Digital Public Library of America: Exhibitions

DPLAThe online exhibitions are a particularly interesting feature of the Digital Public Library of America. These exhibitions, all of which focus on a specific aspect of US history, include: Women with Wings: American Aviatrixes; Indomitable Spirits: Prohibition in the United States; Staking Claims: The Gold Rush in Nineteenth-Century America; Bread and Roses Strike of 1912: Two Months in Lawrence, Massachusetts, that Changed Labor History; The Show Must Go On! American Theater in the Great Depression.

The most recent exhibition is titled Building the First Transcontinental Railroad. This exhibition explores the construction of the first Transcontinental Railroad and its impact on American westward expansion. It is divided into five themes: History; Human Impact; Changing the Landscape; A Nation Divided; A Nation Transformed.

Exhibition’s Introduction:

As the United States began the most deadly conflict in its history, the American Civil War, it was also laying the groundwork for one of its greatest achievements in transportation. The First Transcontinental Railroad, approved by Congress in the midst of war, helped connect the country in ways never before possible. Americans could travel from coast to coast with speed, changing how Americans lived, traded, and communicated while disrupting ways of life practiced for centuries by Native American populations. The coast-to-coast railroad was the result of the work of thousands of Americans, many of whom were Chinese immigrant laborers who worked under discriminatory pressures and for lower wages than their Irish counterparts. These laborers braved incredibly harsh conditions to lay thousands of miles of track. That track—the work of two railroad companies competing to lay the most miles from opposite directions—came together with the famous Golden Spike at Promontory Summit in Utah on May 10, 1869.

Digital reproductions of public domain works

public domain During Open Access Week the Harvard University Libraries announced a new policy on reproduction of public domain works:

The Harvard Library is pleased to announce a new policy on the use of digital reproductions of works in the public domain. When the Library makes such reproductions and makes them openly available online, it will treat the reproductions themselves as objects in the public domain. It will not try to restrict what users can do with them, nor will it grant or deny permission for any use.

In an interesting podcast from Digital Campus, Dan Cohen  from the DPLA, and others discuss this policy and other copyright issues.

At BC, the recommendation of our Digital Program Plan (Appendix K) regarding rights to digitized public domain material is:

For items we have determined are in the public domain, we recommend asking only for acknowledgement of the source of the material. All uses of the content and the images will be permitted.


DPLA wins award to simplify rights structure


The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) announced today that it has received $300,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of its Knight News Challenge, an open contest seeking ideas that strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation. Selected from more than 650 applicants, DPLA’s “Getting it Right on Rights” project will create a simplified and more coherent rights structure for digital items, making access to, and use of, items found in large-scale digital collections like DPLA easier and more straightforward for users.

From the award application:

In ONE sentence, tell us about your project to strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation.
Working with a global set of expert practitioners, copyright lawyers, and metadata specialists, we will establish a common system of rights and a neutral international namespace for the scanned contents of libraries, archives, museums, and cultural heritage sites so that the maximal number of items from these institutions can be made available to the public, with clear designations around use and reuse.

For Your OA Week Listening Pleasure

60x60Information Now: Open Access and the Public Good  a podcast available from the Georgia Tech Library:

Every year, the international academic and research community dedicates a week in October to discuss, debate, and learn more about Open Access. Open Access in the academic sense refers to the free, immediate, and online access to the results of scholarly research, primarily academic, peer-reviewed journal articles. In the United States, the movement in support of Open Access has, in the last decade, been growing dramatically. Because of this growing interest in Open Access, a group of academic librarians from the Georgia Tech library, ….try and unravel some of the different concerns and benefits of Open Access. ….[They] examine more broadly what it means to be “open”, what is open information, and what relationship open information has to the public good.

Dan Cohen from the DPLA speaks about efforts to expand public access to archival and library collections.

Christine George about why things sometimes need to be closed, if we want them to be open in the future, with particular reference to archivist’s privilege in oral history.

Kari Watkins speaks about a specific example of when a government agency decided, against legitimate concerns, to make transit data open, and why it worked for them.

Peter Suber from Harvard University gives the background on the Open Access movement, some myths that have been dispelled, and why it is important for academic researchers to take the leap to make their research openly accessible.

And finally, hear from Michael Chang, a researcher who did take that leap and helped start an Open Access journal, and why he sees openness in research as his obligation.

The OA “sting”

60x60A recent article in Science by John Bohannon  draws conclusions about the weakness of peer review in open access journals. Predictably, it is controversial, but the controversy has taken an unexpected turn, as commentators point out the flaws in the conclusions.

Briefly — the author submitted a bogus scientific paper with obvious flaws to many OA journals and many accepted it. What disturbs some readers is the apparent effort to suggest that this is just a problem associated with peer-review at OA journals. Several of the journals were published by traditional publishers Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer and Sage. This raises the unexplored question of what would have happened to the submission at those publishers’ traditional journals.

It is also worth noting that the article was rejected by many open access journal such as PLoS One and several Hindawi journals.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education contributes analysis and points to many other blog posts and articles that discuss. It is a good starting point for exploring the original article and the reaction.

Peter Suber, in his dispassionate style, points out some facts about the sting:

* Putting some of these together, the article shows that some OA journals are weak and some are strong.

* It doesn’t show that the problem it exposes is limited to OA journals, or intrinsic to OA journals. It exposes a problem with low-quality or dishonest journals, not with OA journals as such.

* It doesn’t show that low quality is non-existent or rare on the subscription side of the line. It merely singles out low quality on the OA side of the line.


The future of libraries

My subscription to the Berkman Buzz alerted me to the New York Times Room for Debate Series on the future of libraries.
John Palfrey comments on the series, and here are some observations I particularly like:

Why is this even a “debate”?
It’s a debate because too many people think that we don’t need libraries when we have the Internet. That logic couldn’t be more faulty. We actually need libraries more (as Luis Herrera points out) now that we have the Internet, not less. But we have to craft a clear and affirmative argument to make that case to those who don’t work in libraries or focus deeply on their operations. Librarians have to make a political and public case, which is too rarely being made effectively today.


The future of libraries is in peril. Librarians and those of us who love libraries need to make an affirmative argument for investments in the services, materials, and physical spaces that libraries comprise. This argument must be grounded in the needs of library users, today and in the future. The argument needs to move past nostalgia and toward a bright and compelling future for libraries as institutions, for librarians as professionals, and for the role that libraries play in vibrant democracies.

Palfrey outlines ten steps libraries should take to remain vibrant. My favorite is number 8:

Library spaces should function more like labs, where people interact with information and make new knowledge.

He concludes:

The argument that libraries are obsolete in a digital era is faulty. But those of us who love libraries need to make the case for why that’s so. This case has everything to do with libraries finding compelling ways to support education, helping people to learn, thrive, and be the best civic actors we can be. We have to recreate the sense of wonder and importance of libraries, as public spaces, as research labs, as maker-spaces, and as core democratic institutions for the digital age.

A National Digital Public Library Begins to Take Shape

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a recent meeting about the proposed Digital Public Library of America:

“The Digital Public Library of America doesn’t exist yet, but it’s closer to becoming a reality.

At an energized meeting held here at the National Archives on Friday, representatives from top cultural institutions and public and research libraries expressed robust support for the proposed library, which would create a portal to allow the public to get easy online access to collections held at many different institutions.

Two foundations said they would together give $5-million in grant money to help get it up and running by April 2013. A major European digital library announced it will work with its planned American counterpart to make their technical structures compatible. And nine technology teams showcased online frameworks they built for a “beta sprint” contest to develop ideas for the technical framework the library will require. . . .”

The complete article

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Digital Public Library of America

The Berkman Center has an informative wiki explaining and tracking the project they are spearheading to create a Digital Public Library of America.
This is a very exciting and ambitious project — well worth following and participating in.

The Berkman Center will convene a large and diverse group of stakeholders to define the scope, architecture, costs, and administration for a proposed Digital Public Library of America. This initiative was launched in December 2010 with generous support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation….

In March, 2011, the Steering Committee drafted a Concept Note to describe the initiative, on which they seek comment.