A plan for libraries to aggregate metadata into one central portal

March 27th, 2013

Interview with Emily Gore published on Knight Blog, by Abbie Schutte, March 22, 2013.

Digital Public Library of America DPLA Director of Content Emily Gore has helped set an ambitious agenda for the DPLA launch in April – one that she says should “turn the people out there who are skeptics into believers.” The project’s mission, she explains, “really is to become the national digital library of the United States.” DPLA is making that happen not by building its own collection, but by bringing together the metadata from existing large institutions and state and regional aggregations around the country into one central portal … //

… DPLA also envisions having content hubs—large repositories that contribute content directly to DPLA. What partnerships have you made in this area so far and how do you anticipate that expanding?

  • Before I answer this, let me go back and say that part of what we are going to do with the service hubs in addition to the digitization and bringing on new partners and stuff like that, is the community engagement, which is a key part of the Knight Foundation’s vision for the project. And so, every service hub is planning community engagement activities around themes or what have you. They’re going to work with, in most cases, local public libraries in their communities to really get them involved in the project, so to get that down to the people, if you will. So that’s another piece of the service hubs.
  • But onto the content hubs. We have already announced that Harvard will be the first content hub, so the Harvard Libraries are aggregating various collections that they have, and they’ll be sharing those with us. And we anticipate being able to announce very soon that we’ll have some large-scale collaborators in the Smithsonian and the National Archives and Records Administration and the New York Public Library, as well as a couple large academic libraries.
  • So, we’re looking at a scale, with the National Archives and the Smithsonian alone, of more than a million records being shared from those institutions, so we’re exited about that. And then, really, marrying those together with somewhere in the neighborhood of a million plus from the hubs, and then bringing in these other folks like the New York Public Library and some of the academic institutions. ARTstor is also coming to the table. As a content hub, we anticipate them being able to share their content, and that announcement about that coming out fairly soon.

Do you think any of the content-hub content will be available at the April release?

  • Absolutely. I anticipate that all the folks that I listed will be available at the April release.

DPLA is also launching with an exhibition in collaboration with Europeana. Is this the start of the Digital Public Library of not just America, but the world?

  • The folks at Europeana are amazing to work with, and we have launched an initial exhibition on immigration, and that has been extremely successful. We visited Europeana, and they were sharing with us that [the collaborative exhibition] accounted for over 30 percent of the traffic to their website … We certainly envision continuing to work closely with Europeana.
  • So, not only will we have this portal in April, but we’ll also have an open API where people can get at the data in the data store and, like I said, apps or their own interfaces to access the content. So, we have talked to Europeana about making that API available to them when we feel like it is stable and has all the data that is going to be represented for April. And they would like to take that, and then take their API, and create a mashup so that we’ve got a cross search, so that we soon have what’s in DPLA and what’s in Europeana available in a cross-search app so that you can search both at the same time.
  • It’s the beginning of an amazing partnership.
  • Hopefully, together with them, we can push these things forward, and hopefully others will join… so that we can have global interoperability.

Can you talk more about the decision to build DPLA on a completely open-source platform — what drove that decision, and what types of challenges and opportunities does it present?

  • What drives that decision is that it’s the right thing to do. I just think it’s the right thing to do, and I think most people in our community involved in these kinds of projects would tell you the same thing. It’s easily replicable, shareable; there are not roadblocks for sharing. Working with proprietary systems typically means there are roadblocks to getting to the content, and so if we can tear down those roadblocks right from the beginning—or not put them in place—then we’re setting up the framework for sharing.
  • One of the fundamental principles of the DPLA is openness, and that’s in the code base; that’s in the metadata; that’s in the communication; that’s in the community. An open community. We have invited everyone from the community that wants to be a part of this, so it’s openness—not only open-source software, or a framework—but it’s the whole vision of the DPLA is about openness as a participatory platform, and that really is part of the whole vision.

The idea of having a national digital library or archive has been talked about and worked on in various forms before. What do you think has allowed the DPLA to gain traction as a large-scale project now, and what makes it different from other aggregation projects?

  • I think we’ve had aggregation projects. I don’t know that we’ve ever had the mission and the vision and the planning efforts to say: we are building a national, digital library. We’ve had very large-scale aggregations—we’ve had Oaister; we’ve had DLF Aquifer; we’ve has lots of different projects that were large-scale aggregations and large-scale projects. But to my knowledge, no one has ever set off with this mission format at very beginning to say: this is what we’re doing; community, you are all welcome; please come to the table, bring your ideas, and let’s do this together…
  • I feel like we’re starting out right. We’re starting out by taking the time to plan and taking the time to really involve the community from the very beginning in this project so that there are people invested beyond just the people running the project.  I think that really makes the difference. It’s building a network; it’s building a large-scale community instead of just building a project.

What have been the biggest challenges so far in bringing the DPLA project to fruition?

  • From my perspective as director of content, it’s always a challenge to deal with an aggregation of this scale, because although we have obviously have standards in the field for metadata, everyone gives them their own slightly different interpretation. So, when we bring all this content together, and we try to make it work harmoniously, different fields may be implemented in very different ways.
  • Metadata is a huge challenge from the very beginning, working with that and making sure that we do some normalization work. We work with others to say alright, this may have worked in your local environment, but this is what it looks like in a global environment, and can we work together to make this better for a global environment? So, those kinds of things, just back and forth, that’s a challenge.
  • Another broad-scale challenge is the skepticism. A lot of people in the community are very skeptical about the project, and I think that is because there have been aggregations that have really failed in the past, and I think that when we have something to show, and we do have this initial launch, and we have this API that people are able to interact with, I’m very hopeful that that skepticism will really begin to change, and people will begin to see the possibility of DPLA, and we’ll turn the people out there who are skeptics into believers. And hopefully they’ll be interested in sharing and being a part of this platform, as well.

What challenges do you see going forward as DPLA continues to expand post April launch?

  • Obviously, comprehension, making sure that we are broadly represented, every community has a stake in this — libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, you name it. The cultural heritage record would like to be represented, so I think comprehension is something that I want to be very conscious of in terms of content coverage, and I think that is certainly a large-scale challenge—making sure that we have all kinds of content that meets the needs of all the communities who are interested in participating in this platform. So,  that is certainly a big thing for the future.
  • There are tons of challenges. I think, honestly, it’s not something I worry about every night, but I think sustainability — financial, as well as staffing, and moving the project forward, is a key concern. Making sure that we’re building something that’s sustainable. In contrast to Europeana, we don’t have funding that comes from the government, so they have funding that’s allotted from their government every year. They raise money, as well, but they do have this solid funding base from their government, and that’s something that we don’t have as DPLA. Making sure that we have a constant, appropriate funding base, and that we’re out there working on that constantly, and working on making sure that the project, we’re able to sustain it. Maybe one day we will have government funding—that would be great—but we have to have success before that.

What’s your big-vision hope for the future of the DPLA?

  • First, I want to get as much content online in the US as possible.   After that huge challenge, I really want us to think about what we can do globally—what we can do on a real, global scale and how what we’re doing operates in that world. I think about a researcher, or even an amateur historian, who is looking for something, and the possibility that they could find not only the cultural heritage content that might exist in United States institutions, but European institutions, or African institutions, or you name it.
  • I think the potential power of that is pretty amazing. But I think we can do a lot here in our own country first. That’s just my long vision — how great would that be on such a large scale?

(full interview text).


Digital Public Library of America DPLA: The DPLA is leading the first concrete steps toward the realization of a large-scale digital public library that will make the cultural and scientific record available to all. /Homepage; /About;
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/Address: Digital Public Library of America, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, 23 Everett Street, 2nd Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA, /Contacts;

Video: Emily Gore Introduces the DPLA Digital Hubs Pilot Program-DPLA Midwest 2012, 12.55 min, uploaded by BerkmanCenter,  Oct. 16, 2012: Emily Gore, DPLA Director for Content, introduces the DPLA Digital Hubs Pilot Program at DPLA Midwest, the third plenary of the Digital Public Library of America, on Friday, October 12, 2012.


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