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[2b2k] Libraries are platforms?

I’m at the DPLA Plenary meeting, heading toward the first public presentation — a status report — on the prototype DPLA platform we’ve been building at Berkman and the Library Innovation Lab. So, tons of intellectual stimulation, as well as a fair bit of stress.

The platform we’ve been building is a software platform, i.e., a set of data and services offered through an API so that developers can use it to build end-user applications, and so other sites can integrate DPLA data into their sites. But I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks about ways in which libraries can (and perhaps should) view themselves as platforms in a broader sense. I want to write about this more, but here’s an initial set of draft-y thoughts about platforms as a way of framing the library issue.

Libraries are attached to communities, whether local towns, universities, or other institutions. Traditionally, much of their value has been in providing access to knowledge and cultural objects of particular sorts (you know, like books and stuff). Libraries thus have been platforms for knowledge and culture: they provide a reliable, open resource that enable knowledge and culture to be developed and pursued.

As the content of knowledge and culture change from physical to digital (over time and never completely), perhaps it’s helpful to think about libraries in their abstract sense as platforms. What might a library platform look like in the age of digital networks?(An hour later: Note that this type of platform would be very different from what we’re working on for the DPLA.)

It would give its community open access to the objects of knowledge and culture. It would include physical spaces as a particularly valuable sort of node. But the platform would do much more. If the mission is to help the community develop and pursue knowledge and culture, it would certainly provide tools and services that enable communities to form around these objects. The platform would make public the work of local creators, and would provide contexts within which these works can be found, discussed, elaborated, and appropriated. It would provide an ecosystem in which ideas and conversations flow out and in, weaving objects into local meanings and lives. Of course it would allow the local culture to flourish while simultaneously connecting it with the rest of the world — ideally by beginning with linking it into other local library platforms.

This is obviously not a well-worked out idea. It also contains nothing that hasn’t been discussed for decades now. What I like about it (at least for now) is that a platform provides a positive metaphor for thinking about the value of libraries that both helps explain their traditional value, and their opportunity facing the future.

DPLA session beginning. Will post without rereading… (Hat tip to Tim O’Reilly who has been talking about government as a platform for a few years now.) (Later: Also, my friend and DPLA colleague Nate Hill blogged a couple of months ago about libraries as local publishing platforms.)

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