Holiday greetings from DPLA

By John Bracken, December 23, 2020.

Dear Friends of DPLA,

Last week DPLA hosted our first (virtual) holiday reception. It was a risk—none of us ever had been to a virtual holiday reception before, and we weren’t sure exactly what we would do, or even if anyone would come. But with the encouragement of some of our friends (thanks, Keila!), we took that risk, and ended up with a gathering of more than 40  public librarians, college and middle school educators, technologists, and funders. We were joined by DPLA founders, longtime collaborators, and people whom we only met this year. I was reminded of the value of taking risks, and that the collective effort that is DPLA is itself a risk. And I was struck, as I have been so many times this year, by the breadth, dedication, and resilience of the extended DPLA community. With that in mind, I wanted to reflect on some of our achievements this year. 

A big thank you and congratulations to DPLA staff members Shaneé Yvette Murrain, Audrey Altman, Kiara Contreras, Michael Della Bitta, Kat Williams, designer Jasmine Lockwood, and our partners at Amistad Research Center, the A.U.C. Robert W. Woodruff Library, Avery Research Center, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Southern California Library, and Tuskegee University Archives on the launch of the Black Women’s Suffrage Digital Collection. Over a year in the making, this collection, which presents and helps contextualize the historic and ongoing contributions of Black women to the fight for racial justice and equal rights, came just at the time the world needed it the most. I look forward to watching this collection continue to grow and inspire new audiences.

In a year when the need for equal access to digital materials was thrown into stark relief, we’ve made huge strides in two areas:

First, we grew our DPLA Ebooks program. Our Open Bookshelf collection of free ebooks, managed by our Curation Corps of volunteer librarians, grew to nearly 9,000 books and we launched, where each of these books is available for free, instant download. The DPLA Exchange, the only non-profit ebook and audiobook marketplace, brought in new publishers and pioneered new, flexible lending models that help libraries expand access for all their patrons. We look forward to expanding this work in 2021, while remaining true to our library values of access, equity, and patron privacy. (Thank you to Michele Kimpton, Micah May, Jill Blades, and all of our partners for driving our ebook work.) 

Second, in a short period of time, our new Wikimedia project has vastly expanded discovery and use of DPLA artifacts. In 2020, DPLA has uploaded more than 1.25 million images from 7 partners to Wikimedia Commons, making us Wikimedia’s largest single contributor (special thanks to Dominic Byrd-McDevitt, Scott Williams, and Fiona Romeo of the Wikimedia Foundation for their work to implement this new program). Since the first item was uploaded in February 2020—just 10 months ago—DPLA artifacts have received more than 7.5 million views on Wikimedia. Items from DPLA now receive more than 2.5 million views per month. 

Lastly, long after the fight against COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror, our nation still will be coming to terms with and dismantling our legacy systems of racial oppression. This past summer, our Hubs network laid out a framework to begin the work ahead of them with the adoption of the IDEAS statement. (Thanks to Ann Hanlon, of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and Recollection Wisconsin, for leading this work.) I’ve also been heartened to see the Harmful Language Statement prepared in conjunction with the launch of the Black Women’s Suffrage Collection begin to be used as a model for similar statements from other institutions. (Audrey Altman wrote the first draft of the statement; Leanne Finnigan, Penelope Shumaker, and the DPLA Metadata Working Group helped to make it a reality.) 

DPLA is  committed to expanding our equity work and advancing diversity and inclusion in our field in 2021 and beyond. Please join us on January 15th for our first Community + Open Board meeting of the year. We’ll host Reckoning with our Pasts + Building Our Futures, a conversation about the steps libraries are taking to live up to their equity commitments, featuring the Vice Provost for University Libraries and University Librarian, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (and DPLA board member) Elaine Westbrooks, Black Metropolis Research Consortium Executive Director Marcia Walker-McWilliams, Penelope Shumaker of the Ohio Digital Network, and DPLA’s Director of Community Engagement Shaneé Yvette Murrain. Please register here.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone who makes this work possible, including our foundation supporters (Knight Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Pivotal Ventures, and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation), Hub network members, our individual supporters, and the DPLA board of directors

I am humbled to be among such an extraordinary group of people who are committed to a world in which access to knowledge is free and accessible to all. Thank you for all your efforts toward this crucial goal. I look forward to continuing to work in community and grow and expand this work.