A Proud Day for the DPLA

By DPLA, April 18, 2013.

On behalf of the Sloan Foundation and everyone involved with the Digital Public Library of America, our deepest sympathies go out to the victims and families of Monday’s horrific attack in Boston.  We salute the many acts of courage and kindness exhibited by a city under siege.

Despite the fact that these tragic events have forced us to postpone the official launch celebration for the Digital Public Library of America at the Boston Public Library, today is a proud day for the DPLA.

Many decades in the visioning, two and a half years in the planning, with a small steering committee and an incubation hub at the helm, and featuring dozens of great libraries, universities and archives involved in hundreds of meetings, workshops and hackathons, attracting thousands of volunteers backed by millions of foundation and government dollars, today the Digital Public Library of America goes live!

It’s a proud day for education and progress, as if the Ancient Library of Alexandria had met the Modern World Wide Web and begun to digitize America for the benefit of all!

It’s a proud day for the DPLA and all the people who worked so hard to make this utopian vision into a functional, beta-stage reality.

It’s a proud day for the wonderful founding Executive Director of the DPLA Dan Cohen, a professor of history and new media recruited after an intensive nationwide search; for the former, masterful Chair of the DPLA Steering Committee and the new Chairman of the DPLA Board, John Palfrey; for the eloquent DPLA Board member and scholar Robert Darnton; for the tireless director of the DPLA Secretariat Maura Marx and her hardworking team at the Berkman Center; and for the talented new members of the DPLA Board of Directors.

It’s a proud day for all the dedicated members of the DPLA Steering Committee and early supporters and content providers which include representatives from great institutions across the country: the Boston Public Library; the New York Public Library; The Enoch Pratt Free Library; the San Francisco City and County Library; the Los Angeles Public Library; the Georgetown County Library; the Newberry; the Texas State Library; Mountain West Digital Library; Digital Commonwealth; Digital Library of Georgia; Kentucky Digital Library; Minnesota Digital Library; South Carolina Digital Library; Oregon Digital Library; the National Archives and Records Administration; the Smithsonian Institution; the libraries of Michigan University; University of Virginia Stanford; University of Illinois; Harvard University; the Internet Archive; the Hathi Trust; the Council on Library and Information Services; the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS); Arcadia Fund; John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH); Andrew Mellon Foundation; Open Society Foundation; Revson Foundation; and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

It’s a proud day for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. We are particularly proud to have supported the DPLA vision even before there was a DPLA, and to have participated in every step that led to this great moment. I wish to personally thank the Sloan Board of Trustees and Sloan President Paul Joskow for having the prescience and conviction to let us become the lead funders of this early-stage effort and to have backed it at every turn with millions upon millions of dollars so we could help DPLA reach this operational launch.

It’s a proud day for Sloan’s Universal Access to Knowledge program, which has been committed since 2004 to use advances in digital information technology to make the fruits of scientific and cultural knowledge available to everyone under the highest standards and values. Sloan made early grants to the Library of Congress, the Internet Archive, Wikipedia, the Boston Library Consortium, LYRASIS and the Medical Heritage Library to further this vision.

Sloan’s support for the DPLA started with a small seed grant of $36,388 to Radcliffe in October 2010 to hold a two-day conference on creating a National Digital Library. That conference, hosted by Robert Darnton with a planning committee of John Palfrey, Maura Marx, Carl Malamud and myself, was attended by 40 leaders from libraries, cultural institutions, government agencies and foundations. It led to the start of the DPLA and its one-sentence, founding charter that remains valid to this day. I recall standing by a whiteboard in front of that room and composing that sentence word by word, with input from every member, until we had ONE SINGLE statement we could all agree on for the DPLA: “an open, distributed network of comprehensive online resources that would draw on the nation’s living heritage from libraries, universities, archives and museums to educate, inform and empower everyone in the current and future generations.”

Immediately after that meeting, Sloan approved a $125,000 grant to the Berkman Center at Harvard to build on the momentum from the Radcliffe conference and develop the Digital Public Library of America through a series of workshops and meetings. By December 2010, we had established a Secretariat based at Harvard’s Berkman Center, assembled a steering committee of distinguished leaders with John Palfrey as Chair—his leadership has been key throughout—and later myself as Vice Chair, and created six workstreams, a web site a wiki and a discussion listserv. By March of 2011 DPLA held its first workstream meeting.In April, DPLA received additional support from NEH and OSI, and in May we held a meeting in Amsterdam that included cooperation with Europeana. In June, Sloan approved an $836,000 grant to the Berkeley Law Center to support the legal workstream of the DPLA by developing solutions to copyright obstacles facing public library initiatives.

In October 2011, the DPLA planning phase was officially launched at a Washington DC plenary hosted by the National Archives. The Sloan Foundation announced a $2.5 million grant for an intense two-year process of workshops, meetings, plenaries, research, pilot digitization, prototype development, and community building that would result in the launch of the Digital Public Library of America. The Arcadia Fund generously matched our $2.5 million, and the process that led to this great day was underway.

Finally, in December of 2012, after the Digital Hubs pilot began with support from Knight, NEH and IMLS, Sloan approved a $1.2 million grant to DPLA Inc, the first official grant to this newly incoporated entity, to launch DPLA as an independent, national organization and to hire an executive director and two key staff and to scale up. A search committee was established and after an intensive process we found and successfully recruited an outstanding candidate in Dan Cohen, who officially takes the reins today as the DPLA transitions from its planning phase to full scale-operations.

It’s a proud day for America and for students and teachers and scholars and anyone who cares about education or is seeking information of any kind. But of course today’s DPLA is only a protoype and much work and many challenges remain. Sloan is proud if its founding role—and proudly salutes its major DPLA foundation partners—but no single foundation can do this alone. DPLA is in discussions with several large, new potential funders and it calls on the foundation community—as well as private industry and government at all levels—to join us in this great historical undertaking for a national digital library that is open and collaborative and provides an unprecedented on-ramp for all scientific and cultural knowledge, in every form, from every corner of America.

Even in this solemn environment, it’s a proud day for the DPLA.

Doron Weber

Vice President, Programs, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

Vice Chair, DPLA Steering Committee

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