DPLA Takes a Look Ahead | ALA Annual 2022

John Bracken, Micah May, and Shaneé Yvette Willis discussed DPLA's new partnerships, recent projects, and the new Palace Project ebook platform during the “Digital Public Library of America: A Look Ahead” session at the American Library Association’s 2022 Annual Conference.

DPLA logoRecent months have been active for the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which will celebrate its 10-year anniversary in 2023. In May 2021, the organization announced an agreement with Amazon Publishing that would make the company’s ebooks available for libraries to license for the first time. Since then, DPLA has partnered with LYRASIS to launch The Palace Project ebook and audiobook platform; welcomed Northwest Digital Heritage and the NJ/DE Digital Collective as new service hubs; made more than 50,000 new cultural heritage artifacts from the Orbis Cascade Alliance available; and last month reached an agreement with Amazon’s Audible subsidiary to make the company’s audiobooks available to libraries for the first time. In addition, DPLA this spring announced that the images it has been adding to Wikimedia Commons have received over 100 million views since that collaboration began in 2020.

The organization’s recent work and upcoming plans were discussed during the “Digital Public Library of America: A Look Ahead” session on Saturday, June 25, at the American Library Association’s 2022 Annual Conference & Exhibition in Washington, DC. John Bracken, executive director; Micah May, director of ebook services; and Shaneé Yvette Willis, director of community engagement for DPLA presented during the session.

“The time we’ve spent in prolonged separation over the past two years forced us all to learn new ways of connecting,” Yvette Willis said, “But perhaps it was the collective experience of political disintegration that most transformed our thinking about partnerships and how we serve who we serve. One thing we know to be true—now more than ever—is that connection doesn't happen on its own; we have to design for it.”

Yvette Willis discussed DPLA’s progress on several different initiatives. In 2020 the DPLA Network Council developed a statement on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Social Justice (IDEAS) to guide the organization’s future work. This summer, Yvette Willis said, the organization will launch The Digital Equity Project: Advancing Racial Justice in American Archives. “Over the next three years DPLA will invest in the advancement of community based and community serving partners to increase their capacity to lead high impact equity forward projects by providing grants for underrepresented under-resourced archives and creating network building opportunities for them to become equal participants in sharing historic collections,” she explained.

(On Monday, June 27, two days after this presentation, DPLA announced an $850,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support its efforts to advance racial justice in American archives. And last week, the organization announced partnerships with Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Seattle Public Library, and DPLA’s Recollection Wisconsin Hub/University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Libraries, which will be the initial cohort of the new Digital Equity Project Community of Practice. These libraries will receive subgrants for projects that will create a collaborative model for partnering with diverse archival projects).

In addition, the Internet Archive’s Community Webs program announced a partnership that will enable DPLA to ingest metadata from over 700 Community Webs archives collections into DPLA, “including thousands of archived websites and millions of individual web-published resources that document local history and underrepresented groups,” Yvette Willis said.

“This summer also brings to fruition a partnership two years in the making,” she added. “Five New York–based Jewish heritage organizations—facilitated by the Jewish Heritage Network—will operate primarily as a [DPLA] content hub maintaining a repository of over 200,000 records from leading Jewish institutions, providing a broad perspective of the history and culture of Jewish people both in the U.S. and around the world. These connections bring value to DPLA users by filling content gaps increasing representation and fulfilling their needs for open freely accessible information that is relevant and reflective of the voices, perspectives, and histories of their communities.”



May gave an update on The Palace Project, the new nonprofit, open source ebook platform and e-reader app developed as a fork of the New York Public Library’s Library Simplified project and SimplyE platform. Funded initially by the Alfred P. Sloan foundation and later by a $5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Palace Project is a division of LYRASIS, working in partnership with DPLA. Currently more than 400 libraries in 11 states—including California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, and Washington—are rolling out the app.

In May’s live demo, he showed how the Palace Project’s e-reader enables patrons to seamlessly discover content from multiple vendors in the same interface. Single searches surfaced ebooks from OverDrive, bibliotheca’s Cloud Library, and the project’s own Palace Marketplace (formerly DPLA Exchange), which offers ebooks and audiobooks under a variety of licensing models from all of the “big five” publishers, as well as Amazon Publishing and Audible, and more than 1,000 additional publishers.

“At its core, what The Palace Project does is it allows libraries to bring content from any source they want together in one place and aggregate it so their users can find it in a simple, easy-to-use interface,” he explained. “It puts them in control of their digital shelves—of their ebook and audiobook services—so they can control everything from how the content is presented to patrons to what the privacy settings are like.”

In addition, the platform will enable libraries to make available locally digitized content, openly licensed content (the Palace Marketplace currently offers a curated collection of free titles reviewed by librarians), or content from DPLA, which has recently begun compiling and publishing ebooks related to major current events. For example, DPLA published The Report On the Investigation Into Russian Interference In the 2016 Presidential Election—the Mueller Report—in EPUB format in its Open Bookshelf collection in 2019. (The U.S. Department of Justice had released the report as non text-searchable PDF, which presents accessibility issues and otherwise is not an ideal format for e-readers.)

“A few years ago, we started experimenting with digital publishing,” May said. “We recognized that often there were important texts that libraries didn't have a good way to serve or access.” Often this meant not having a EPUB version of the text available. “As you probably know, EPUB is the best format for people with text disabilities, [and] people using e-readers,” he said.

Since the publication of the Mueller Report, “we’ve continued with those experiments,” May said. “We did a compendium called the impeachment papers which was…thousands of pages of documents related to the Trump impeachment. And then most recently, with specific support from the Sloan Foundation, we published a COVID archive which we're really excited about. We took on a new model for that, and I think an exciting one. There were literally tens of thousands of pages of government documents related to the pandemic that were already starting to disappear from the web.” Since DPLA anticipated the collection being used primarily for research, a permanent archive of more than 3,000 documents was created with a digital finding aid. Currently, DPLA is creating another similar free resource regarding the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.



Bracken concluded the presentation portion of the session by discussing some of DPLA’s other recent projects and collaborative efforts that were formed during the pandemic.

“One of the things we've really focused on, since we haven't been able to be in a room together…we've tried to use it to emphasize the ‘D’ part of our name and…develop small ‘c’ communities of practice over the last two and a half years,” he said.

These efforts included “Collaborating for Access,” a series of webinars hosted in partnership with ReadersFirst and the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) that have covered topics ranging from book challenges to inclusive ebook design.

“We also developed a series called DPLA Book Talks where we feature authors—we’ve done around a dozen now,” Bracken said. “And most recently we kicked off a collaboration with MIT Press,” which hosted its first Book Talk in June.

Another pandemic adaptation that “has grown out of collaboration and…really community input…is we now do open Community Board meetings” online, he said.

Bracken added that DPLA’s new board will be meeting in person for the first time this fall. With the organization’s 10-year anniversary approaching, the occasion will offer an opportunity “to celebrate the work and progress of the last 10 years, and to better understand or reflect on what we’ve gotten right and [what we’ve] missed—especially over the last two years…. [And to have] critical conversations…about race and power and enabling liberation, and where that places us as an organization.”

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Matt Enis



Matt Enis (matthewenis.com) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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