Public libraries have long played a central role in American communities. The Digital Public Library of America aims to follow in that tradition as an online database of the nation’s collective history and culture. We’ll look at how the newly-launched online library builds off the work of public libraries, museums and archives and creates exciting new possibilities for researchers, programmers and curious minds.


  • Dan Cohen Founding executive director, Digital Public Library of America; director, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media Studies, George Mason University
  • Rachel Frick Director, Digital Library Federation Program, Council on Library and Information Resources
  • Martin Kalfatovic Associate Director of Digital Services, Smithsonian Libraries; program director, Biodiversity Heritage Library


  • 12:06:43

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. Type the letters D-P-dot-L-A into any Web browser, and you'll arrive at one of the most comprehensive digital collections to date. The Digital Public Library of America is just like an online library catalog but with roughly 2.4 million items.

  • 12:07:22

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt brings together the collections of libraries, museums and archives from around the world, including the Smithsonian, the National Archives and the New York Public Library. And now that the project has launched, anyone with a computer and Internet connection can access it. You can discover daguerreotypes of President Lincoln, watch archival footage of the civil rights movement, or you might listen to the call of, well, what do I want to listen to today? Oh, how about a ruffed grouse?

  • 12:08:02

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIAh, yes, the call of the ruffed grouse. American public libraries have always been a place of discovery. Today, we learn how the Digital Public Library of America creates a new online portal of discovery in the cloud. Here to explore it with us is Dan Cohen. He is the founding executive director of the Digital Public Library of America. He is currently director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Dan Cohen, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:32

    MR. DAN COHENGreat to be back on the show, Kojo.

  • 12:08:34

    NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Rachel Frick. She is director of the Digital Library Federation Program at the Council on Library and Information Resources. Rachel Frick, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:46

    MS. RACHEL FRICKGlad to be here.

  • 12:08:47

    NNAMDIAnd Martin Kalfatovic is associate director of the Digital Services Division of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries and program director of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Martin, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:09:02

    MR. MARTIN KALFATOVICNice to be back, Kojo.

  • 12:09:03

    NNAMDIIt's a conversation that you, too, can join at 800-433-8850. You can send email to, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website,, and join the conversation there. What would you like to see included in the Digital Public Library of America? Dan, many Americans know what their local public library looks like. They're probably familiar with the beep of the library barcode scanner and the librarian's frown when their account shows overdue books. So what does a national digital public library look like?

  • 12:09:42

    COHENThat's a great question, and I think the first thing I should say is it's really a complementary collection to your local public library, which still is really at the heart of all our communities. We have thousands of public libraries in America and still where we'll go for the latest in fiction and nonfiction and wonderful paper children's books and community functions.

  • 12:10:01

    COHENBut the Digital Public Library of America really supplements, complements what's going on at that local level with, as you noted, a really almost unimaginably large collection of open and free resources that are gathered together from very small collections at the local level, including, we hope, from public libraries in their communities that can be scanned in and added to the DPLA, but mixing those up with really large collections like the Smithsonian or the National Archives.

  • 12:10:28

    COHENAnd I think that's what really special about it is you can go to your local public library for some materials, and then you have this incredible digital attic of wonders from across the United States that you can access for free at

  • 12:10:41

    NNAMDIMartin, we last talked about the Digital Public Library of America in 2011. Back then, the project still sounded like a librarian's fantasy. What did it take to get the online library up and running over the last few years?

  • 12:10:55

    KALFATOVICIt was quite a bit hard work, and I really thank our original technical lead, which was David Weinberger at Harvard, and we spent that first 18 months really trying to pool together a lot of different things. We had a hackathon where we actually brought together a number of different elements from different people from all around the country who tried to see what they could build on top of this concept of a Digital Public Library of America.

  • 12:11:19

    KALFATOVICIt was also challenging to bring together all the different platforms and services that we wanted to in this short amount of time, but it's really great that we were able to pull it together with the help from a lot of people and around the country, both small developers as well as large, to actually give us something to go live with.

  • 12:11:37

    NNAMDIRachel Frick, the different library's database allows users to search through the collections of the National Archive, the Smithsonian Institution Libraries and the New York Public Library just to name a few. How extensive is the collection at this point?

  • 12:11:52

    FRICKWell, right now, I like to remind people that this is really the pilot phase of the Digital Public Library of America, and you're seeing a lot of content from a lot of big names that people are familiar with but also from a lot of small organizations. And it's organized into what we call content hubs and service hubs.

  • 12:12:08

    FRICKSo we have right now a pilot project of seven hubs, which are basically regional gathering points for all this information. And then those regional points are networked together and come together as the DPLA. So we have the point in South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Minnesota -- Minnesota, is that right?

  • 12:12:35

    COHENMountain West.

  • 12:12:35

    FRICKAnd out in the western -- Mountain West, out there. It's coming together. And Boston, as well. And so there's everything from small archives because those are part of those local hubs to these big university collections that are represented, so it's quite a wide swath at this point.

  • 12:12:51

    NNAMDIAs an educator -- are you an educator, student or citizen scholar who plans to use the Digital Public Library? Give us a call. Tell us how you intend to use it or how you'd like to know if you -- how you can use it. At 800-433-8850 or send email to Martin, the Smithsonian Institute Libraries is one institution that has partnered with the Digital Public Library as a so-called content hub. What does that entail?

  • 12:13:19

    KALFATOVICWell, it's actually not just Smithsonian Libraries but the Smithsonian writ large, so it's all of our museums, research centers and archives at the Smithsonian that are participating. This is really a great opportunity for the Smithsonian to actually push its content out into all corners of the U.S. and the world.

  • 12:13:34

    KALFATOVICMany people don't come to our directly, so what we were thinking -- and Secretary Clough really promoted this idea -- was by pushing our content through these other types of portals, especially the DPLA, we'd be able to get all of those rich resources for the American people out to where they are, at their homes all around the country.

  • 12:13:55

    NNAMDIWhat's the difference between contents hubs and service hubs?

  • 12:14:00

    KALFATOVICThe main point -- and I'll let Rachel jump in if she wants to -- but basically, the content hubs are large providers, so that's places like the National Archives, the Smithsonian Institution, New York Public Library. It's places that have lots of already digitized content that they would like to push out through the DPLA.

  • 12:14:17

    KALFATOVICThe service hubs have both that as well as an added function which is to pride services to the smaller libraries, archives and museums within their regions in order to help those institutions push their content up to their content hub -- to their service hubs and then back into DPLA. Rachel, any...

  • 12:14:35


  • 12:14:35

    FRICKYeah. I think that's -- it's a model that was based on Europeana, so it's a way to kind of have these confluence points of data. So the service hubs, like Martin said, provide that gathering point, that basket for that content to come together but also a service layer. They do things like metadata enrichment. They teach these smaller organizations how to digitize and apply metadata in a way that enhances interoperability when it comes upstream to the DPLA, if that makes sense.

  • 12:15:08

    NNAMDIOh, we'll get more into that later. In case, you're just joining us, it's a Tech Tuesday conversation on the Digital Public Library of America. We're talking with Martin Kalfatovic. He is associate director of the Digital Services Division at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries and program director of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Rachel Frick is director of the Digital Library Federation Program at the Council on Library and Information Resources.

  • 12:15:34

    NNAMDIAnd Dan Cohen is the founding executive director of the Digital Public Library of America. He is currently director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. You can call us, 800-433-8850. Dan Cohen, to search through the Digital Public Library's catalog is to search through dozens of the most prominent online collections in the U.S. What possibilities does the online database open up for academic research?

  • 12:16:04

    COHENWell, there's so many possibilities, and I think when your audience goes to visit the prototype, say, as Rachel pointed out, we're really in a kind of beta phase, and we plan to grow from here. But already, I think the possibilities are tremendous because we're making the collection available not just in one virtual portal but in entirely new ways.

  • 12:16:22

    COHENSo if you go on your computer or tablet or phone -- it works on everything -- you'll be able to actually search through the collection, not just as you would on Google with a set of text links, but you can actually scan through and discover items in the collection using an interactive map, or you can zoom down to even the block level and find materials that have been scanned in, in any of the collections that are partners all in one place.

  • 12:16:46

    COHENYou can search through the collection by an interactive timeline. You can search by subjects. So there's a variety of kind of entry points into the collection that we feel will enable new kinds of scholarly research. Even the map alone, right now, it's really impossible to search across America's collections for all the materials from a particular town that have been scanned in.

  • 12:17:08

    COHENAnd so that's really revolutionary right there. I think from there, you'll see all kinds of new applications, and Martin really alluded to this earlier. In that, we're not just making this available on a website which has these functionalities, like a map and timeline, but we're also making all the materials of available as open data.

  • 12:17:25

    COHENAnd so I think some of the creativity and transformative applications, we will see in the coming months and years as those of us -- those developers, programmers, researchers outside of the DPLA and our partners start to play around with the data and think about how they can really use computational methods to scan through the collection but also how they might be able to create local history, applications for smartphones, all kinds of applications that we really haven't thought of yet. And that's really the power of creating a combined collection that is operational digitally in this way.

  • 12:18:04

    NNAMDII'd like to talk a little more about that in different ways, Martin. While the library is up and running, some have pointed out that there are still some kinks in the technology. How could researchers using the database for their own work actually improve the digital library in the process?

  • 12:18:21

    KALFATOVICThat's actually one of the really great things about DPLA is that it's not just a big thing that sits there and in a static way. And what we've been encouraging from the very beginning is people to create hacks on it to look at data in different ways. A couple of the ones that we're actually highlighting right now in the site, there's a very nice view of it called map view from a developer named Ed Summers, who's created all kinds of interesting ways to look at the DPLA data through a map application.

  • 12:18:50

    KALFATOVICAlso, again, so Ed's just sort of, you know, one guy developer, but then there's also larger groups on the innovation lab at Harvard libraries, like David Weinberger and other people, have developed something called Stack life. (sic) Stack life enables you to sort of look at it sort of like how you look at books on a shelf so that it looks just at the book portion of DPLA. So you can look at it like you're looking at stacks within -- in an actual library shelves.

  • 12:19:18

    KALFATOVICSo it's that kind of ways you can do that to see it. We're also, of course, be able to enhance the metadata in various ways as time goes on, so when people do start noticing errors in the metadata because nothing is perfect, even in the library and the museum world, so there will be ways that we can actually feedback corrections and enhancements to the metadata that people out there will find for us.

  • 12:19:41

    NNAMDIOf course, American public libraries were built on the idea that the entire public should have access to information, and I'm assuming that that is why free and open source code has become a cornerstone of the Digital Library.

  • 12:19:53

    KALFATOVICExactly. And we made a commitment to push all the code out to various places. GitHub is our primary distribution point for the code so that people can find that. Also, the actual metadata itself comes with a Creative Common zero license, which is basically an equivalent of a public domain license so that people can reuse that metadata in all types of different ways in their own systems and services.

  • 12:20:17

    KALFATOVICBuilding up on what Dan said earlier, it's not a way to replace your public library but a way that your public library can enhance their own public collections in new kinds of ways with new types of materials.

  • 12:20:27

    NNAMDIWell, Dan, the Digital Library's online resources may be useful for researchers, programmers and librarians. But will it be useful for Scott in Charles Town, W.Va.? Scott, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:20:41

    SCOTTOh, hi. Thanks. I'm just listening to your program. And I'm not a scientist or a researcher or anything like that. I'm just a normal guy. And can I get a book from here, like a bestseller book...

  • 12:20:52

    FRICKI wish.

  • 12:20:53

    SCOTT...or do I still have to actually go to the library to do that?

  • 12:20:56

    NNAMDIRachel Frick?

  • 12:20:57

    FRICKWell, I think right now, we're not loaning books from the Digital Public Library of America. We still encourage our folks to go to their local public library and go for those types of services. Right now in the DPLA, is really focusing on cultural heritage at this moment. I'm going to turn over to Dan for…

  • 12:21:16


  • 12:21:17

    NNAMDIDan, how do you -- how do would the DPLA appeal to a broader audience?

  • 12:21:22

    COHENWell, I think the general public isn't, in fact, our main audience, right? I think that this is a library for everyone, not just Americans, but people around the world. After all, America's collections contain as a nation of many immigrants. We have materials from around the world here, and so we are looking to make those publicly available and to non-researchers, non-scholars to use.

  • 12:21:47

    COHENIn fact, if you go to our homepage right now, we have some just general exhibits on things like civil rights, history of sports and other topics that people can scan through these archival materials in the same way that they would go to the Smithsonian and visit an exhibition that's compelling and that has materials they've never seen before. I think on the question of books, that's really an important question. And indeed, there are books in the collection right now, older books, books that are in the public domain.

  • 12:22:15

    COHENI think one of the things that we'll have to explore in the project over time is how we can get more books into the DPLA. I think it's unlikely that we're going to have the latest from Stephen King at the DPLA, so I'm sorry to our caller. But I think there are some ways that we can be creative about getting more materials into open places.

  • 12:22:32

    NNAMDIAnd that's one of the things we'd like to discuss after a short break. Scott, thank you very much for your call.

  • 12:22:37

    SCOTTThank you, guys. I appreciate it.

  • 12:22:39

    NNAMDIYou, too, can join the conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850. What's the role of a public library, in your view, in the 21st century? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:24:30

    NNAMDIThe Digital Public Library of America has launched. We're having a Tech Tuesday conversation about it with Rachel Frick, director of Digital Library Federation Program at the Council on Library and Information Resources. Martin Kalfatovic is associate director of the Digital Services Division at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries and program director of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. And Dan Cohen is the founding executive director of the Digital Public Library of America. He is currently director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

  • 12:25:06

    NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. We got an email from Annie, who writes, "I just accessed the library and it's very easy to navigate through. It should be a great resource as it grows." I felt the same way, Annie. Dan, some libraries recently have tied up with publishers over the licensing of e-books. Much of the Digital Public Library of America's current collection is in the public domain. But how will you deal with licensing as you expand? Something you were beginning to talk about before the break.

  • 12:25:37

    COHENRight. Well, this is a very thorny question, and I think something that we have to address not only as part of the Digital Public Library of America, but as American society. I think we've kind of drifted into a time in which it's a lot harder to do things that we used to be able to do with physical books, like give a book you've read to a friend. If I wanted to give a book to Rachel, who's sitting right next to me, as a digital copy on my Kindle or iPad, that's actually a lot harder than if I had the physical book with me.

  • 12:26:05

    COHENAnd so I think we need to think about new ways that we can license and use books in a digital age. And this will involve some creativity. The default copyright license is actually the life of the author plus 70 years. And I think for most books, it makes no sense for us to have those books finally fall into the public domain and to be readable by everyone when we're sitting in space hammocks on Mars. That just doesn't make sense to me.

  • 12:26:31

    COHENAnd so I think for a lot of books, maybe not Stephen King, but for a lot of books, there might be ways in which the DPLA and others in a concerted effort with public libraries can think about new forms of licensing or maybe the commercial window is a little bit shorter, say five or 10 or 15 years, to allow for remuneration to the publisher and to the author, but then maybe to have a copy going to the DPLA or other places where the general public can read it.

  • 12:26:53

    COHENBecause in America, we've always had a strong sense of a public option for reading and research. That's what public libraries are. They represent a place where you can go in without checking in, as you noted at the beginning of the show, and to access the shelves openly and to read what you want and to think new thoughts. That's an important part of American democracy, and I think we need to extend that into the digital age.

  • 12:27:18

    NNAMDIRachel Frick, where do digital library collections like those in the digital public library catalog fit into copyright debates?

  • 12:27:28

    FRICKWell, I think it's a really great opportunity for libraries to demonstrate the power of open, and a lot, we have been having this conversation for the past 10 years about where do our collection sit. And a lot of the items especially the items in the DPLA right now actually are items that are in the public domain.

  • 12:27:46

    FRICKAnd, you know, they are under the museum, the library, the archive stewardship, but the actual item itself is under the public domain. And I think when we digitize things, sometimes we create a level of -- I don't want say ownership but sometimes like what Dan was saying...

  • 12:28:06

    NNAMDIIt feels like ownership.

  • 12:28:07

    FRICKIt feels like ownership. You feel like it's your baby, you know, you want to protect it. When, in fact, by digitizing it, we can actually share it more widely. And within the context of the conversation, the DPLA, we're going back to the conversations with our libraries, archives and museums and saying, let's share. Let's push this out.

  • 12:28:25

    FRICKSo it's a great leadership limit for our cultural heritage organizations to demonstrate the power of open information like Dan says as to democratization and returning the people's collections more readily to the people and the environments that they look at their information on their iPods, on their phones, on their computers. So I think it's a liberating moment.

  • 12:28:47

    NNAMDIYou wanted to add something to that, Martin?

  • 12:28:49

    KALFATOVICJust one quick element. With some things, it's actually easier. So at our biodiversity heritage library, because a lot of it is science-based, a lot of the authors of those science publications are eager to get their materials out. So with the biodiversity heritage library, we have negotiated with authors and publishers for some content that goes up that's in copyright and more contemporary.

  • 12:29:11

    KALFATOVICAnd so all of that material, that we have worked very closely with the publishers and authors to get permissions for, are also now available through the Digital Public Library of America. They're not bestsellers in the broad sense, but they're often very important works.

  • 12:29:25

    NNAMDIBut it occurs to me that everybody who's written something that is not a bestseller doesn't necessarily want to wait 70 years before it's made available. So this is one of the projects the DPLA that will certainly add to the discussion about that, won't it?

  • 12:29:39


  • 12:29:40

    NNAMDIOn to Roger in Falls Church, Va. Roger, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:29:45

    ROGERThank you. A number of years ago, there was quite a publicity about Google was going to digitize the library. Is this related to that all, as a new iteration of that? What is the difference between this and what Google was doing? I don't know if Google is actually still doing it or stopped doing it or not.

  • 12:30:04

    NNAMDIWe'll ask Dan Cohen.

  • 12:30:05

    COHENRight. That's a great question, Roger. So Google has done an amazing job to digitize, I think, over 20 million books available on the Google Books site, and they focused on books. And I think there are a couple of differentiating points to make. First of all, the Digital Public Library of America contains not just books, but it contains all forms of human expression. We actually have paintings.

  • 12:30:27

    COHENWe didn't discuss that, but we have six museums that are partners through a non-profit called Art Store that have made their works available. We have unpublished materials, manuscripts, diaries. We have photographs. So we have all forms of human expression in the DPLA versus Google Books who truly did focus on sort of tipping up the shelf at large research libraries and having them go through a scanner.

  • 12:30:51

    COHENSo it's one thing to say, and I think the other thing that Rachel just touched on is that this is really a leadership moment for nonprofit institutions like libraries, museums and archives across the United States to say, let's re-double our efforts. Let's return to our mission of making this material publicly available, that we should be out in front. Google has done an amazing job. But there is a moment here that we can take to say, let's have a nonprofit, open access, large collection of this scale that has all forms of human expression, and that's what we've done.

  • 12:31:21

    NNAMDIRoger, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us. The number is 800-433-8850. What would you like to see included in the Digital Public Library of America? 800-433-8850. You can also send email to Rachel, you also wanted to add to that response? I thought you did.

  • 12:31:39

    NNAMDIOh, well, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has put more than 100,000 paintings on the Web as high resolution images, and the collection is free and accessible to anyone. How can technology make works in the public domain more public? Rachel has already talked about the notion that we cannot think we have a right to these works when -- once we see them. But how can technology make those works more public?

  • 12:32:06

    FRICKI think what the Rijksmuseum did is amazing and earning their rubric of the Rijksstudio which has really seen these high-resolution images. And the -- I guess the folklore behind that is that there's this real iconic painting by Van Gogh -- no, it's not.

  • 12:32:23


  • 12:32:23

    FRICKRembrandt. Thank you. Martin can probably tell a story better than I. But supposedly, all the images that were out on the Internet, which were rogue images, weren't officially branded from the Rijksmuseum, showed a very yellowed version of this painting. So when people came to visit the museum and saw the real painting on the wall, when they saw that it was more white and the colors were a little bit more vibrant, it was like, what's this fake painting doing on the wall? This is not the one that I expected here.

  • 12:32:50

    FRICKAnd so there was this aha moment for the museum saying, you know, there's all these -- I don't want to say bad information -- but not the best, and we control this information. We have it in our house. So how we can push this back out? So that's kind of inspired them to push out these images as part of this open glam movement. And I'm trying to get back to you question.

  • 12:33:12

    FRICKI think this a great moment where we can do more of the sharing, we can show how -- and as a result of putting these images out, and there's a great case study from the Walter's gallery, which is a little bit closer to home up in Baltimore, they actually see more people coming to the museum both physically and online when they released the images out.

  • 12:33:34

    FRICKAnd they have users that they never would've imagined from areas of the world, different areas in the socio-economic strata using -- I know from Walter's art gallery's, you know, Islamic images, stuff from medieval manuscripts, popping out on people, teenager's Facebook pages. I mean, that's just -- they never could've done that before. So kind of by releasing, you get an impact that you never could've done from targeted marketing.

  • 12:34:03

    NNAMDIAnd Martin writes, "Museum also seems to be saying, look, we know that people will use these images in all kinds of ways. That doesn't matter to us because, well, we have the original right here."

  • 12:34:12

    KALFATOVICCorrect. The other thing which many people sometimes don't realize is that what people see in museums is just a very tiny piece of the iceberg of what are actually in those collections. Smithsonian has 137 million objects in its collections. We obviously can't put all of those in the museums at any point in time, so through digitization, we can provide either access to those in some way or information about them that people can use. So it's very important to push those things outside of the walls because there's much more than fits inside what the public can see.

  • 12:34:43

    NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Aaron in Alexandria, Va. Your turn, Aaron.

  • 12:34:49

    AARON (CALLER0Hi. Great show as always. I'm very interested in the digital media as far as books are concerned. And I recently purchased a Kindle which did not have the text-to-speech option. I was wondering if that was one of the concerns as far as licensing when having books that are available in electronic format, if getting converted from text-to-speech would cause an issue with licensing 'cause I know that becomes actually an audio product.

  • 12:35:16


  • 12:35:17

    COHENRight. There's just so many complex, you know, regulations around books. There's -- I think the caller is referring to a case where I believe Amazon, their Kindle program was trying to make audio versions available, and, of course, there are large populations including the blind who really need audio versions of books. But the licensing around e-books has become incredibly complicated.

  • 12:35:39

    COHENAnd we understand, I think, from our side -- and Rachel and Martin and I understand -- that publishers are concerned about materials leaking out onto the Internet and versions being swapped and digital copies being exchanged, and that's certainly going on. But, again, I think copyright law and the laws around reading and research in the United States have always tried to focus on creating a balance, a balance where people of whatever need and abilities can get access to materials, but that also publishers can make money off of those things.

  • 12:36:09

    COHENAnd so I think the question with e-books now is you look at issues like audio books or audio versions of books and how these things are structured and licensed. It's just become a little bit too complicated and a little bit too much leaning on the side of the content creators and not enough on the side of the public that really wants -- makes maximal use of these books.

  • 12:36:31

    FRICKYeah. I was just going to say the DPLA right now actually provides a right moment to look at different models. You know, from a, you know, how we might not be able to work in the same type of terms and the same type of environment as we have in the past so this is a great moment to maybe bust the mold and look at those from a completely different perspective.

  • 12:36:49

    NNAMDIThat's what I was going to ask you about. With the launch of the DPLA, some public libraries worry that donors will see the digital library as a replacement for physical libraries. How do you think the online library will affect traditional libraries?

  • 12:37:04

    FRICKActually, I think it brings an amplification of what libraries can do and, once again, maybe gets people to look at their libraries in a slightly different way that they have been before. I think we're in a transformational moment for libraries and cultural heritage organizations to get our folks to see us not just as buildings that hold objects but actually vibrant, energetic centers.

  • 12:37:28

    FRICKI know for public libraries as being hubs of their community to get people to understand about their environment and be a place to learn and connect with their government and connect with their community. So like I said, the DPLA, in my mind, is a way for a public library to extend its reach and amplify what it does do within it's community.

  • 12:37:48

    NNAMDIWhile the digital public library may not be the future of traditional libraries, how do you think the role of public libraries will change as we head into an increasingly digital age?

  • 12:38:01

    FRICKI don't think it changes. If you kind of look at the history of public libraries and its function within a Democratic society or -- David Lankes has a great view on what is the mission of librarians which is the facilitation of creating new knowledge in our communities through open access to information. And if that's the mission or the purpose of the libraries, that remains consistent through the changes with technology.

  • 12:38:31

    FRICKAnd there is a great report that was published probably about, I want to say, six years ago by Urban Libraries Council about how our public libraries are actually are -- could be small business incubators, are actually the hubs of our community, are the one place where people actually still can get onto the Internet.

  • 12:38:50

    FRICKA lot of people use our public libraries as their only way to get on the Internet. And when you see the Internet, it is the only way that you can fill out forms to get government benefits or apply for jobs or, you know, talk to your government. That's really, really important. So being that community hub, being that heartbeat is that purpose that's going to remain.

  • 12:39:16

    NNAMDIWell, Dan, the DPLA at this point only includes a handful of local online connections in the U.S., and it doesn't include the many libraries that don't have any digital collection at all. How can the digital public library involve more local libraries in the project?

  • 12:39:34

    COHENRight. Well, I think this is a great time for the DPLA to go out along with local collections, local libraries, archives and museums to try to get funding -- and that might happen at a national or local level -- to bring their collections online. I think, as Rachel pointed out earlier, we have a wonderful model where there are these service hubs, sort of local, regional -- state or regional digital libraries that can help them out with this process.

  • 12:39:58

    COHENBut we'd love to bring online great local collections, collections that are in towns all across the United States that could be scanned in. And when you think about that, it really does complement what's going on with local libraries that might have a small archive, let's say a few hundred photographs from the 19th century also in their collection along with recent best-sellers. And if we can reach out to them and raise money to digitize those collections, those will be entirely new online primary sources that we haven't had access to before, and we can share those with the world.

  • 12:40:33

    NNAMDIAnd, Rachel, I know this is close to your heart because you work with your local public library in Smithsburg.

  • 12:40:39

    FRICKYeah. I'm on the advisory board for the Smithsburg Public Library. Smithsburg, for folks who don't know, is a small town northwest of here, about 3,000 people close to the Pennsylvania line. And we're actually going to be celebrating our bicentennial in a couple of weeks. And one of the activities at the public library is we have a well-known historian talking about the shelling of Smithsburg, and we're having an author there.

  • 12:41:02

    FRICKBut also we coordinated with the larger Western Maryland public library district to bring in their digital librarian and some scanners to ask people to come bring their artifacts, their things, their photos, their diary so we can digitize them and add them to the Western Maryland digital library with the hopes that that collection will become part of the Digital Public Library of America.

  • 12:41:25

    FRICKSo that's exactly illustrating the point that Dan was making earlier: How do we connect people's personal stories to this larger national context and then, as a result, have a richer song to sing about certain events in America?

  • 12:41:41

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this Tech Tuesday conversation on the Digital Public Library of America, DPLA. You can still join the conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850. What do you see the -- as the role of the public library in the 21st century? What would you like to see included in the Digital Public Library of America? 800-433-8850 or send email to I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:43:50

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our Tech Tuesday conversation on the Digital Public Library of America with Dan Cohen. He is the founding executive director of the DPLA. He's currently director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Rachel Frick is director of the Digital Library Federation program at the Council on Library and Information Resources.

  • 12:44:13

    NNAMDIAnd Martin Kalfatovic is associate director of the Digital Services Division at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries and program director of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Of course, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Dan, we had a question from a caller who couldn't stay on the air, who wanted to know -- oh, no, Scott from Columbia, Md., who wanted to know if there is or will be an online tutorial on how to navigate the library.

  • 12:44:44

    COHENYes. That's actually right next on my to-do list is to have a brief video introduction. I think that -- we'd like to think it's transparent and you can just jump right on the site and start using it. But I think as I noted earlier, there's a lot of different ways to make your way into the collection. Some people work spatially. Some people work by keywords. Others work by subjects or timeline. And we sort of want to provide the best introduction possible so that people can make their way through the collection and discover new things.

  • 12:45:12

    NNAMDIWell, Martin, traditional libraries have played an important role in providing essential services to the public like computer training, literacy programs. The Digital Public Library may have an open API, but many people still don't know what an API is. Has the Digital Public Library considered how to bring that skill to the general public?

  • 12:45:32

    KALFATOVICFor those of you who don't know, an API is an application protocol interface or application programming interface. And what it basically enables anyone, really, to do is to, by coding, access resources and data and build their own interface to it. For the DPLA, that's a very important skill set for people that -- to have data for them to use in these types of things. There's a lot of emphasis on STEM, science, technology, engineering and medical education out there.

  • 12:46:04

    KALFATOVICAnd this is an -- good example of something that people can really get interested in in terms of actually building things themselves with this type of data. So it's a really fun kind of thing. I don't know if you may have noticed, but there's recently a Girl Scout badge for coding just came out. So now we can have our scouting people out, kids out there actually coding. And we have some really great content through the DPLA that they can actually build fun, useful and educational things with.

  • 12:46:31

    NNAMDIRachel is like, they didn't offer that, but I was in the Girl Scouts.

  • 12:46:33

    FRICKI know. I so want that badge. I'm getting out my sash. I'm going to get one.

  • 12:46:37

    NNAMDIOne app allows users to search the Digital Public Library and Europe's own online library, Europeana. That means you can search the combined collections of American and European archives at one time. How might online libraries around the world collaborate going forward, Dan?

  • 12:46:54

    COHENWell, I'm glad you pointed out that application because it really shows how expansive and compelling an idea, something like the DPLA, is when you think globally. So we're using what's called a data model -- a way of structuring information about America's collections -- that is, in fact, compatible with the one used in Europe by a project called Europeana, which is available on the Web at And that project, on its own, has aggregated over 25 million items from 27 countries in Europe.

  • 12:47:25

    COHENAnd we can imagine -- and I think this exercise that a programmer went through to combine the two very quickly using our API and their API shows that you can start to build up from these national and indeed multi-country collections a global digital library as long as we can use interoperable data in that way. There's a similar project going on in Australia called Trove Australia, which has tens of millions of items online. And you can start to think about building together a really reliable and robust global digital library in this way.

  • 12:48:03

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Ed, who asks, "I was wondering if your guests could explain how they see DPLA content fitting in or collaborating with Wikipedia."

  • 12:48:15

    FRICKI'll go for it.

  • 12:48:16

    NNAMDIPlease, Rachel.

  • 12:48:17

    FRICKWell, I think it's a way to enrich Wikipedia. So there's this idea called linked data or linked open data, and Wikipedia has a big pile of this data called -- I want to say it's Wikia. Go ahead.

  • 12:48:33


  • 12:48:33

    FRICKDBpedia. So one of the things we're starting to see from our cultural heritage organizations is when they open up their information, they can enhance Wikipedia entries with images and information from their libraries. So if you think about DPLA being this big pile of all this aggregated information from our cultural heritage organizations, if we could publish or push out the metadata as linked open data, and then it gets picked up by DBpedia, then it ends up informing all of those entries within Wikipedia. I don't know if I explained that quite well. Martin, do you want to help me?

  • 12:49:09

    KALFATOVICI think the extra add-on to that is, again, there is such an active Wikipedia community out there that now this, again, provides them with good references and citations, so there's a lot of criticism of Wikipedia about it not being valid or it has incorrect data in it. The stuff that's in DPLA is coming from important sources all around the country that are pretty verified.

  • 12:49:31

    KALFATOVICSo what DPLA will do to help enhance Wikipedia is provide those references that you can actually cite in a Wikipedia article with an actual link that people can go back and check that and actually to prove that it is a verifiable source.

  • 12:49:47

    NNAMDIOn to Tim in Greenbelt, Md. Tim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:49:53

    TIMYeah. I was wondering about the long-term storage DPL. I'm very familiar with IT issues regarding storage, and I was very worried about how DPL is going to address the archiving of the data.

  • 12:50:07

    KALFATOVICI'll take that one.

  • 12:50:08

    NNAMDIPlease do, Martin.

  • 12:50:09

    KALFATOVICWhat -- right now, DPLA is primarily a metadata aggregator. So really, all the DPLA is storing at this point is metadata for those multimillions of objects. So it's a relatively small bit size of content. What we are hoping and focusing on is that those providers are doing a lot of the digital preservation portions of DPLA content. So all of those content hubs around the country -- the Smithsonian, New York Public Library -- those institutions are responsible for the actual storage maintenance of the digital objects themselves.

  • 12:50:45

    KALFATOVICSo right now the size of the DPLA database is very manageable in terms of digital preservation. It's easy to transform into different types of systems and services. So really, it's the background content providers that are the -- responsible for that digital preservation.

  • 12:51:04

    COHENAnd I would just add one comment to that. As an open-data project, any one can come through and just take all of our metadata with them and start somewhere else. And this shows another advantage of open projects in this way is that data can be replicated in multiple places. We're not Google Books where you can't download all of Google's information from Google. But you can, in fact, go to and grab everything that we have and take it with you and replicate it somewhere else.

  • 12:51:31

    FRICKAnd I think this is also an example of partnering. I mean, right now, DPLA is focusing on gathering and access and discovery. And we haven't really waded into the murky waters of digital preservation, which is quite another topic, in and of itself, but we can partner with already networks, digital preservation networks like the National Digital Stewardship Alliance, DPM, which is the Digital Preservation Network, and other national efforts that are emerging right now just around digital preservation.

  • 12:52:01

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Tim. We got an email from Wendy in Silver Spring, who writes, "I'm a playwright and screenwriter who is working on a script about Agnes de Mille. Assuming at some point I'd need to make a trip to New York City to research at the dance library at New York Public Library, I'll be needing to see both turn of the century, dance films and early Hollywood silent films from her uncle Cecil and father William de Mille, can I now get to that through the digital public library?" Rachel, Dan, Martin?

  • 12:52:32

    FRICKI don't know. I haven't looked up that search term.

  • 12:52:33

    COHENYeah. I haven't looked up that either.

  • 12:52:35

    FRICK(unintelligible) Kojo, go.

  • 12:52:38

    NNAMDIWell, that's something to look for.

  • 12:52:39


  • 12:52:40

    KALFATOVICBut it is the case that -- and I think this is a great research example where having a collection that is more than just books, that, in fact, includes things like audio and video and images and diaries all in one place, that really shows the power. Once we have enough collections as partners and bringing all of this under one virtual roof, that you will be able to do these kinds of research for the first time.

  • 12:53:02

    FRICKWell, I think also that it shines a light on -- I want to say -- the dirty little secret that happens in libraries, archives and museums. That even though we had these millions of objects or these great collections that we have catalogued and we have available for people to look at in the public, we do have a lot of things that we -- that hadn't been processed or catalogued because it takes a certain level of expertise to go through these archives and process them and stabilize them and all those nerdy things that libraries like to do before we allow the public to touch things.

  • 12:53:30

    FRICKAnd so we have programs that actually fund the cataloging of these things. And I'm hoping when people discover the stuff online and they're missing the digital versions of those analog objects that are still in New York, that there is a way to spotlight and funnel money so we can digitize, stabilize and organize those objects.

  • 12:53:49

    NNAMDIWell, you may be able to help Lil, who emailed, "Will you be collecting older recordings? My great grandmother was a contralto singer in Boston in the early part of the last century. I found reference to a recording of one event where she sang, but so far have been unable to locate it or any other recording of her. How would you suggest I research this more thoroughly?" Rachel, this is one of the things you've been dealing with in Smithsburg, helping people to get personal collections digitized.

  • 12:54:19

    FRICKAbsolutely, you know, how do you research, you know, I think going to your local library and helping them go through, where can you find other objects, you know, other recordings. But recordings are really tricky because recordings -- going -- I hate to go back to copyright, but recordings are governed pre-1972 by state law. Am I correct? Yes, yes. So digitizing recordings tend to be a little bit more risky for our cultural heritage organization, so if somebody has recordings and wants to digitize them and help us out, that'd be great. But, Dan, I'm going to toss it over to you.

  • 12:54:57

    COHENYeah. I mean, music copyright is very complicated because there has been the recording and the actual publisher of the music. And so they do often fall into a kind of copyright hole that's hard to get out of.

  • 12:55:10

    COHENBut I think, you know, one of the things that DPLA will do is to provide pointers where we don't actually have the stuff our self to actual collections in those regions and in those areas, where people can follow up, say, with the service hub, which will probably have much better knowledge than we'll have in the so-called central office of DPLA, of where other archives and collections might be that this researcher could go to and visit physically. We're not opposed to that. I'm a very traditionally trained historian, and I love physical archives as well.

  • 12:55:36

    NNAMDII was about to say many of the great research tools have been reserved for students, professors and researchers in academia. What does a database like the digital public library mean for the hierarchy of higher education?

  • 12:55:50

    COHENWell, I think Rachel used the perfect world earlier, and that's about democratization. I'm lucky enough to have been at universities that have great research collections, and I was able to get funding to go overseas and visit these dusty local archives. But most people don't have that kind of access. And so what I think a project like DPLA does is it says to Americans and to do the world that we can, in fact, open up this research environment. We can make it more broadly available.

  • 12:56:16

    COHENWe can allow people who have specific research projects and interests, like our prior caller, to get online and begin their project some place. And that's, I think, really important as we think forward into this century, how we are going to work as a place of reading and of research and as a democracy. So I think that democratization is a critical part of the Digital Public Library of America.

  • 12:56:42

    NNAMDIKevin emails, "I just did a search on the digital public library website for Potomac River, and it came up with mostly historical photographs from the Smithsonian, Library of Congress and federal agencies. This is very interesting. But I was wondering if there are plans to include other sources of images, such as Wikimedia, Flickr, or Picasa and Google Images." Any such plans, Dan?

  • 12:57:05

    COHENWell, we would like to have more recent materials as well. And I think a lot of this just goes through the process of how can we get partners, how -- it's a social process, really. I've talked about this when talking about the DPLA a lot, is that, really, the DPLA is as much as social project as a technical project. It's one about thinking about collaborations, thinking about people coming together for a unified project. And so a lot of this collection will be built on a kind of personal basis.

  • 12:57:32

    COHENWe just announced actually this morning that David Ramsey, who has really one of the great private collections in the United States of tens of thousands of historical maps, a really unbelievable, unparallel collection -- well, David Ramsey has partnered with DPLA and just today has made available over 30,000 maps, many of them of the United States through all ages available through our site that people can find.

  • 12:57:57

    NNAMDIDan Cohen is founding executive director of the Digital Public Library of America. He is currently director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University. Rachel Frick is director of the Digital Library Federation Program at the Council on Library and Information Resources. And Martin Kalfatovic is associate director of the Digital Services Division at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries and program director of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Thank you all for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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