Happy 1st Birthday, DPLA!

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.

Digital Public Library of America, Session IV

These are my live-blog notes for the fourth and final full session at the DPLA content and scope working session:

1) The messy issue of rights and permissions for in-copyright works is the biggest issue that the DPLA will face.  (We have a workstream set up for legal issues on the wiki.)  A variant of this issue: the DPLA could play a role in ensuring that usage rights for end-users are not as untenable (silly?) as the recently-announced HarperCollins’ 26 lends rule.   As another related point: We should have a legislative solution to tricky copyright restrictions in mind, as a proposal (or a package of proposals), but we need also to make progress absent, or at least prior to, legal change.  In addition to orphan works issues, there are copyright issues laden in scholarship associated with computation and massive data sets, as an example.

2) Don’t undercut public libraries as you build a Digital Public Library of America.  There’s a risk that the success of a #dpla might result in politicians and other funders seeing less utility in local public libraries.

3) The world is going mobile on such a massive scale.  We need to build that in from the start.  There are over 5 billion active mobile users.  Mobile broadband is growing in penetration, and nearly a third of users globally have a smart-phone.  In 2013 – 2014, more people will access information on the web via a mobile device than on a laptop or desktop.  We have to bring the DPLA to the people.

(Side-note: Dan Cohen has posted his #dpla comments to his blog.)

Digital Public Library of America, Session III

Here are some quick notes on three take-aways from Session III at the Content and Scope planning meeting of the Digital Public Library of America.

1) Materials that are in copyright will have to be thought about by the DPLA differently (the red zone) from those in the public domain (green) or orphan works and gray literature (yellow).  But ideally the members of the public accessing the works would not know about these differences when approaching the content.  This issue leads to the tiering issue (or perhaps we need a different word) for DPLA.  From a user perspective, could we make it not matter whether the material, before coming to DPLA, was red, yellow, or green?  There are a variety of ways that might come to pass, including a possible alternative compensation model for books as a way to pay creators.  (For a proposal to create two types of alternative compensation system in a parallel field, music and movies, see William W. Fisher, Promises to Keep, Ch. 6).

2) A user may have multiple roles: on the one hand, may be an author who wants credit or payment for her work, and on another is seeking low-cost or free, unfettered access to the work of others.  And diversity of users becomes tricky when one adds the international access dimension.

3) A five-year (or other) moving wall strategy, in partnership with publishers, seems like an attractive possible approach to digitizing materials and making them available.  One might be able to enable payment for a series of years and then return the works to the public domain.  But there may be issues lurking here, too.

The moderator adds some more: a) the scope and content of #dpla must include materials that are not just in the public domain, which leads to sustainability and incentives; b) talking about services and lots of added values, with many players with multiple roles, where many people in the ecosystem of publishing, reading, and using information have a stake in the success of #dpla; c) library materials should be made available to the public in ways that are as free, open and useful as possible.

Digital Public Library of America, Session II

My three take-away points/topics from the second session, focusing on characteristics of public domain collections and open business models:

1) We have done a lot of work toward collection-building in a DPLA.  We need to learn from the experience of our own projects in the United States and those of others that are underway today.  Europeana is an especially important reference point, as are many other current and past major mass digitization projects.

2) We need to avoid going it alone.  A shared vision and collaboration is crucial.  The time for doing “our own thing” in our own way is over.  The DPLA needs to aim to establish a system or a platform that will support collaboration across a broad range of participants doing relevant work who are willing to work together.  We need to respect the identities of those who have developed or hold content.  And a distributed library system can be very resilient and diverse and strong as a result.  We need to allow lots of people to succeed via the DPLA.  (One might consider what needs to be centralized, such as indexing, while having the bulk of the system, content, and so forth distributed/federated.)

3) Even sticking with public domain materials won’t be cheap or easy.  While some say “scanning is the easy part,” there are still major costs and challenges given the scope of what we seek to accomplish — and we need a model to sustain the work over time.  Digitization is very expensive, and almost exclusively grant-funded today.  And it’s necessary to get to a critical mass of information for it to be useful to users, which we can only get done by collaboration (see 2, above).  There are best practices that we ought to learn from with respect to scanning — and all else that we have to do, such as metadata creation and collection, user interface, search and discovery, etc.  Despite the exciting progress across many projects to scan much information, a business model for any DPLA that can mix open and paid is extremely important to develop for sustainability purposes.

One person adds two additional key points (related to mine, but said another way) from this session, so I add them here:

a) We can’t anticipate uses.  Stay flexible.

b) We need to think about standards and metadata as a core part of the enterprise.

Digital Public Library of America, Session 1 Notes

Here’s my rough live-blog (while moderating; please excuse briefness) of the key points and problems from session 1 of the Digital Public Library of America working meeting on “Scope and Content” of a possible DPLA, today at the Harvard Faculty Club in Cambridge, MA:

1) We began with a voice from public libraries and one from research libraries.  The dichotomy broke down quickly, even as both focus areas seem important at the outset.  The group appeared to be in “violent agreement” as to seeing a spectrum of users rather than two completely disconnected categories (public/research).  The stronger form of this argument: perhaps we should even focus on activities/uses/functions rather than a sense of user identities if possible.

2) There is a key problem potentially in the way: we as libraries don’t have the ability to provide access to users to all materials that we previously could.  The digital age cuts against broad access in some ways.  Do we take on this problem, which is one of technology, contract, markets, culture?

3) There are three ways in which to see our current posture (at least):

a) We have what we need to build a DPLA.  Some say that we have what we need, and we just need get on with it.  The approach should be: “Buy what we can, scan what we can’t.”

b) Others disagreed with this view.  Law reform, they argue, is an important, necessary part of what we want to do.

c) Others still view that not only do we not have everything we need, it’s getting worse (see, in a way, the concerns that JZ builds out in the Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It).

We’ll round up these types of issues and discussion points and include on the DPLA wiki after the session.  Please join on in.  In the meantime, check Twitter #dpla for updates on the fly of the meeting discussion itself.

Collective Management of Copyright: Solution or Sacrifice?

The Kernochan Center at Columbia University Law School is hosting its annual symposium today in NYC on the timely issue of collective management of copyright.

Non-IP lawyers may be scratching their heads after reading that sentence.  What, after all, is collective management of copyright?  Daniel Gervais, the opening keynote speaker, starts the conference by answering that question, as he has in much of his terrific scholarship (including his edited book on Collective Management of Copyright; see ch. 1, up to page 28).  Collective management, Gervais tells us, is a way to make the copyright system work in a complex world of many stakeholders.  A collective management organization (CMO) aggregates a series of rights held in private hands and then issues licenses on a broad, common basis to users.  The historical uses of this approach date back to the 1700s in France, when dramatic works began to be managed on a collective basis.  More recently, also in Europe, many CMOs have emerged to manage rights in a range of settings.  We also see collective management in the music business in the United States.

The reason that I’m particularly interested in collective management of copyrights right now has to do with books and other materials collected and distributed by libraries.  I am working, along with other colleagues, on the nascent idea of a Digital Public Library of America.  We are exploring how we might develop a way to make much more in the way of digitized works available broadly, through online or physical libraries, in a public-spirited way that ensures also that authors and other creators continue to get paid for their work.   The proposed Google Books Search Settlement, pending before Judge Chin in federal court here in New York, would be another example of a privately-orchestrated collective management system for books.  Our DPLA idea might well take the form of a collective management arrangement with tiered access to different sorts of data.

To answer the question posed by the conference title: I think collective management of copyright is generally speaking a useful solution to problems of fragmentation, scale, and complexity in a digital era.  These schemes are not perfect, and nor do they represent a panacea.  My view is that well-designed collective management schemes may well provide the best way to serve the shared interests of creators, publishers, and the public in the context of libraries and otherwise.  I am eager to work with others to explore how a collective management arrangement might help to establish a DPLA.

As a side note, we are releasing today a wiki where anyone can join in the effort of developing this idea.  For instance, see the page devoted to the track dealing with Legal Issues, seeded by Prof. Pam Samuelson of Berkeley Law and her team.

And thanks and congratulations to June Besek, Pippa Loengard, Prof. Jane Ginsburg, and their team and students at Columbia for this helpful and impressive conference.