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Thoughts from the DPLA meeting in DC

I’m going to recap here some of the points that I found most interesting and productive at the DPLA meeting yesterday.  I should point out that I have a pretty clear idea of what *I* believe this DPLA should be, so I’m definitely coming at this from one particular angle which may or may not be what the DPLA actually ends up being.  This is biased note-taking, and because of this, you aren’t getting a full picture of the ongoing discussions about architecture and scope here.  You’ll have to browse #dpla or follow the listserv for more of that.  That said, the approach described here is my opinion; I see it as useful for public libraries, academic libraries, and everyone else, and I’m happy that it seems to be getting increasing attention and momentum from a few different groups as the Beta Sprints take off.

To start the ‘technical dissemination’ conversation, I basically re-described the curatorial dashboard idea from my earlier post ‘A Suggested Approach for a Digital Public Library of America”.  The plan was to flip the focus of the conversation over from a discussion of theoretical architectural specs to the visioning of a platform that responds to a set of observed user needs.  I’m excited to be working with the brilliant folks in the ShelfLife Collaborative to realize a lot of these ideas, and I’m even happier to understand that the Beta Sprints are not a competition, rather they are all different projects working toward an end ‘product’ hopefully in something of a modular way.  This is a sensible way to move forward.

A few things that came up…

Lorcan Dempsey likened locally curated collections built on top of a DPLA platform to ‘contextual playlists’ that one could subscribe to, which is a nice description.  To the same effect, John Blyberg spoke about the increasing demand from the community at the Darien Library for quality live programming and events.  The idea of the ‘embedded librarian’ came up at this point, and I believe this would be a great way for local library staff to take advantage of a DPLA platform.  What if the Darien Library had a live lecture going on, and library staff in the room were using DPLA objects to build a playlist around the subject matter described in the lecture?  Community commentary then gets added to the mix, linking the collections, conversation, and context while collective knowledge is saved and categorized for reuse.  The event then doesn’t really finish at the end of the live event, the conversation continues.

Just for laughs, let me bring that same idea up in an academic library context… if the platform existed to support this, wouldn’t the embedded librarian curating DPLA content be incredibly useful at a University lecture?  I see this as a total win for academic libraries, perhaps a different win than many have described they wish for from the DPLA, but a win all the same.

At one point in the conversation, Chris Freeland jumped in and asked how this is different from Wikipedia, and Josh Greenburg and Samuel Klein jumped in to explain that Wikipedia is aimed at reaching consensus, while this platform has a very different goal.

There was also quite a bit of discussion about user generated content and how it could be part of this.  I think this is *very* important, even though it comes with a set of challenges.  It’s important because it engages the end users in the DPLA as first-person participants and creators, rather than just consumers and responders.  The fact that the universal public library brand is “free books” will make it very tough to build a good marketing campaign around the DPLA, and it will be important to get community buy-in for this project if we want communities to turn around and pay the salaries of their local librarians as digital curators, rather than as book selectors.  Helping folks digitize historical content from their basements and attics and then linking it to other relevant material online has the potential to communicate the value of a DPLA to an end user.  I believe there’s an opportunity to collaborate with the IMLS / MacArthur Learning Labs project here, though it may be administratively complex to consider.

Of course the issue of copyright and an eBook lending program came up.  If the DPLA can solve even a piece of the eBook lending problem at public libraries, that will be a huge win.  I think John Mark Ockerbloom sums up this problem well when he describes opportunistic collection development practices in digital libraries vs the user-centered, responsive collection development practices public libraries are used to practicing with physical materials.  Brewster Kahle got the room to agree that the DPLA will impose ‘no new restrictions on content’, which made everyone very happy.  It felt sort of unclear to me whether this was a baby step or a giant leap.  It’s clear that we’ve got a long way to go on the popular eBook access side of the DPLA.  Again, and without diminishing the importance of the eBook lending issue, I think it’s really important to recognize we’ve already got quite a bit of opportunistic collection development that can be done which will enable conversation and context around a huge knowledge base.  I really don’t want this eBook issue to be paralyzing, the ungluing of eBooks can happen while the DPLA progresses.

Brewster also spoke of a desire to bring public libraries and their staff up to speed with technology, and I virtually leapt out of my seat in agreement with this point.  I desperately want this happen, I’m not 100% sure if it is in the scope of the DPLA, and even if it is I don’t yet see how we could do it.  Ideas about a ‘Geek Squad’ were thrown around the room; there was discussion of Code for America and their clever way of helping a city out but leaving behind principles and structures that remained useful.  I had spoken with a friend over lunch a week before in Santa Cruz, and he brought up Best Buy’s ‘twelpforce’ as an amazing reference service.  When we talked about twelpforce or metafilter in this room, the best reason anyone could offer as to why librarians don’t use these services (fully recognizing that indeed, a few do) was that they weren’t required to.  This is troublesome as I try to think about a way forward from here.

Sadly, I missed the commentary of David Weinberger because I had to catch a plane.

Anyways, I’m sort of rambling here.  If I misquoted anyone from the meeting, please correct me.  There were a lot of other things discussed; this is far from complete and like I said I have a pretty clear idea of what I want to see happen from here.  At the end of the day, I must say that I left feeling good about the project as whole.  I think we’ve got a shot at going somewhere with this.  I hope we’ll be able to compartmentalize disagreements and hurdles so that progress will continue.

Incidentally, if any readers can point me to the origin of this ‘embedded librarian’ idea, I’d really appreciate it.

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