Digital Public Library of America launches their beta today
April 18, 2013 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Today at noon eastern time, the Digital Public Library of America launched its beta website... The Digital Public Library of America, having worked since 2010 to try and find ways to organize and group an array of disparate digital resources, finally launches it's beta today. While it's come under some criticism from parts of the library community, the DPLA is moving forward by providing both access to resources and an API upon which existing libraries can build their own tools. Previously on the blue.
posted by griffey (15 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Their top level domain is Laos, seriously? That feels almost as sketchy as a Libyan URL shortener. This looks and sounds really interesting, it's too bad they couldn't obtain (owned but not running any web site currently) or something similar, at least as a redirect.
posted by trackofalljades at 10:17 AM on April 18, 2013

I'm really curious to hear jessamyn's thoughts on this. Seems like a potentially very interesting project - and I'd rate the ability to find things on the website as at least 'decent' - but if it does take resources away from public libraries I'd want to know more about that.
posted by capricorn at 10:24 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm really curious to hear jessamyn's thoughts on this.

Ditto. Also the thoughts of griffey the poster on the DPLA would be interesting.
posted by Wordshore at 10:45 AM on April 18, 2013

I feel like their search engine, which seems to be the focal point of the website, needs a better way to rank the relevance/importance of results that come back. It gives you a lot of options to drill down into more specific searches, but the result lists themselves seem pretty random.

For example, searching for "George Washington" gives you a list where the first 5 pages or so are filled with identical listings for the same book and has suggested "By Subject" drill down options of "Railroad, Death--Proof and Certification--Utah, Mollusks, Portrait, United States". Drilling down to the "President of US" subject just shows you the results from the National Portrait Gallery because that's the only source that used that tag apparently. Drilling down to the "George Washington" subject instead brings up pages of results unrelated to the president, including this pipe. It's all very disorganized and I don't really understand who this would be useful for in its current state.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:47 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm really curious to hear jessamyn's thoughts on this.

Ditto. Also the thoughts of griffey the poster on the DPLA would be interesting.

[high pitched fake voice] I'd like to hear what Horace Rumpole thinks. [/high pitched fake voice]

Thanks for asking. I'm a big supporter of the DPLA, and I think the important thing to remember is that the launch is really the start of the process, not the culmination. What we need, what the DPLA has the potential to be, is a US version of Europeana, a centralized portal for resources of libraries all over the country that's easy to use and inviting. It's never going to be a replacement for local public libraries, and any city councillor who thinks that it is probably too poorly informed to be much of an advocate for libraries anyway.

it's too bad they couldn't obtain

But it would be, which has a squatter page on it, and I presume whomever owns it wanted a bunch of money. I don't think the average user will give any thought to the fact that it's a Laos domain.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:01 AM on April 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

It's all very disorganized and I don't really understand who this would be useful for in its current state.

Obviously you will need a search engine but wouldn't it be nice to have a hand selected page helping users navigate the top 100 or 1000 searches? (George Washington, I'm looking at you)
posted by shothotbot at 11:11 AM on April 18, 2013

One other thing I wanted to mention, my library, Houghton, is working with other repositories of Emily Dickinson manuscripts, Harvard U. Press and the DPLA to digitize our manuscripts and make them available open access. Placeholder site here.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:22 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Brick and mortar libraries are important. They democratize access to information in a way this does not.

This predicates access upon having a computer and internet connection.

For many economically vulnerable Americans, the only access they have to this is at Public Libraries.
posted by stenseng at 11:32 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I haven't been following the DPLA, since by the time I'd heard about it I was already transitioning out of thinking of myself as working in library studies, so please let me know if I'm misunderstanding or getting something wrong.

I can appreciate the effort to act as a single location for a bunch of valuable digital content that libraries across the world serve as repositories for. However, I really wish that they also had a component that tied in to the physical stuff that public libraries do: serving as meeting places, providing technology access, teaching information literacy, connecting people to community resources. I don't think any of this would be hard to do. Give public libraries a place where they can put in technology courses that they offer, and provide a zipcode search on the site. Have an outreach portion of the site that describes what a modern library does (beyond 'give you free stuff') and provide an omnibus directory for public libraries in America. Give public systems a place to list all of the community services that they provide so that they can point to it when their budgets go up before town councils.

One of the people who's in charge of one of the biggest private library services providers wrote an op-ed about how libraries (libraries as a large, omnibus cultural institution) always seem to grasp on to the last big thing, and to be honest, this feels a lot like that. When you're trying to convince people that you're relevant and worthwhile (which public libraries are), why make another Google? Personally, I realize that this is different from Google, but do 99% of the people out there who don't study information? I'm going to guess 'no'.

Of course this is only the start, and it has time to grow. I'd be interested to hear if there are plans to link its content to the more innovative stuff that libraries are doing beyond storing and locating content.
posted by codacorolla at 11:40 AM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't know a lot about how this works or its importance, but I do know I entered "kitten" and found some nice things, including a photo of someone holding a baby cougar, a metal miniature of a cat spanking a kitten with a stick, and a Japanese woodblock print of a lady and a cat. So, I approve.
posted by JHarris at 12:07 PM on April 18, 2013

One of the biggest problems facing libraries that are undertaking a massive digitization project is how to provide access to the project. In many, many cases, the library as a singular entity has to figure out not only storage and data maintenence as well was creating or buying some sort of digital content managing software.

The point of the DPLA is to bring together all these disparate digital collections and put the access point in one place.

The partnerships are a big deal and the success of the project will depend on how involved the contributors are and how much public buy-in they can get.

Personally, as someone who has done historical research and is a librarian, I'm an enormous fan of digitization as preservation tool and a way to promote access to materials that would normally be difficult or impossible to get.

With one quick search on the NAACP, I got access to images, text, and images of ticket stubs to an NAACP rally that I would have had to have driven to 3 or 4 states to get. Or, visited a number of different websites and portals to find the collections. A google search would not get me anywhere near some of these collections without massive digging and knowing exactly what I was looking for.

I hope like hell that they can get this ball rolling and keep it rolling because the vast amount of access and democratization of access that something like this could provide is mind-blowing.
posted by teleri025 at 12:32 PM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

After trying to browse the site, I'm left wondering why a project of this size and ambition has such a horrible web interface. They obviously never consulted a usability expert.

I did stumble onto some neat old maps from the University of Illinois. I don't think I would have found them if I had been looking for them.
posted by double block and bleed at 1:55 PM on April 18, 2013

I don't think this project is going to make anybody say 'Why do we need public libraries when we have the internet?' who isn't saying that already.
posted by box at 3:11 PM on April 18, 2013

Digital Public Library of America

Big words to live up to. They're not there yet.

Example: Timeline: 2 million items broken down by year. 1970 has 8194 items. Click on that and ... no subcategories. Just begin scanning items. That's not a library, it's a heap.
posted by Twang at 4:44 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I found the initial interface to be so vague as to be off-putting. Once I actually started doing some searches and realised it does allow more sophistication, primarily via facets and post-search refinements, I've softened a bit. I do understand that most people will bung in a search term and then refine from there. However, as a librarian who is a reasonably sophisticated searcher with a decent amount of experience with federated search interfaces, it frustrates me that there is no option to do an advanced search. It will be interesting to see how the site develops and whether more functionality is added over time.

The idea is pretty cool and reminds me of the now-defunct Picture Australia (absorbed by Trove, for those of you interested). It's great to see the collaboration happening and I hope they can link in with other repositories of digitised material like American Memory and Chronicling America, though I'm sure politics comes in to play as it inevitably does.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:21 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

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