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Digital Public Library Core Collections

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Digital Public Library Core Collections

This Wiki page will show planning and discussion for a program to proactively develop a collection of high-quality, up-to-date free digital information resources for public library users, comparable in information utility (if not in actual title selection) to the core collection of a well-supported public library. It is driven primarily by user needs rather than content availability: content is to be acquired as necessary to build the desired collection, rather than being built opportunistically from whatever content is readily available.

This program was originally proposed as a beta sprint, based on the statement of interest below and on a blog post by its proposer. The proposer withdrew it from consideration as a sprint, due to lack of time to flesh out the idea, but hopes that others will pick up on the idea and further develop it.

Initial statement of interest

This project was initially proposed by John Mark Ockerbloom. Here is the text of his statement of interest:

A well-funded digital library meant to serve all of the American public needs to have a collection that meets the everyday information needs of all of the American public. Simply digitizing public domain content and aggregating existing free resources will not suffice for this purpose; rather, a digital library that merits the name "public library of America" must freely offer informational and educational resources with currency, quality, and breadth of scope that compare favorably to those of well-supported local public libraries today.

This does not require acquiring, or paying for, all of the available or popular content available to libraries. Rather, with a proactive collection development strategy, and sufficient funding and public support, a digital public library can create, commission, solicit, or acquire rights to a systematic, targeted selection of current books and other information resources that will meet the most salient information requirements of a broad public, and supplement local library collections and services. Developing efficient mechanisms to connect with authors and publishers that have content of high informational but low commercial value, and acquiring rights to reuse and adapt this content to make it usable by broader audiences over longer time periods, will be important to making this strategy feasible.

It will take significant time, and broad involvement, to proactively build a high-quality, broad-audience general public collection. But with a firm, clear commitment at the outset by a broad-based coalition such as the DPLA, we can build such a collection without having to wait for any new technologies or copyright reforms. I invite interested partners to start planning and preparing to acquire this collection now. I elaborate on this idea further, and invite discussion, at the linked URL.

Requirements for a proactively built digital core collection

Below are what I think are the main components that require planning. Please fill in ideas for what needs to be done in these areas and who can do it.

Needs assessment


  • What subjects areas do digital public library patrons most need resources for?
    • e.g. Job hunting and career planning; K-12 homework help; literacy skills; "life skills"; civic participation; children and family issues; lifelong learning; area and ethnic studies; language learning; history and biography; scientific and mathematical literacy; travel guides; lifelong learning; etc....
  • What audiences are most in need of service? What resources would be the most welcomed and used?
  • What types of resources (books, articles, videos, tutorials, etc.) can best meet these needs?
  • What level of currency, quality, and accessibility, are needed?
  • How are these needs best expressed and monitored? (Maybe a grid.)

Who would best work on this:

Experienced public and school librarians should have good front-line insight on this. "Best books" bibliographies also have at least implicit needs driving their organization.)

Collection plan


  • Given the needs determined, what free resources already exist to meet them?
  • What non-free or non-digital resources exist for these needs that would be useful to acquire, or to use as models for new resource development and acquisition?
  • Where are there gaps in coverage, or resources that need updating or improvement?
  • Which resources can be updated or adapted? Where are new resources needed?

Who would best work on this: Bibliographers and people familiar with online web resources could be helpful in identifying good resources to acquire or emulate. (The Analysis of Digitized Works can be a useful starting point for resources already out there.) People who know and promote Creative Commons and similar open licenses can look for resources that are licensed for adaptation, or that could be so licensed.

Content acquisition


  • For resources already available online, should we plan to mirror, back up, and/or get explicit licenses for reusing them?
  • Are there resources that already exist that we can license for use or adaptation?
    • Look beyond the current "best-sellers" to material that might be cheaper to acquire, but still useful and adaptable
    • Look into possible new market mechanisms for licensing existing material, like Gluejar or Unbound.
  • Where can we create or promote the creation of new resources we need? Where does it make sense to do this instead of acquiring or adapting existing content? What mechanisms (in-house, commissioning, contests, etc.) can we use to create it?
  • How do we get the most "bang for the buck" in content acquisition?

Who would best work on this: Bibliographers, people with experience with licensing

Content adaptation

Needs to be fleshed out. Basically the idea is that existing works (either already published, or previously acquired or created by the DPLA) could be reworked to bring it up to date, to make it accessible to different audiences (based on age, language proficiencies, educational background, etc.) This would be possible if content is acquired with a license (such as Creative Commons) that allows derivative works to be freely made. It could be also quite a bit less expensive than acquiring content to exact order, or creating a resource from scratch, and could extend the useful lifetime of a work. It could also accommodate a wide range of volunteer talents (in translating, editing, artwork, digital formatting, etc.)

Support: Financial, personnel, in-kind

All three kinds of aupport are needed. Here we can discuss what resources might be available.

Evaluation and review

Needs to be some way of periodically evaluating content in the collection to see what needs to be updated, or is no longer relevant; and what areas need new content.

The project itself should also be reviewed to ensure that it's meeting its goals in a cost-effective way.

Goals for the project, and criteria for success

Should be fleshed out.

Who can work on it

Anyone. In this section, we can record who's expressed interest, who's volunteered to do some work or support the effort, etc.


Questions, answers, concerns, suggestions

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