Take a walk with me

Posted by DPLA in May 4, 2012.

During my lunch break last week, I tuned into the livestream of the DPLA West lecture. I’m glad I did. The more I hear about the DPLA, the brighter my fervor for it burns. Making knowledge available to all is both pragmatic and optimistic. It’s pragmatic because even non-library professions (such as IT departments) need to have the documents that help them perform their tasks readily available. It’s optimistic because is it really possible to collect all the knowledge in America in one place; even if that place isn’t physical but rather virtual? Still, the goal is a worthy one.  Aiming that high will make even missing the mark a great victory. Some of things mentioned during the session got me thinking. So I’d like to take you on a walk alongside my stream of consciousness. Don’t be afraid, I’ve tidied up enough so that you can follow along.

Praveen Madan stated that browsing a physical bookshelf is three times powerful for discovery than its virtual iteration. That led me to wonder if the DPLA could bring that shelf browsing to the web. Granted it would be an ersatz shelf, but perhaps it would help level the playing field between physical and virtual idea generation. My thought is to have the web GUI be a bookshelf with the titles of the books on the spines and the user would be able to “walk” down the length of the shelf by scrolling. For journal articles or newspapers, there could be a magazine rack like you see at your friendly neighborhood bookstore. This would lend a SIMS or Second Life feel to the DPLA. I admit that this may come off as hokey for some folks but the great thing about technology is the separation of data and display. It would allow the DPLA to have a splash page where the user could choose a view. If they want to see a more tradition web page display, they can. After all, presentation is just as important as the data itself. How many times have you come across a web site, gnashed your teeth at the abomination of a visual display found therein, and went on your not-so-merry way? For that matter how often have you sought out the comfort of a bookstore or library in the stead of scrolling your way through web pages? The DPLA will replace neither wood and glass bookstores nor brick and mortar libraries. Mercifully, I don’t think that’s even their goal. Each institution has its place in the world. The DPLA will soon prove it has a place right along them and perhaps the virtual bookshelf I speak of will speed that acceptance.

Going hand-in-hand with discovery on this walk is agility. And that brings me to Tim O’Reilly. He said that going DRM-free has actually increased his market. So a tool that was implemented to protect the ebook is fast proving to be detrimental to it. Some people are so scared of losing money from illegal copying of e-materials that they’ve shot themselves in the foot. I guess that’s what happens when the conflicting values of profit and dissemination of knowledge clash. The great thing about technology is its mutability. Just because something was put in place doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. Just a short time ago, TOR Books, the sci-fi publishing titan, stated it’s moving to a DRM Free format for its e-catalog. There are also rumblings about Hachette going DRM free. It appears one major dam impeding the DPLA’s flow of knowledge is crumbling. With open formats like ePub available to the DPLA, they need not worry about their offerings being limited to one device or one operating system and that creates a very agile solution.

But perhaps the best thing I’ve heard about the DPLA is their patience. They’re not rushing to get something out there just to have something out there. If the driving forces behind it have the same enthusiasm as I do (and I’m sure mine is but a fraction of theirs) then it’s astounding that they haven’t risked debuting something and having it crash akin to Windows 98. The old maxim “measure twice, cut once” has been supplanted by “read the email twice, send once” as good advice to avoid embarrassing mistakes. It seems to me that the DPLA has taken that to the next level: “Design thrice, release once”. I do, however, wish they’d hurry up already…


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