A Look at the State of the Book with DPLA

John Bracken, executive director of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), led the forum, which was held at the 2018 ALA Annual Conference on Saturday, June 23. The program consisted of an update of the DPLA’s work followed by a panel discussion.

Bracken, who has been in his position at DPLA for six months, structured his talk around what he has learned in that time. First, small organizations need low cost solutions to get online. DPLA can capture best practices, share those practices, and connect libraries that might not otherwise connect. Second, funding is a significant issue. Obviously libraries need more money, but there is a lack of recognition by the new generation of American philanthropists about the impact libraries can have on people and communities. The DPLA’s job is to tell libraries’ stories and show the solutions that libraries can provide for societal problems. And third, e-books are gaining momentum. As knowledge shifts from paper to digital, we need to consider the implications for issues like privacy and the common civic experience.

Michele Kimpton, director of business development and senior strategist for the DPLA, spoke next about the organization’s initiatives with e-books. DPLA launched a new platform to provide a library-centric, open platform and e-book marketplace. With funding from the Sloan Foundation, the new platform will test new models of e-resource access, licensing and innovation. The Open Bookshelf, launched just before conference, provides over 1000 openly licensed, curated books that include multicultural children’s books and textbooks. DPLA is partnering with Lyrasis to offer the Library Simplified platform to manage content from all vendors in one place, as well as the SimplyE open source app to deliver it to users’ devices. The goal is to empower libraries to take back control of e-books by allowing them to integrate open content with content from multiple vendors, curate that content, brand the site with the library’s name, and have space to innovate. Next steps include finding new partners, adding titles and testing new license models.

In conclusion, Bracken asserted that technology is rapidly changing how people interact with media. Libraries need to be at the table with the big players like Amazon and Apple to make sure our values and practices are respected.

The panel discussion featured Patrick Kennedy, co-founder and president of BiblioCommons (a company that designs public library catalogs and websites) and Veronda Pitchford, who is the director of membership development and resource sharing for RAILS (Reaching Across Illinois Library System), the Illinois library consortium that provides and shares resources to academic, public and school libraries in Illinois. When asked what is missing from the conversation about e-books, Pitchford stressed the need to expand access to all institutions, not just the large libraries. Also missing is better data and discovery across all libraries to avoid e-content deserts and data controlled by libraries instead of vendors. Kennedy referred back to the original Carnegie library mission, which was to provide access to content and an environment where users can interact with texts, ideas and each other. When asked about possible innovations in the next year, Kennedy said that libraries would be gaining more control over vendor-owned platforms. Pitchford agreed that libraries would begin to renegotiate their relationships with vendors about what content they receive and how they receive it. Other possible innovations include better access to multilingual and/or translated content.

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