John Palfrey, Chair of the DPLA Steering Committee, moderated the second session of the October 21, 2011 Plenary Meeting, “Report from Washington.” Joining Palfrey was Deanna Marcum of the Library of Congress, Susan Hildreth of the Institute for Museum and Library Services, and David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States.
Marcum spoke first, reprising Peter Baldwin’s “Walmart” idea, which highlighted the DPLA’s ability to usher in a new phase for digital libraries. She also spoke to the need for an even larger digital library project that could effectively leverage existing projects. Marcum noted that the Library of Congress wants to make its information available to as many people as possible, and she sees the DPLA as enabling them to do so. She discussed the history behind the Library of Congress’ digitization projects and described their origin in providing resources to K-12 students and teachers. As the projects developed, she pointed out, the Library of Congress focused on their special collections rather than a general approach to music and books. “We realized that we had special collections that were held nowhere else in the country…so we began to focus on digitizing those special collections materials,” she said. The Library of Congress is currently digitizing its history, local history, and genealogy collections. In finishing, Marcum stressed the fact that she sees the materials in the Library of Congress as wonderful foundational sources for the DPLA, and that she looks forward to working with the DPLA and all its participants.
Hildreth spoke next, beginning her address with a review of IMLS services and outlining its role as a federal agency primarily responsible for grant administration. IMLS has no content, she noted, but it does provide extensive access to the nation’s museums and libraries, and could facilitate connections between collections across the country. She posed a critical question from the IMLS’ perspective: which products from the previous 20 years of work can we use in the DPLA, and what still needs to be created? “We are very interested in how the DPLA is moving forward so we can make strategic investments so that we can support digitization efforts,” Hildreth said. She reminded the audience that there are already many resources available from which the DPLA can build, and she described some of them in detail. She finished her short talk by sharing a few lessons courtesy of the IMLS:
- When it comes to digitization, don’t go it alone—collaborate!
- Traditional understanding of the relationship between information providers and consumers is changing, and we need to find better ways to facilitate and improve that relationship.
- Interoperability and preservation of digital information resources are essential.
- Stress rights for access and the use of content, make sure our programs are sustainable, and find ways to make this useful and trusted for the public.
The Archivist of the United States, gave the panel’s final address. Ferriero introduced the services of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to the Federal Government—opened in 1935 (described as FDR’s “baby”), the National Archives keeps records of all federal agencies—and expressed his desire to digitize every single piece of NARA’s archives and make them available to the world. Hence, his interest in collaborating with the DPLA. “What can we do to get this stuff [paper materials] digitized? How can we facilitate the creation of it?” Ferriero asked the audience. “I am convinced that if it’s not online, it doesn’t exist. So instead of fighting it, how can we make it happen? And that’s why I’m so interested in this project.” Ferriero finished his address by telling an inside story about Google Books. In April 2011, under the declassification initiatives, the CIA released the oldest classified documents (they concerned formulas for secret ink used by the Nazis). The reason they were finally released was that NARA had already found the information on Google Books. The formulas had been published in 1931 and digitized in the late 2000s compliments of Google Books.
“Report from Washington” concluded with a fascinating Q&A session, including questions posed by members of the Smithsonian Institute and The British Library.