The following post reflects Patricia Maus’s experience as the representative of a contributing institution to the Minnesota Digital Library, a DPLA service hub.
In 2004, I immediately accepted the Minnesota Digital Library (MDL) first-round invitation to digitize 750 photographs held in the collections at University of Minnesota Duluth, Kathryn A. Martin Library. No arm twisting was required. Photographs are always needed by researchers, and providing access to and copies of photographs always swallows up an archivist’s time. My time investment up-front would result in digitally accessible resources, eliminating researchers’ travel and replacing their collection guesswork with precision. Researchers view digital items and readily determine if they are germane to their work. This was an initial step away from full-serve to self-serve.
Leap forward to MDL holdings scooped into DPLA in 2013. For me, nearly 3,500 items and multi-paged documents (including original architectural drawings of the 1904 aerial bridge–the first of two such bridges on the planet) were immediately self-serve and more widely accessible to a greater audience.
In 2011, the University of Minnesota Duluth adjusted its campus goals to a focus on quality undergraduate education, which resulted in me “burning” two bridges that did not lead to academic research. First, since the DPLA’s launch, I have deliberately redirected genealogists and casual archives users to two resources. I say something like “You are so fortunate” or “I am so pleased to offer a remarkable new resource…” I redirect local people first to our excellent local public libraries. Second, I redirect locals and everyone else to the DPLA. People express their enthusiasm! I am thrilled! People who simply want to browse photographs (for fun) can do so for hours (for days!) without me having to transport a single box to the archives’ reading room and allow me to focus my energies on the UMD campus goal.
Let me set the quaint scene for you. The city of Duluth–a gem in beauty and quality–is located at the western-most tip of Lake Superior, a reasonable distance from nearly all traffic routes. People must deliberately go out of their way to come to Duluth. This distance is a hindrance that has been practically eliminated with the DPLA. People’s expectations of electronic access to resources every minute of every day–at the person’s convenience–is the DPLA advantage in a nutshell (does anyone say that anymore?). The DPLA extends my archives’ reach to a world-wide swath of educators, students, and the public who cannot or will not travel to Duluth. The DPLA is energy efficient!
Duluth stretches like a slim ribbon for 23 miles along Lake Superior’s shore, but there is also Skyline Parkway far above the lake providing an expansive miles-and-miles view toward the urban East. Duluth enlarged gradually by melding 13 adjacent towns; many persist as neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are captured in photographs. In some areas, the landscapes have changed little since the 1870s. People using online textual resources are no longer puzzled by local phrases like “past Hunter’s Park,” “up the hill,” “down by the lake,” “beyond Lester, or “out in Fond du Lac.” Using metadata, we cluster images of neighborhoods and a sense of place emerges. There is an ongoing interest in Duluth as a town built on a hillside with quantities of green space, expansive parks, networks of creeks and trails, as well as Lake Superior, making it unique in Minnesota. Visitors to the DPLA visit here virtually and see just what makes Duluth so physically different that people want to see Duluth–deliberately. DPLA could mean Deliberate Public Library of America. I am deliberately sending people to the DPLA, and it returns the favor.
Featured image credit: Wholesale District of Duluth, Duluth, Minnesota, 1924. McKenzie, Hugh, 1879-1957. University of Minnesota Duluth, Kathryn A. Martin Library, Northeast Minnesota Historical Center Collections via the Minnesota Digital Library.
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