A guest post from Annie Schutte, a librarian, teacher and consultant for the Knight Foundation
The following is part of a series that looks at The Digital Public Library of America – the first national effort to aggregate existing records in state and regional digital libraries so that they are searchable from a single portal. It focuses on one of the six state digital libraries that will act as a service hub for the project. It is written by Annie Schutte, a librarian, teacher and consultant for Knight Foundation. Photo credit: Flickr user Inner Spirit.
The Kentucky Digital Library‘s 800,000-page newspaper collection alone contains more items than many digital libraries—and that’s before you get to their more than 600,000 pages of books, photographs, archival materials, maps, oral histories and pages of other paginated publications. Associate Dean for Library Technologies at the University of Kentucky Libraries and Digital Public Library service-hub Director Mary Molinaro says that the even larger pot of aggregated content available will certainly be impressive, but “that’s just scratching the surface.” The true power of the digital library, in her opinion, lies in its completely open architecture, which she says will allow anyone to “use and reuse this content … in new and creative ways, which I think is going to be just magic.”
Molinaro says that its open data model will be “a game changer” that moves the aggregation beyond “just saving links” and a traditional interface where “people could browse through the collection.” But that doesn’t mean the exhibits that go along with the launch won’t be wonderful anyway, she assured. The Kentucky Digital Library is planning on showing us what they do best—bourbon—by sharing an exhibition that features oral histories and photographs from Prohibition.
In this interview, Molinaro talks more about the innovative oral-history and newspaper collections that the Kentucky Digital Library will share with the national project, how her collective plans to reach out to help new communities around Kentucky digitize their collections, and the infrastructure challenges involved in growing a new aggregation project this quickly.
Tell me a little bit about your organization and how you became involved with the Digital Public Library of America?
M.M.: At the University of Kentucky Libraries, we coordinate and act as a contractor on behalf of the libraries in the state of Kentucky and manage the Kentucky Digital Library. This is a large digital library and aggregates its content from archives and libraries around the state. We have small collections and then large collections, particularly from the University of Kentucky —a lot of our collections are in this, as well.
We have all this content, and our strengths are really in newspapers and in oral histories, as well as rich collections that are of interest to genealogists, particularly. A lot of the country’s genealogy went through Kentucky. As the westward expansion happened, a lot of it happened through Kentucky. And so, because of that, because of the way we’re an aggregator anyway for content, we have a lot of experience with that. And the strength of our content. I think we were selected to be a part of this program for those reasons.
We have content that’s of interest to a lot of people. And one of the things that’s been really important for me over the years is that last road—those places that really can’t do it themselves. We can do that on their behalf, and we have done that over the years, and so I think that’s one of the reasons that we’ve been selected.
Can you tell me a bit more about what’s unique about your collections and the services that you’ll be providing?
M.M: First of all, with the newspapers, we were one of the first partners for the National Digital Newspaper Program, funded by National Endowment for the Humanities, and working in concert with the Library of Congress. So we’ve been digitizing newspapers for a long time—for many years now—and we’ve learned it from the ground up. We didn’t outsource this to a vendor; we did it ourselves, and so we really know newspaper content.
So, we’ve got a lot of newspapers, dating back to—newspapers that are outside of the scope of that project—newspapers dating back to 1787. The first newspaper published in the state of Kentucky, we’ve digitized that, and it’s online. And so, we’ve got little, tiny papers; we’ve got African-American papers, which are very rare; and those newspapers are searchable and of interest to a lot of people.
We also have a very strong oral history program, and Dr. Doug Boyd from the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History is there at the University of Kentucky and part of the University of Kentucky Libraries. And we’ve worked in concert with the Nunn Center—our digital library services area—to develop software to make oral history searchable. So we’ve got this 30-year history of oral histories that have been collected on audio tape. Now they’ve been digitized—not all of them certainly; we’ve been taking a stab at that—working on a way to sync that up with a transcript and now indexing it so that you can search through the audio content, and now video, to get to those parts of the stories you really want to hear. And it’s not really. It’s for the whole state. But this project is really giving them that national focus for their collections. And we’re reaching out to communities and to libraries that really have no way to get their content online. They have great content, but just don’t have the ability to put it up, and nor would it be in a preservation repository like it would be when they put it in our repository. So, it’s allowing those conversations that we’ve wanted to have for years and that we’ve tried to have for years, we’re actually getting some traction with that.
Can you give me an idea of about how many different groups, libraries, societies, that you’re drawing content from and the variety of partners that you have there?
M.M: Well, we have a lot from the state universities, and I don’t really have the number off the top of my head—I probably should, but I don’t. We’ve got a number of small places where we have just a few collections, but it’s generally libraries—academic libraries, we’ve got some public libraries. The Lexington Public Library is one of our partners. In fact, we partnered on this newspaper collection—the old newspapers from 1787, they had the full run as hard copy. They had a really bad microfilm copy, and then we’ve digitized it and made it available in full color, and that is—that’s their crown jewel from their history collection. So these kind of partnerships are what I think the Digital Public Library of America is all about, and it just builds on what we want to do anyway. So it’s a huge opportunity for us.
What effect do you think the digital library launch in April will have nationally—for libraries, for archives, for patrons, for information providers?
M.M: I think when people think of the project, they often think of just a large, aggregated digital library—a lot of content. And it will be that, but it’s going to be much more than that in the way we’re working. We’re working in a very open way. We’re making the data available so that tools and services can be put up—apps, so to speak, so people can actually use and reuse this content. Find the content, and then use it in new and creative ways, which I think is going to be just magic. For instance, our oral history software, eventually we would like that to be integrated into the effort so that small, historical societies that have oral history collections would be able to use that software to make their collections accessible. And then people could use that. I can envision mashups like you have geolocated maps and find out photographs of those places with newspaper articles and with oral histories that took place in that. I can just think of the wonderful educational tools that could be built on this. And not just for schools—it will be wonderful for schools—but I think it will be wonderful for citizens, as well.
Do you see that changing the way that we access information or the way that information is stored online?
M.M: I really do, because I think that it’s in pockets now. You think that you can do a Google search, and you can search a lot of content. But I think you get the rich content that’s going to be available in the Digital Public Library —the really high-quality, vetted content from libraries—the best of our collections. To have that in an accessible way with tools to really use and reuse it, I think it’s going to be a game changer, and it’s going to be more than just saving links—which is great, people could browse through the collections, and we’re going to have wonderful exhibits that go along with it—but that’s just scratching the surface. I think once it is released, I think that’s where it’s going to be really exciting, to see what just regular people—programmers out there, librarians out there, teachers out there—will be able to do with this content.
Can you give me a preview of what your first exhibit is going to be when it launches?
M.M: Well, in Kentucky, we have some strengths, and bourbon is one of those. And our exhibit isn’t on bourbon, but rather on Prohibition. And so, we have some oral histories that are related to Prohibition, and photographs, and we’re just starting now to dig into this content. So, I think that it will be fun.
Post-launch, what challenges are you anticipating going forward as DPLA grows and expands?
M.M. Well, I think one of the challenges—and this isn’t a very exciting challenge, but it is a challenge for us—is we’re ramping up the amount of content that we are digitizing. We need to be able to manage that in a way where it’s not bottlenecked, where we can digitize really fast. We need to get it up online really fast, as well. And so, making our infrastructure strong to be able to accommodate all this growth in content is going to be a challenge. But this is something that we’re working on and thinking about now. So, I think that’s one of the things. I think another thing is just making those right personal connections around the state. We want to do that really well. We don’t want to make a misstep and lose out with people, so we’re thinking very carefully about how to do that in a real effective way so that everyone has a chance and a stake in it and feels included.
So what’s your hope for the future of the Digital Public Library? What’s your big-picture dream?
M.M: I just think this ability to use and reuse this content in ways that people cannot envision now. I think that’s my hope, that once it launches, that people will be able to see the potential. And I think it’s got much more potential than people think of immediately. I think a couple, three years down the line, we’ll have so much content aggregated, and we’ll be way down the road with these tools. I think it’s going to be so exciting and engaging communities even more so than we are from the start. This is a pilot, so I hope as it grows to include content from all the states, I think that’s going to be a wonderful thing, as well.