Happy 1st Birthday, DPLA!
John Palfrey 2014-04-17
The Digital Public Library of America is one year old! We launched in April, 2013 after a few years of planning and barnstorming the country for ideas, inspiration, and volunteers. While we postponed the launch celebration due to the tragic Marathon bombing that same week just outside the Boston Public Library, the site — at http://dp.la — went live, on time and on budget. (I wrote about the launch on this blog here.) The first year has been a lot of hard work and a ton of fun.
The progress report for year one, posted officially here, is excellent. Led by executive director Dan Cohen and a very impressive team that is now eight strong, the DPLA has grown to include more than 7,000,000 objects (more than triple what we started with). These images, texts, books, and more come from all 50 states in the country. The number of partners grows every month, with nearly a third of all states boasting on-ramps to the DPLA (which we call “service hubs”) and thousands of major institutions participating in digitizing and sharing materials online. The pace of growth is terrific: demand to join the DPLA as a content provider far outstrips our ability to bring the materials in, which bodes well for future growth. Usage through the website and especially the open API continues to grow, with more than 1,000,000 people who have used the site directly and close to 10,000,000 API calls. Over time, those numbers should grow markedly, too. Mike Kelley of Publishers Weekly did a great round-up piece on the first year results. The team has a fitting and wonderful new home at the Boston Public Library, one of the effort’s early and sustaining partners.
In recent months, two additional major funders have joined the coalition by making promising new grants. Announced at the DPLAFest in the fall, the Gates Foundation has made a grant to enable the DPLA to work directly with public librarians around the country on professional development and usage of the DPLA as an innovative platform. The Mellon Foundation has made a new grant this past month to support the study of sustainability models for this ambitious, nation-sized initiative. The core funders, led by the Sloan Foundation and including the IMLS, the NEH, Knight Foundation (disclosure: I am its board chair), the Soros Foundation, Arcadia Fund, and others have been consistently helpful and have made the effort into a true public-private partnership to support libraries and innovation for the digital era. Key partners, such as the Hathi Trust, Internet Archive, and the National Archives among many others, continue to be essential parts of the puzzle. The New York Public Library has been an amazing partner of late, doubling down by adding in its entire digital collections to the DPLA’s mix.
As the DPLA’s board chair, I have on my mind a few additional challenges when it comes to year two. As with any start-up, the maintenance of momentum is essential. In the lead up to the launch, when the idea was still completely new and fresh, the DPLA attracted the involvement of more than 1,000 people through various outreach mechanisms. Now that the DPLA is into a building and doing mode, the trick will be to ensure that the same inclusive spirit drives us forward. The new Community Reps program is off to a highly promising start. The meetings all continue to be open and volunteers of all sorts most welcome. The DPLA community needs to keep growing in order to thrive, even as we have to have heads-down to keep up with the interest in participating — a great problem to have.
A second topic is the growth of the eBooks question. The DPLA includes more than a million books, but there are many more that could be included. As the growth of eBook adoption grows, and as the importance to libraries, publishers, and readers grows, the DPLA is working on its strategy for being a part of a positive future in this respect. There are many possible roles to play; despite the amount on our plate already, and the desire to get to 50 state hubs and other pre-existing goals, an answer to this question will be important in this coming year and beyond.
Finally, I remain struck by the importance of making the DPLA a national-scale enterprise, and also part of an international effort, to support libraries and their users as we transition to a digital era. I am delighted at the continued private support for this national effort, mostly from a growing group of major foundations, whose leaders, including Doron Weber at Sloan Foundation, see the importance of this work and have committed to it financially.
What puzzles me is why, even after a successful launch and proof of the demand for this service, the public-sector support for DPLA is limited to a few (essential and wonderful) federal institutions. Our stalwart partners include the National Archives, the Smithsonian, IMLS, and the NEH, who have been there since the inception of this idea. Today, the GPO has joined the effort officially, which is huge and positive news.
Now, I am not so naive as to imagine that the Congress would all of a sudden recognize the need for America to have a digital library system and decide to fund its scaling up, as great as that might be. But for all the Washington talk of the “importance of public-private partnerships”, I would have imagined that more government entities with unique content and funders would be jumping up to join with the private sector in this public-spirited enterprise. In my cynical moments, I have a sense that “public-private partnership” means a suggestion by government that the private sector ought to go and do those things that the public sector is not getting done. Perhaps in year two and beyond the public side will grow more than it has in year one. It is never too late to join this particular party.
My primary sensation at the end of year one for the DPLA is of deep gratitude for the partnership and friendship of those who have joined together, as volunteers in the public interest, to get this important endeavor and to the crack staff who are devoting their professional life to getting it off the ground. Dan Cohen and his team on the ground are doing amazing work to build the DPLA for a sustainable, exciting future.