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The Digital American Public Library

May 9, 2012 Leave a comment

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is an initiative that has the goal to make the cultural and scientific heritage of humanity available, free of charge, to all. Where Google Books is caught up in an everlasting legal battle, a group of Harvard-led scholars have decided to launch their own project to put all of history online.

DPLA

When Google launched its Google Books project in 2004 with the goal to scan all the world’s books into its database, it was both praised and critisised heavily. Praised for its bold attempt to make it technically possible to digitise books on a scale never seen before. Critisised over the fact that a private company would control all of the worlds knowledge. In 2008, after being sued for copyright infringement for years, Google agreed to pay large sums to authors and publishers in return for permission to develop a commercial database of books. Under the terms of the deal, Google would be able to sell subscriptions to the database to libraries and other institutions while also using the service as a means for selling e-books and displaying advertisements. This led to even more controversy and several authors and libraries demanded to be excluded from Google’s database.

In a response to this, Robert Darnton, one of the biggest critics of Google Books, proposed to build a true ‘digital public library of America’ which would be ‘truly free and democratic’. Here, libraries and universities would work together to establish a distributed system aggregating collections from many institutions. Harvard’s Berkman Centre of Internet and Society accepted Darton’s ideas and is incubating it now. The project has several similarities with that other project that comes forth out of a response to Google Books: Europeana, and the two giants have already forged partnerships. Google still has to decide what their next steps are.

The vision of the DPLA is to provide one click access to many different resource types, with the initial focus on producing a resource that gives full text access to books in public domain, e.g. from Hathi Trust, the Internet Archive, and U.S and international research libraries. Most of its board members, including Brewster Kahle from the Internet Archive, favor a de-centralised network of different public libraries instead of building a centralised organisation which is responsible for all of its content, but this is still being discussed

In April 2013 the Harvard funded research program ends and the digital library has to be operational. A lot of progress has been made in the last year by organising several meetings and workshops and many volunteers have been recruited. Still, there are a lot of obstacles that have to be overcome.

As Google has also noticed, the technical implementation is not the hardest part, it is the copyright. Today, copyright for a work extends for 70 years after the death of the author and is applied by default to any created work. This means that it is now almost impossible to publish a work from the last century. Even when the copyright holders either are unknown or can’t be found, so called ‘Orphan Works’, the work can not be published online because the copyright law was automatically applied on all works retroactively, so without the copyright holder having to register it.
Many copyright experts argue that without a proper revision of the current copyright act, it will be very hard to include these orphan works in a digital database. Robert Danton however, believes that Congress might grant a non-commercial public library the right to digitise orphan books, which would make thousands of books available and an enormous step forward in the copyright debate.

The Digital Public Library is an ambitious project with great promise. In the next year they will continue to address the challenges that lie before them. A daunting task but with a potentially great outcome, where everybody with an internet connection can enjoy millions of books from America’s history.

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Categories: openglam

Open GLAM in Germany

January 22, 2012 Leave a comment

This post is the original blogpost I wrote for the open GLAM website. The final (edited) version can be found on www.openglam.org

Here in Germany, it appears that the open data debate is not quite as far ahead as in the UK or in the Netherlands (although they are working on it). All the more reason for different groups to set up new initiatives in order to fire up the discussion about making digital heritage available under an open license. Especially concerning the major role Germany has played in the history of Europe, amazing achievements can be obtained when the data can be freely (re)used by anybody. With the millions of paintings, photos, videos, maps, sculptures and archives available, the possibilities will be endless. Imagine watching any event during WWII through the eyes of both a German and a British Soldier, or to see the famous Pergamon Altar being enriched with objects from Greek institutions. New stories can be told and new insights in history can be found.

Different projects are being organized in different parts of Germany with GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) institutions. Goal is to bring different groups of people together and help each other to get as much open-access, freely-reusable cultural content available for the public.

A great example is the cooperation between Wikimedia Germany and the German Federal Archives (Deutsches Bundesarchiv). In 2008, the archive donated 100.000 photos out of its huge collection to Wikimedia under an open license. The photos made it possible for the Wikipedia volunteers to enrich the Wikipedia articles with images and this way bring them to life. The archive itself also benefited greatly from their donation. This cooperation led to dramatically increased visibility of their holdings and at the same time and the metadata and descriptions of the photos were constantly improved by volunteers.
The cooperation between Wikimedia and the German Federal Archives has since then been one of the prime examples of how successful releasing digital heritage under an open license can be. The full case study can be found here

The Wikimedia Foundation is currently the driving force behind most of the Open GLAM projects. Not only in Germany, but in many other countries as well, as for example the wikilovesmonuments project.

Organizing more successful GLAM projects is all about bringing people together. Lots of people at institutions are thinking about opening up their data but do not have the expertise. Both technical and legal. Others do not see the use of opening up their data or are skeptical towards it. By showing the rich scale of possibilities and letting programmers create new tools and visualizations with their data, we can show the advantages when cultural data is available under an open license.

In the future, the Open Knowledge Foundation will work together with different organizations to organize even more Open GLAM projects in Germany and help them making it easier for everyone to add, find and reuse cultural works which are under an open license.

Those who are interested in GLAM outreach and helping to join the effort to encourage cultural heritage institutions to open up the data they hold on their collections and digital copies of works, please join the discussion on the Open GLAM/Open Heritage mailing list. Or send me an email: joris.pekel@okfn.org