The Digital Public Library of America moving forward

November 5, 2012 in Featured, Guest Blog Post

The following post is by Kenny Whitebloom from the Digital Public Library of America Secretariat.


The Digital Public Library of America (<a href="">DPLA</a>) is an ambitious project to build a national digital library platform for the
United States that will make the cultural and scientific record available, free to all Americans. Hosted by the Berkman Center for Internet &amp; Society
at Harvard University, the DPLA is an international community of over <a href="">1,200 volunteers and participants</a> from public
and research libraries, academia, all levels of government, publishing, cultural organizations, the creative community, and private industry devoted to

building a free, open, and growing national resource. Since October 2010, the DPLA has been led by a 16-member Steering Committee composed of leaders from myriad professional backgrounds. This group recently
transitioned to an inaugural five-member Board of Directors that will build upon what the Steering Committee has
already accomplished.

Supporting all of this has been the DPLA Secretariat, a small core team located at the Berkman Center that helps set priorities, drive agendas, and
organize engagements.

The sections below outline some of the key developments in the DPLA planning initiative. For more information on the Digital Public Library of America,
including ways in which you can participate, please visit


Over the past year, the Secretariat, the Steering Committee, and the Board of Directors have made concrete steps to establish the DPLA as an independent
organization, and in October 2012 the DPLA was officially incorporated. In August 2012, the Steering Committee formed a small Nominating Committee to
propose a slate of candidates for an inaugural Board of Directors to lead the emergent organization. The Steering
Committee formally transitioned over to the five-member Board of Directors in October 2012 at the DPLA’s most recent major public event, DPLA Midwest, held at the Chicago Public Library in Chicago, IL.

The Board of Directors and Secretariat are now turning their attention toward recruiting an Executive Director to spearhead the critical transition from
planning initiative to independent organization. In the spirit of the project’s commitment to openness, we have created a form on the DPLA website for members of the public to nominate
themselves or others for this important role.


In the fall of 2012, the DPLA received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, and the
Knight Foundation to support our Digital Hubs Pilot Project. This funding enabled us to hire the first employee of DPLA, Inc.: Emily Gore, Director for Content. In this role, Gore is spearheading the development of the DPLA’s content
infrastructure, including implementation of state and regional digital service pilot projects as part of the Digital Hubs Pilot Project. Under the Hubs Pilot, the DPLA plans to connect existing state
infrastructure to create a national system of state (or in some cases, regional) service hubs, each offering a full menu of standardized
digital services to local institutions, including digitization and metadata services, and serving as an on-ramp for all by aggregating metadata and data
from local institutions to feed into the DPLA network. Over

forty state digital libraries

already exist in the United States, along with several regional digital libraries that span several states. In the DPLA architecture, states will aggregate
data from their local institutions, and DPLA will aggregate data from states and regions, pooling it into one large discovery database.

The service hubs identified for the pilot are:

  • Mountain West Digital Library (Utah, Nevada and Arizona)
  • Digital Commonwealth (Massachusetts)
  • Digital Library of Georgia
  • Kentucky Digital Library
  • Minnesota Digital Library
  • South Carolina Digital Library

In addition to these service hubs, organizations with existing digital collections above a certain size threshold that will make their collections
available via the DPLA will be designated as content hubs. These content hubs hold enough content to warrant a one-to-one relationship with the
DPLA aggregator systems and will offer their data for direct harvest. We have identified the National Archives and Records Administration, the Smithsonian
Institute, and Harvard University as some of the first potential content hubs in the Digital Hubs Pilot Project.

For a video overview of the Digital Hubs Pilot Project, I would encourage you to check out Gore’s overview at the 2012 DPLA Midwest plenary:

Technical Development

The technical development of the Digital Public Library of America is being conducted in a series of stages. The first stage (December 2011-April 2012)
involved the initial development of a back-end metadata platform. This platform consists of a set of services to gather metadata about content and
collections made accessible through the DPLA, enabling developers to use this metadata to build new applications and integrate it into existing sites and
services. The platform provides information and services openly and to all without restriction by way of open source code, as per the DPLA’s principles for technical development.

The next stage in the DPLA’s technical development, in which the project now finds itself, involves integrating continued development of the back-end
platform, complete with open APIs, with new work on a prototype front end. As of September 2012, the Secretariat and Technical Development team

have chosen the Boston-based design firm iFactory

to design and develop this front-end website. It’s important to note that this front-end will serve as a gesture toward the possibilities of a fully
built-out DPLA, providing but one interface for users to interact with the millions of records contained in the DPLA platform.

Development of the back-end platform—conducted publicly, with all code published on GitHub under a GNU Affero General
Public License—continues in such a way as to enable the Beta Sprinters, and others who may come along, to develop additional user interfaces and means of
using the data and metadata in the DPLA over time, which continues to be a key design principle for the project overall.


A hackathon held in April 2012 brought together approximately twenty librarians, developers, and hackers to begin testing the prototype DPLA platform and
building apps on top of it. On November 8-9, 2012, the DPLA will convene its first “Appfest
Hackathon at the Chattanooga Public Library in Chattanooga, TN. The Appfest is an informal, open call for both ideas and functional examples of creative
and engaging ways to use the content and metadata in the DPLA back-end platform. We’re looking for web and mobile apps, data visualization hacks, dashboard
widgets that might spice up an end-user’s homepage, or a medley of all of these. There are no strict boundaries on the types of submissions accepted,
except that they be open source. You can check out some of the apps that might be built at the upcoming hackathon on the Appfest wiki page.

Large public events

The DPLA recently held DPLA Midwest (October 11-12, 2012), our third major public event, at the Chicago Public Library. The event
assembled a wide range of stakeholders—librarians, technologists, creators, students, government leaders, and others—in a broad, open forum to facilitate
innovation, collaboration, and connections across the DPLA effort.

On October 11, the six DPLA Workstreams and the Steering Committee, along with members of the public, met in a series of
breakout sessions and working groups to discuss the development of both the DPLA platform and the front end user interface, the establishment of the DPLA
as an independent non-profit organization, and the launch of the DPLA’s Digital Hubs Pilot Project. On October 12, DPLA Midwest introduced the new DPLA
Board of Directors, showcased the first steps toward the development of the online DPLA prototype, featured comments from participants in the Digital Hubs
Pilot Project, and continued to provide opportunities for public participation in the work of the DPLA.

For more information about DPLA Midwest, including video and photographs from the entire event, please visit

The DPLA remains an extremely ambitious project, and we encourage anyone with an interest in open knowledge and the democratization of information to participate in one form or another. If you have any questions about the project or ways to get involved, please
feel free to email me at kwhitebloom[at]

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