996 and is now on the DPLA steering committee, aims to supplement this digital reserve with a physical copy of every book in existence, collected and stored in a mammoth warehouse in California; he currently has about 500,000 volumes and hopes to reach 10 million one day. His efforts are complemented by the HathiTrust ("Hathi" is the Hindi word for "elephant," an animal that, as the saying goes, never forgets), a digital preservation repository founded in 2008 that has digitized over 10 million volumes contributed by participating research institutions and libraries. The 3 billion-plus pages amount to over 8,000 tons (but weigh close to nothing online, of course). Meanwhile, national institutions like the Library of Congress have been digitizing their in-house materials for years. The DPLA is not the first player to step onto the field.
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Speaking in digital terms, the world produced more data in 2009 than in the entire history of mankind through 2008, according to the former chief scientist at Amazon.com. In one way, this explosion and the digital platforms that support it have been a boon for librarians and archivists, who specialize in collecting information and making it available to users. But in others, it has been a scourge, rendering the goal of staying abreast of the world's intellectual output (not to mention the hardware and software needed to store and display it), more quixotic than ever. Simply to reap the accessibility benefits that the Internet so tantalizingly affords, the centuries-worth of items currently extant only in cloth and paper need to be imaged into bits and bytes—a monumental, manpower-intensive, and prohibitively expensive task. And that is to say nothing of figuring how to cull and catalog the terabytes of information that have spent their whole life in digital format. All of which goes to show that the problem of networking the nation's "living heritage" online has barely begun to be addressed. The problem is one of time, money, and most of all, scale—massive scale.
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With hundreds of librarians, technologists, and academics attending its meetings (and over a thousand people on its email listserv), the DPLA has performed the singular feat of convening into one room the best minds in digital and library sciences. It has endorsement: The Smithsonian Institution, National Archives, Library of Congress, and Council on Library and Information Resources are just some of the big names on board. It has funding: The Sloan Foundation put up hundreds of thousands of dollars in support. It has pedigree: The decorated historian Darnton has the pages of major publications at his disposal; Palfrey is widely known for his scholarship on intellectual property and the Internet; the staging of the first meeting on Harvard's hallowed campus is not insignificant. Ideally, the consolidation of resources—specialized expertise, raw manpower, institutional backing and funding—means that the DPLA can expand its clout within the community, attract better financial support, and direct large-scale digitization projects to move toward a national resource of unparalleled scope and functionality.
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n the United States, the Library of Congress does not have the same mandate, and the lack of a center of gravity at the national level has therefore led to fragmented and disorienting results for a library community already known for fierce competition among its silos ("Cooperation is an unnatural act," remarks David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, recalling an adage from his tenure at other libraries). "If you think about where we are today in the digital library space, there are a whole lot of efforts that are not pulling in the same direction," says Palfrey, noting the obscurity of digitizing projects that have developed under discrete directives. "I defy you to find them. They tend to be in proprietary repositories that are very hard to find."
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Haphazardly, likely with the help of a search engine, without much of a sense for what repositories have made a particular text or image available in the first place, or how best to find similar materials in the future. The DPLA—by taking up the mantle of "national library," of a command center for the country's published heritage—would put its users high above street level, offering easier and more systematic navigation. The DPLA does not plan to supplant or swallow up the institutions already contributing to the digital cause, Palfrey emphasizes. These groups have been building their own digital collections on a scale that befits their resources, leaving the DPLA to hone its responsibility into one of supporting, managing, and organizing—rather than of generating all the raw material. "We want to build infrastructure that will support public and academic libraries," Palfrey says. "We're not building the end-all, be-all digital library."
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the question that drove the discussion was: "Could we do better than Google?" As Palfrey puts it: "The idea of having any single company control such an extraordinary public resource strikes me as a bad idea. Could we do better if we were to have a massive effort toward creating a digital public library that was not driven by a single corporation, but driven by a broad coalition of people?" Palfrey is careful to note that the DPLA is not a replacement for, or adversary to, Google Books (in fact, the DPLA hopes to draw upon Google's digital reserve in some sort of collaborative arrangement). But there's no denying the company's pervasive specter: If Google is a dubious father figure, the DPLA is a son attempting to get out from under the shadow of its forebear.
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Some of the less savory elements of the Google Books Library Project passed quietly: Google employees were often negligent, filing Whitman's Leaves of Grass under "Gardening," for example, and what was supposed to have been a "free" program cost Harvard nearly $2 million (the university had to process 850,000 books to be digitized by Google). The more public bungle began in 2005, when the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers sued Google for violation of their copyrights. This marked a critical juncture: Google could have made a case for fair use to help expand the public's access to the literature.Instead, the company entered a period of intense, secret negotiations with the plaintiffs.
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In October 2008, the groups emerged with a proposed settlement that effectively mutated Google's original vision of a digital archive into its ugly sister: a library and bookstore business. Under the terms of the settlement, users would be able to buy individual e-books, and libraries would be able to purchase a subscription for access to Google's entire catalog of books (books that these libraries, in some cases, had provided and processed themselves). The cryptic-sounding "Book Rights Registry"—a body composed of representatives from the Authors Guild, AAP, and Google—would determine the prices. Thirty-seven percent of the profits would go to Google, and the rest to the authors and publishers. Not surprisingly, the proposed settlement triggered widespread accusations of the commercialization and monopolization of knowledge, and it even prompted an investigation from the Department of Justice about the possible violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Harvard backed out of its partnership with Google (many of the other libraries continue to work with the company).
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In November 2009, the three groups filed an amended settlement and awaited a decision, which would not come for another few years. Thus the first gathering in October 2010 of what would become the DPLA came at a time of taut energy. With the settlement on the table, along with the corresponding possibility that Google might be closing the door on public access and standing to profit from books that universities had made available, the matter seemed urgent. "I think the main point is that Google turned into a commercial digital library," Darnton says, "one without any constraints on its pricing policy." How had a private company come so close to controlling the fates of millions of books—and of possibly convincing users to agree to this arrangement? Who was defending the public interest?
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For all their differences, Google and the DPLA do share a major hurdle: Copyright law, which prevents the digitization of orphan works, numbering around 5 million and constituting about 50 to 70 percent of books published after 1923. Orphans are works whose rights holders are not known; they may be dead or unaware of their entitlement. Google's settlement would have given the company license to appropriate orphan works for posterity—a move that would have opened up a trove of previously unavailable works, at the expense of granting Google unprecedented control through litigation. The DPLA faces a similar problem: As some members pointed out in a gathering last year, out-of-print and orphan works—content in the "yellow zone" of copyright—outnumber both public domain and in-copyright works, "making legal reforms necessary for the success of a DPLA,"
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The DPLA will not violate copyright, and it will begin with a foundation of public-domain works. The organization is trying to figure out the best case for fair use of out-of-print or unpublished works to argue that public access to this literature benefits society and serves a "higher" purpose.
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The DPLA, Darnton wrote, would "contain nearly everything available in the walled-in repositories of human culture"; the library would be "the greatest that ever existed."
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A decade ago, libraries—particularly those at universities—were willing to accept the restrictions imposed by Google, so firm was their belief that they needed the company's help to go digital, according to Kahle. But he sees the progress of groups like the Internet Archive as proof that "we can actually do this ourselves." So what new purpose will the DPLA serve? There is a fine difference between supporting, rather than competing with, the digitization efforts of member institutions—including small public libraries, whose own collections are modest in comparison to what is being made available online.
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Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States and active member of the DPLA team, wants "every stinking thing" in the National Archives digitized, but the agency has "just a toe in the water" (over 74 million pieces of paper, or less than 1 percent of total holdings, have been digitized). "Everything we do is piece by piece by piece, page by page by page, image by image by image—and that is a huge task," says Brenda Kepley, chief of the processing section at the Archives. To make substantial progress, the Archives has had to forge digitizing partnerships with universities and commercial companies—but the concern that the agency is years behind persists ("You mean, it's not all online?" people asked Archives staff in the mid-1990s, when the Internet was still in its infancy). Ferriero hopes that the DPLA will expedite digitizing at the Archives and draw greater attention to its untapped resources.
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Now, With No Further Ado, We Present ... the Digital Public Library of America!

Now, With No Further Ado, We Present ... the Digital Public Library of America!

www.theatlantic.com
Paige Leavitt Paige Leavitt
3 months ago
The idea behind the Digital Public Library of America is fairly simple actually -- it is the attempt, really a large-scale attempt, to knit together America's archives, libraries, and museums, which have a tremendous amount of content -- all forms of human expression, from images and photographs, to artwork, to published material and unpublished material, like archival and special collections. We want to bring that all together in one place.
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The second main thing, beyond the portal at DP.LA, is that we will have a platform that others can build upon. All the data will be licensed under CC0 -- that's really a public domain declaration. It means that we're giving away all this data for free for people to use in whatever way they want. And we will have an API -- a very powerful API -- that third-party developers will be able to use to create innovative apps based on the contents of the DPLA.
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We really want to work to expand the realm of publicly available materials. So, obviously, a big part of that is working with non-profit groups like libraries, archives, and museums to get that stuff online and out to the public, but there will also be a component here where I'm going to push, along with my colleagues at the DPLA, to see how we can get other materials into the DPLA and out to the public. It very much has that spirit of the public library. We want to make the maximal amount of content available in a maximally open way.
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I think that there will be initiatives that you see in the coming years to work on things like e-books, which are kind of a mess right now; it's really hard to even lend an e-book to your partner, compared with a physical book. We'll be looking at ways, for instance alternative licensing, to make content available as much as possible.
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We act as the top-level aggregator of all this great material, and the service hubs do an amazing job of normalizing the metadata and bringing in this content from thousands of sites across the United States.
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We really want to be strong partners of public libraries and research libraries as wel. We see ourselves as playing a very complimentary role, first of all, in terms of the kind of content you'll see at DP.LA. It really is just an extension -- with very little overlap -- with what your local public library will have. About 80 percent of the books that circulate in a local public library are very recent -- best sellers and genre fiction. I don't see, anytime soon, the DPLA having that kind of material, although we'd like to have -- and expect to have -- millions of items from older books in our collection. And also, your local library doesn't have thousands of works of art and archival materials and things like that. So in that way we don't have overlapping content.
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What is the DPLA?

What is the DPLA?

lj.libraryjournal.com
Paige Leavitt Paige Leavitt
3 months ago
resenting a geographically and historically diverse look at our nation’s archives, the seven initial service hubs span the United States: the Mountain West Digital Library (Utah, Nevada, and Arizona), Digital Commonwealth (Massachusetts), Digital Library of Georgia, Kentucky Digital Library, Minnesota Digital Library, South Carolina Digital Library, and Oregon Digital Library.
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The Mountain West Digital Library, meanwhile, contains the Western Soundscape Archive, a collection of nearly 3,000 sounds clips pertaining to the landscape and natural environment of the Mountain West region from the University of Utah’s content.
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Ever wonder what a Wyoming toad sounds like?
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People worldwide will be able to come to dp.la directly to access materials from this online platform. But we expect that, far more often, people will access DPLA-related materials through their local cultural heritage institution—through a local public library, for instance, or through a historical society, archive, museum, or college library. DPLA materials will be available for bulk download and universal access, to the greatest extent possible. The DPLA will also make available its code and services for free, on an open source basis. Through its network of service hubs, it will help to support the digitization of records, addition of metadata, and long-term preservation.
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We anticipate commissioning mobile scanning units in the future that might drive across the country—“Scannebagos,” or Winnebagos with scanners in the back, staffed by helpful librarians and archivists (or perhaps Airstreams, if the Winnebago company doesn’t wish to partner with us; hat tip to DPLA director of content Emily Gore for the name)—to help get our cultural history digitized and made available.
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So far, the DPLA has tackled only materials in the public domain. These books, images, sound files, videos, and other digital artifacts are not encumbered by copyright restrictions. The DPLA process has also focused primarily on pulling together the metadata, not the content itself. As the DPLA expands, we will continue to support digitization and may establish a central repository, but for the time being, the strategy is to rely on the distributed network of partners to host and preserve the materials. The DPLA is focused on making these materials accessible and providing a useful platform for libraries and their patrons to make great use of them.

Will the DPLA make accessible books and other materials that are still in copyright? The answer is maybe but not at first—at least, not as a first priority. The initial priority is to establish the platform to support libraries and to make it easier to share and make available the amazing resources that are being digitized at the local, state, and regional level; in our great libraries, archives, and museums; and at our most forward-looking federal and state agencies. This initial focus is a disappointment to some, who see the DPLA as a way to address the ebook lending crisis that faces public libraries.

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The Library of Utopia | MIT Technology Review

The Library of Utopia | MIT Technology Review

www.technologyreview.com
Paige Leavitt Paige Leavitt
3 months ago
By allowing “the commercialization of the content of our libraries,” he argued, the agreement “would turn the Internet into an instrument for privatizing knowledge that belongs in the public sphere.”
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When Judge Chin scuttled the Google deal last year, Darnton got a historic opportunity to cast the DPLA as the world’s best chance for a universal digital library. And indeed, it has gained broad support. Its plans have been praised by, among others, the Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, and it has forged important partnerships, including one with Europeana, a European Commission–sponsored digital library with a similar concept.
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The controversy over nomenclature points to a deeper problem confronting the nascent online library: its inability to define itself. The DPLA remains a mystery in many ways. No one knows precisely how it will operate or even what it will be. Some of the vagueness is deliberate.
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No consensus has been reached, for example, on the extent to which the DPLA will host digitized books on its own servers, as opposed to providing pointers to digital collections stored on the computers of other libraries and archives. Nor has the steering committee made a firm decision about which materials other than books will be included in the library. Photographs, motion pictures, audio recordings, images of objects, and even blog posts and online videos are all under consideration. Another open question, one with particularly far-reaching implications, is whether the DPLA will try to provide any sort of access to recently published books, including popular e-books. Darnton, for his part, believes that the digital library should steer clear of works published in the last five or 10 years, to avoid treading on the turf of publishers and public libraries. It would be a mistake, he warns, for the DPLA to “invade the current commercial market.” But while he says he has yet to hear anyone make a convincing counterargument, he admits that his view may not be held by everyone. Palfrey will only say that the DPLA is studying the issue of e-book lending but has yet to decide whether its scope will extend to recent publications.
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The biggest question hanging over the project is one that can’t be decided by executive fiat, or even by methodical consensus building. It’s the same question that confronted Google Book Search and that bedevils every other effort to create an expansive online library: how do you navigate the country’s onerous copyright restrictions? “The legal problems are staggering,” Darnton says.
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oliticians make lousy futurists. As Google and the DPLA can testify, the copyright changes put severe constraints on any attempt to scan, store, and provide online access to books published during most of the last 100 years. Moreover, the removal of the registration requirement means that millions of so-called orphan books—ones whose copyright holders either are unknown or can’t be found—now lie beyond the reach of online libraries. Copyright protections are vitally important to ensuring that writers and artists have the wherewithal to create their works. But it’s hard to look at the current situation without concluding that the restrictions have become so broad as to hamper the very creativity they were supposed to encourage.
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he DPLA may, according to some copyright experts, have an advantage over Google Book Search in negotiating such an agreement and getting it blessed by the courts: it’s a nonprofit.

The DPLA has made it clear that it will be meticulous in respecting copyrights. If it can’t find a way around current legal constraints, whether through negotiation or through legislation, it will have to limit its scope to books that are already in the public domain. And in that case, it’s hard to see how it would be able to distinguish itself.

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he Web already offers plenty of sources for public-domain books. Google still provides full-text, searchable copies of millions of volumes published before 1923. So do the HathiTrust, a vast book database run by a consortium of libraries, and Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive. Amazon’s Kindle Store offers thousands of classic books free. And there’s the venerable Project Gutenberg, which has been transcribing public-domain texts and putting them online since 1971 (when the project’s creator typed the Declaration of Independence into a mainframe at the University of Illinois). Although the DPLA may be able to offer some valuable features of its own, including the ability to search collections of rare documents held by research libraries, those features would probably interest only a small group of scholars.
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Museum 2.0: The Living Library: Using Our Institutions as New Models for Civic Dialogue

Museum 2.0: The Living Library: Using Our Institutions as New Models for Civic Dialogue

museumtwo.blogspot.com
Paige Leavitt Paige Leavitt
3 months ago
Why on earth would someone set charged conversation in a place like a library, stereotyped as a space that abhors talking of any kind? Because that tension makes for a unique kind of conversation. The Living Library breathes new value into the traditional frame. The frame is what keeps things civil so the Librarians, Books, and Readers can make it civic.
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Libraries offer weird things to draw new borrowers

Libraries offer weird things to draw new borrowers

www.usatoday.com
Paige Leavitt Paige Leavitt
3 months ago
hand tools, baking pans, fishing poles, telescopes and knitting needles
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