Digital Natives Want It Now? – Never Gonna’ Happen!

At least NOT through efforts of the library community, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

On May 31, I Posted Digital Natives Want It Now!, in which I linked to a YouTube video of a cute little digital native describing what she wanted in her library – NOW! I stated;
Unfortunately, there won’t be a Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) in these Digital Natives’ youth. According to Ed Summers’ Blog (he’s a computer code writer at the Library of Congress) INKDROID, the agenda of the recent meeting of DPLA in Amsterdam (not as incongruous as it sounds) was for “The purpose of the May 16 and 17 expert working group meeting, …, is to begin to identify the characteristics of a technical infrastructure for the proposed DPLA.”

I also stated: Let me reiterate – “begin to identify the characteristics of a technical infrastructure”. Begin to identify by a committee is the same as “We have no clue as to when this might eventually become reality, if ever!”

And, “Summers goes on to write in his May 25 Post, ‘The thing I learned at the meeting in Amsterdam is that this nebulousness is by design–not by accident. The DPLA steering committee aren’t really pushing a particular solution that they have in mind. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus about what problem they are trying to solve. Instead the steering committee seem to be making a concerted effort to keep an open, beginners-mind about what a Digital Public Library of America might be.’”

As if that scenario Summers described wasn’t disheartening enough to a near future of a DPLA, now we understand that “public” and “academic” librarians are fighting over the name, among other issues. Fighting over the name! How is this going to help make a National Digital Library a reality?

Posted June 18 in LibraryCity, David Rothman believes that “Even if public libraries set up their own national digital library system, as I dearly hope, I believe it should not use the P word in its name. Better that local public libraries keep the brand name to themselves. … This is no small reason why I believe that tightly intertwined but separate library systems should exist for public and academic libraries, especially as “digital” counts more and more. I’d rather that elitist academics not tell public librarians what to do; status and institutional pecking orders mustn’t prevail over the public’s library needs. The current DPLA won’t even assure an academic-public split in the future…”

Is there any question why evolution happens so slowly within the library community? or, Why on the whole libraries are still operating with 20th Century mindsets? The mainstream library community stands upon the generally accepted principals of librarianship established by SLIS, ALA, and other such “professional” organizations that now can’t even agree upon a name to call an American national digital library. SAD!! Other nations have already developed their own national digital libraries. WHAT IS OUR PROBLEM?

But, leave it to the private sector to forge ahead with solutions!’s eBOOKNEWSER blog posted yesterday that 3M has a solution to digital libraries, and will partner with cutting edge local libraries to explore and move forward the digital library effort.

The new digital library will go into beta testing this summer, and 3M has revealed the names of some of the libraries, including Saint Paul Public Library (MN), Bergen County Cooperative Library System (NJ), Maricopa County Library District (AZ), Douglas County Libraries (CO), Darien Library (CT), Richland County Public Library (SC), and the State Library of Kansas on behalf of the Kansas Digital Library Consortium.

Where would we be without entrepreneurs – private and public! A heartfelt Thank You to all who move ahead for the common good!


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4 responses to “Digital Natives Want It Now? – Never Gonna’ Happen!

  1. Steve, I certainly share your eagerness for a national digital library system to exist for the U.S. As a library advocate, not a librarian, I’ve only been pushing for one for the last two decades or so. My political opposite, Bill Buckley, was for this crazy idea as far back as the 1990s.

    Alas, however, names do count. Already anti-library types are saying, “Let Google and Amazon do it,” and now the Digital “Public” Library will muddy things up further, at least unwittingly, at a time when so many brick-and-mortar libraries are facing cutbacks. Check the term “public library” in Wikipedia. No wonder COSLA is up in arms. The sad thing is that the DPLA could accidentally preempt the establishment of a system more responsive to general public needs. As now envisioned, it will be more of an open content effort than one offering the usual trade-publishing fare commonly found in real public libraries.

    Kids tend to want modern books for recreational reading (which, according to mainstream literacy experts, builds academic skills). The DPLA will be short on that.

    Other issues arise with the DPLA, by the way. The 16-member board does not include one K-12 educator or small-town librarian.

    Check out my Chronicle of Higher ed essay for an example of what a decent NDL would be like: I was for one system. But oh, the flames the piece drew from academics with little understanding of the public’s library needs! Also see my thoughts in Library Journal: .

    Glad to to learn of your own enthusiasm for the national digital library idea, and let’s hope we don’t have to wait another two decades or whatever for the right kind of NDL.

    David Rothman

    • David,
      Thanks much for the additional resources on this topic. Obviously, I’m a late-comer and novice on the national digital library topic, so I can’t begin to speak to the subject with any depth of knowledge of all the issues and obstacles. Fortunately, we have individuals like you who can and do.

      What I can speak to is a couple of decades of watching the librarian profession discuss and debate the same tired subjects year after year at annual conferences and in SLIS. I can speak to years of stagnancy in the mindset of ‘leaders’ within the profession that have placed us in the second decade of the 21st Century still clinging to the same tenets and practices of our grand parents’ library. What we have needed for these two decades are leaders who have a vision for the future of what libraries can and should be in a 21st Century society – not ones who wring their hands wondering what will become of libraries. “If there is no longer any question why we need libraries, why are libraries being closed and drastically underfunded more than other community and state services?“ at a time when they are most needed. [Library Leaders Face Tough Choices 1/10/11]

      I will concede that there is value in a name, branding, name recognition, name perception, etc. My criticism of this DPLA process, from all reports, is born of frustration over people in positions to do great things who spend their time debating turf and credit rather than real and useful issues. Obviously, your frustration is similar. What is sad is that the academic and school library sectors have been leaders in innovation for their constituents long before the public sector librarians. This DPLA issue is just status quo within the overall profession.

      My biggest concern is as “I’ve said “nature abhors a vacuum”, and where there is a demand commercial vendors are stepping in to fill that void. Business is more nimble and responds to market demands MUCH faster than any library organization.” [Technology Advances – SERIOUSLY!, 3/24/11], which is exactly what we’re seeing with this 3M digital library model that is being announced at ALA Conference this week. The issue is already out of our hands and being led by an enterprising private sector entrepreneur willing to partner with like-minded librarians. It seems like whatever the folks at Harvard and DPLA eventually come up with will be too little too late!

  2. Hi Steve:
    Thanks for working on this issue and for your post. I very much hope that you are wrong — that what we “eventually come up with will be too little too late” — but I equally hope that you might join us in the process of making something great happen.
    John Palfrey
    (chair of the DPLA Steering Committee)

    • Thanks for your comment.
      It is my greatest hope that I am wrong, but all indications to date led me to the conclusion I drew.
      It would be my greatest pleasure to help in any way possible to move libraries into the 21st Century arena before the demands of society and innovations of technology propel the private sector to replace our library institutions.
      When do you project that a National Digital Library might be a reality – in any form?

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