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March 6, 2014

Dan Cohen on the DPLA’s cloud proposal to the FCC

I’ve posted a podcast interview with Dan Cohen, the executive director of the Digital Public Library of America about their proposal to the FCC.

The FCC is looking for ways to modernize the E-Rate program that has brought the Internet to libraries and schools. The DPLA is proposing DPLA Local, which will enable libraries to create online digital collections using the DPLA’s platform.

I’m excited about this for two reasons beyond the service it would provide.

First, it could be a first step toward providing cloud-based library services, instead of the proprietary, closed, expensive systems libraries typically use to manage their data. (Evergreen, I’m not talking about you, you open source scamp!)

Second, as libraries build their collections using DPLA Local, their metadata is likely to assume normalized forms, which means that we should get cross-collection discovery and semantic riches.

Here’s the proposal itself. And here’s where you can comment to the FCC about it.

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October 25, 2013

[dplafest] Advanced Research and the DPLA

I’m at a DPLAfest session. Jean Bauer (Digital Humanities Librarian, Brown U.), Jim Egan (English Prof, Brown), Kathryn Shaughnessy (Assoc. Prof, University Libraries, St. John’s U), and David Smth (Ass’t Prof CS, Northeastern).

Rather than liveblogging in this blog, I contributed to the collaboratively-written Google Doc designated for the session notes. It’s here.

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[dplafest] Dan Cohen opens DPLA meeting

Dan Cohen has some announcements in his welcome to the DPLAfest.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The collection now has 5M items. These come from partner hubs (large institutions) and service hubs (aggregations of smaller providers). Three new hubs have joined, bringing the total to nine, from NY, North Carolina, and Texas. Dan stresses the diversity of contributors.

The DPLA sends visitors back to the contributing organizations. E.g., Minnesota Reflections is up 55% in visitors and 62% in unique visitors over the year since it joined the DPLA.

He also announces the DPLA Bookshelf, which is a contribution from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab that I co-direct. It’s an embedded version of the Stacklife browser, which you can see by going to DP.LA and searching for a book. (You can use the Harvard version here.

Dan announces a $1M grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to help local libraries curate material in the DPLA and start scanning in local collections. Also, an anonymous donor gave $450,000. [I don’t want to say who it was, but, well, you’re welcome.] Dan Cohen suggests we become a sponsor at T-shirts and, yes, tote bags.

There have been 1,7M uses of the DPLA API as of September 2013. Examples of work already done:

Dan talks about DPA Local, and idea that would enable local communities to use the services the DPLA provides.

Dan says that all of the sessions have Google Docs already set up for collaborative note-taking [an approach I’m very fond of].

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May 11, 2013

Hangin’ with Secretary Kerry

Back when the Digital Public Library of America was gearing up, I oddly got invited to participate in a day of brainstorming about what could be done to make the US. State Department Diplomatic Reception Rooms more accessible to the public.

diplomatic reception room

About twenty of us spent the day talking in the Rooms themselves, and we also got a tour of some of the inner offices on Secretary Clinton’s floor. I don’t know how much the day helped the State Department, but it was certainly an interesting day for me. I think my only contribution was suggesting (along with Martin Kalfatovic) that State give the DPLA its spreadsheet of objects + metadata, which I think they are getting close to doing.

The Rooms are ornate and even palatial, which strikes a discordant note for a humble democracy. On the other hand, are we supposed to pretend to visiting dignitaries that the U.S.A. can’t afford to do up a room real nice? And, most important, the rooms are filled with 5,000 museum-quality pieces of furniture, paintings, ceramics, and bric-a-brac, many with particular historic significance, such as the desk on which the Treaty of Paris was signed. You could spend days there just admiring the objects on display…if you were lucky enough to be invited to a workshop held in these rooms. Or, I suppose, if you were a visiting head of state with a surprisingly light schedule.

Treaty of Paris desk (cc) Martin Kalfatovic

But what’s perhaps oddest about the Rooms is that they are stuck inside the Harry S. Truman Building, the State Department’s headquarters.

Harry S. Truman building

The building was designed in the 1950s, was dedicated in 1961, and from the outside looks like an upscale high school. Its large open lobby is quite pleasing, and must have been more so before all the security machinery was installed. Then the elevators open onto the 8th floor and you’re in a dream of the 18th century.

So, last night I went to a reception in the Rooms for people who had contributed to them. Very much a pinstripe and wingtip affair for the guys, and whatever is the suitable generalization for the women. There were perhaps 100 people there, and I can guarantee that every person there contributed far more to the Rooms than I had. Many had donated very substantial sums of money, for the Rooms are paid for and maintained entirely by donations; no tax payer money was harmed by these rooms. Other people have put in considerable time and effort. Not me. But I was in DC for the morning, so I had accepted the invitation.

It was a big enough occasion to rope Secretary Kerry into attending. He appeared about twenty minutes after it began, and the experienced handlers at State immediately had us form a line. As you approach Sec. Kerry, you hand a card with your name on it to an assistant; you were given this card when you went through security. You approach the Secretary as your name is read, alas, with no trumpets. The Secretary says something placeholdery to you if he doesn’t know you from Adam, puts his arm around you, and smiles for the camera. What a job.

To me the Secretary pleasantly said — having just heard my name announced — “Dr. David Douglas Weinberger. That’s a very long name.”

I’d say that that was the most insipid thing I’d ever heard, but I’m afraid I topped it. “I voted for you many times,” said I.

I was surprisingly flustered. When he put his long arm around me, I put mine around his waist, which I think violated both protocol and security procedures. I was not wrestled to the ground, and the Secretary handled it like a pro. Not me. I’m pretty sure I was staring at his collar when when the photo was taken. The man wears a beautiful collar.

Smile. Click. Next.

John Kerry speaking
Click to see a bigger but still blurry photo of Sec. Kerry speaking

After the reception line, Secretary Kerry gave some quite appropriate remarks about the importance of our history despite its comparative brevity, and about the good in the world the US does, pointing specifically to the seven-fold increase in the number of kids in school in Afghanistan, and the rise from single digits to 40+% enrollment of girls. If you’re going to pick examples of US beneficence, that’s a good’un. John Kerry is smart and serious and I am happy to have him as our Secretary of State, although I’ll be happier once Ed Markey wins the election to be his replacement in the Senate.

Then it was time for massive mingling, which is never my strong suit. There was a table of excellent all-American cheeses, and a variety of all-American wines. As the bartender pointed out each wine’s state of origin, she noted that wines are made in every state. “Even Nebraska?” I asked rather randomly. “I didn’t say they were all good,” she replied, thus confirming that she is not a State Department employee and never will be.

I spent a lot of time in the comfort of Martin [twitter: UDCMRK] and Mary Kalfatovic, DPLA buddies and people I am enormously fond of. After about 30 minutes of post-Kerry mingling, we went out for Thai food.

Thus we departed the locale of what certainly should be an upcoming Nicolas Cage movie — National Treasure: Diplomatic Reception — with the Abigail Adams tiara in my pocket and no one the wiser.

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April 18, 2013

[misc] StackLife goes live – visually browse millions of books

I’m very proud to announce that the Harvard Library Innovation Lab (which I co-direct) has launched what we think is a useful and appealing way to browse books at scale. This is timed to coincide with the launch today of the Digital Public Library of America. (Congrats, DPLA!!!)

StackLife (nee ShelfLife) shows you a visualization of books on a scrollable shelf, which we turn sideways so you can read the spines. It always shows you books in a context, on the ground that no book stands alone. You can shift the context instantly, so that you can (for example) see a work on a shelf with all the other books classified under any of the categories professional cataloguers have assigned to it.

We also heatmap the books according to various usage metrics (“StackScore”), so you can get a sense of the work’s community relevance.

There are lots more features, and lots more to come.

We’ve released two versions today.

StackLife DPLA mashes up the books in the Digital Public Library of America’s collection (from the Biodiversity Heritage Library) with books from The Internet Archive‘s Open Library and the Hathi Trust. These are all online, accessible books, so you can just click and read them. There are 1.7M in the StackLife DPLA metacollection. (Development was funded in part by a Sprint grant from the DPLA. Thank you, DPLA!)

StackLife Harvard lets you browse the 12.3M books and other items in the Harvard Library systems 73 libraries and off-campus repository. This is much less about reading online (unfortunately) than about researching what’s available.

Here are some links:

StackLife DPLA:
StackLife Harvard:
The DPLA press release:
The DPLA version FAQ:

The StackLife team has worked long and hard on this. We’re pretty durn proud:

Annie Cain
Paul Deschner
Kim Dulin
Jeff Goldenson
Matthew Phillips
Caleb Troughton


April 1, 2013

Podcast about the DPLA’s status and its relation to public libraries

The latest podcast in the Digital Campus series focuses solely on the current state of the Digital Public Library of America. The discussion includes Dan Cohen who has just accepted the position of Executive Director of the DPLA, which is just wonderful news. Not only does he have a rare combination of skills and experiences — ever hear of Zotero, hmm? — but he is also — and there’s no other way of putting this — nice.

Also on the podcast is Nicholas Carr, who wrote an excellent, skeptical (or at least questioning) article for MIT Tech Review on the DPLA a year ago. Also, Mills Kelly and Tom Scheinfeldt. And me.

Dan explains what the DPLA is. Nick wonders if if the DPLA will hurt public libraries. I try to explain why I think it won’t. Amanda suggests the DPLA is the Mr. Potato Head of libraries. I thought it was a good discussion.

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February 17, 2013

DPLA does metadata right

The Digital Public Library of America‘s policy on metadata was discussed during the recent board of directors call, and the DPLA is, in my opinion, getting it exactly and admirably right. (See Infodocket for links.) The metadata that the DPLA aggregates will be openly available and in the public domain. But just so there won’t be any doubt or confusion, the policy begins by saying that it does not believe that most metadata is subject to copyright in the first place. Then, to make sure, it adds:

To the extent that the DPLA’s own contributions to selecting and arranging such metadata may be protected by copyright, the DPLA dedicates such contributions to the public domain pursuant to a CC0 license.

And then, clearly and plainly:

Given the purposes of the policy and the copyright status of the metadata, and pursuant to the DPLA’s terms of service, the DPLA ‘s users are free to harvest, collect, modify, and/or otherwise use any metadata contained in the DPLA.



December 19, 2012

DPLA looking for an executive director

The Digital Public Library of America is looking for an executive director. This is an incredible opportunity to make a difference.

I think it’d be fantastic if this person were to come out of the large, community-based Web collaboration space, but there are many other ways for the DPLA to go right. The search committee is pretty fabulous, so I have confidence that this is going to be an amazing hire.

The DPLA team gave a presentation at Berkman yesterday, and has been showing some initial work, including a collaboration with Europeana and wireframes of a front page. It’s looking very good for the April launch date.

Our little group, the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, is working on a visual browser for books within the DPLA collection, so we’re pretty excited.

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October 11, 2012

[dpla] DPLA looking good

After attending today’s working meeting of the DPLA (I’m unable to attend tomorrow’s more public-facing session), I’m quite encouraged. The DPLA is now in execution mode, and I believe the pieces are in place.

The Content workstream is well along in securing a range of content, including heritage collections and copyright-free books from the Internet Archive and Hathi Trust. The processes and relationships required for accessing and maintaining the metadata are well along.

The Tech workstream is in very good hands. Jeff Licht is heading it up, and there are external groups working on the required pieces for ingesting metadata, normalizing it, and presenting it through a prototype front end. The Tech team is following roughly the architecture that we’d prototyped Jan-April, and while there are daunting problems — getting the various types of metadata talking to one another, and weighting it so that the results reflect user desires, just to take two — I’m confident it’s going to work well and scale.

And the Governance group is well along in turning this open-edged movement into a an organization built for the long-term. The Board is looking great, there is a search for an Executive Director, and it’s going to be a flexible and responsive organization.

Definitely on track.

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[dpla] DPLA afternoon session

It’s the end of the workstream day of the DPLA Midwest meeting. Each of the three workstream meetings is reporting back to the general group.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Emily Gore from the Content stream: What kind of guidance should we develop for interested content providers? The group wants to have a strategic collection development plan draft by the end of December. “What is our role with regard to advocacy” for content currently under copyright? Also, the group talked about the hub pilot project. Various participants in that pilot were in the room.

SJ Klein from the Technical workstream: There was a lively discussion this afternoon, primarily about the design of the front end. How to make the frontend experience help people become contributors? They also talked about the Chatanooga hackathon Nov. 8-9. Tools for making working with metadata easier. Packaging tools that match potential contributors with a hub. Metadata purgatory for metadata that has been contributed but doesn’t meet the standards.

Maureen Sullivan and John Palfrey report on the Governance group: The next steps are to take the barebone by-laws and flesh them out. There were many discussions about whether DPLA the 501(c)(3) should be a membership organization, but the general consensus is no. (Paul Courant made the point that many institutions shy away from becoming members because that makes them liable.) Rather, it would be good to have participation from groups and people with specific areas of expertise. There was a lot of energy about expanding on the statement of principles, including adding an explicit commitment to accessibility. There was strong support for continuing to see the DPLA as a public/private enterprise. John Bracken made the point that DPLA should view itself as a network, not as a heavyweight organization.

Maureen points out that the workstreams have converged. She says that “contributor” seems to be a better word than “member.” We need to be flexible about how people will come together to do the work that’s required. And we should be thinking of ourselves as advocates, a force for change to improve the lives of people in this country and around the world.


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