Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Getting libraries out of the horse-and-buggy days

In 1967, Dr. Vannevar Bush, who envisioned a computer capable of massive data retrieval in device he called a memex  published Science Is Not Enough, which included a chapter entitled "Memex Revisited," which considers the question of data compression and retrieval.  You can read the entire chapter here: http://www.bekkahwalker.net/comt111a/reading_pdf/memex-revisited.pdf

On p. 88, he brings a critical observation about priorities: 

The great digital machines of today have their exciting proliferation because they could vitally aid business, because they could increase profits. The libraries still operate by horse-and-buggy methods, for there is no profit in libraries. Governments spend billions on space since it has glamour and hence public appeal. There is no glamour about libraries, and the pubic do not understand that the welfare of their children depends far more upon effective libraries than it does on the collection of a bucket of talcum powder from the moon. So it will not be done soon. But eventually it will.

Now, 46 years, later, the public is understanding the importance of libraries, and the power of the internet to gather all the world's digitized information at put them at one's fingertips.On April 18 and 19, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) will celebrate its launch at the Boston Public Library. In keeping with the ideals underlying the project, there is no charge to attend, though the registration forms indicate the event has filled up.


The dream of the DPLA was to harness the power of the Internet to break through the silos that isolate vast quantities of data collection at various universities, museums, and libraries. It began to take shape in late 2010 when representatives of various institutions met at the Radcliffe Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and resolved to take the necessary steps to bring together that data through cooperative content sharing. In bridging the public-private divide, DPLA has had to overcome the challenge of managing metadata variations and staying on the right side of copyright law.
Read more in Metadata Key for Digital Public Library of America