Digital Libraries vs. Our National Dumb-down and the Endless Loop ...

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14 déc. 2013 (il y a 3 années et 3 mois)

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Digital Libraries vs. Our National Dumb
down and
the Endless Loop

This file reproduces the post at as it
exists on Oct. 5, 2011, with hyperlinks

please regard it as a draft, not a polished final. Copies
re or will soon be available at the just
given address in the ePub, Word, PDF, and Kindle
formats. A summary appears at the end. I’m reachable at 703.370.6540 and and will welcome suggestions of all kinds.

David Rothman

Even after

two U.S. bullets ripped into Osama bin Laden, a bigger
threat remained

the dumbing down of America. Some high school students,
in fact, as told in the book
, have described “Al” Qaeda as a

person. And the budget debate has been endlessly gummed u
p by many Tea
Partiers' disdain for the basics of business and government, not just
their hatred of Barack Obama, Darwin, climate
changers, Keynesian
economists, and a host of other evil

All too often, the media serve as megaphones for ignorance a
nd for
knowledge demagoguery; and Jay Rosen, a New York University
journalism professor, has coined a disturbingly useful term.

“The leading contender for the Republican nomination for
president,” he wrote of Rick Perry in August when the Texas gove
was riding much higher in the campaign, “is emerging as a climate
change denialist. We might call this ‘verification in reverse.’”
Convince voters to doubt the widely undoubted and go into a mad
mode, then exploit their indignation. VIR or var
iants certainly abound
in the school
library area, exacerbated by the weak economy. Think
of all the know
nothing stinginess toward school libraries despite the
test score mania and evidence they tend to promote student achievement..

But could the Di
gital Public Library of America, the Harvard
hosted online library initiative, help break us out of an endless loop,
to use some computer jargon

the very reluctance of the country to invest

wisely enough in education, libraries, and other wealth
building activities, because so many slogan
addled voters and miserly
politicians have slighted the country’s knowledge needs and we’re
slowly growing still dumber? Call
the process “re
verification,” the
opposite of the phenomenon Rosen described. And alo
ng the way, Harvard
could do more than now to honor its own civic and moral obligations.

The DPLA cannot replace what I personally would see as essential
measures: well
planned economic stimulus or smarter tax or trade
policies or better labor, campaign,
and voting laws. But in factual

for example, through the addition of “civic dashboards” to
library Web sites, a concept I'll explain here

the DPLA could encourage
more rational dialogue on economic and other issues than Washington and
so many in the m
edia have inflicted on us so far. Small c, please; no
Hondas involved. Discussion of the DPLA's mission is timely, since the
organization will be the topic of an international conference at
Columbia University on October 11, and separately it will hold a m
welcome public meeting in Washington, D.C., on October 21.

style online library initiative, partly aimed at helping us
escape from the endless loop, could tie in with efforts from independent

grassroots media, nonprofit news organizations such
as the ProPublica
investigative effort, and nonpartisan groups such as the League of Women

Voters. The idea here is not to turn libraries into propaganda mills
that ban writings of Sarah Palin or Rick Perry. In fact, thoughtful
conservatives would welcome
accurate information that buttressed their
own arguments on issues such as tax policy. For example, how about
vetted writings on the risks of excessively high marginal rates on
capital gains reducing incentives for executives of start
up companies
in cruci
al areas such as technology? The well
informed on all sides
could benefit from the powers of links, interactivity, and potential
access to a greater range of materials, as well as libraries' better
integration with the existing World Wide Web and social me

No “Truth Central,” Please

A “Truth Central” would not exist. Rather, just as now,
individual librarians and acquisitions committees would point patrons to

material they deemed helpful.

In addition, news and opinion sections promoted on local libra
systems' home pages via civic dashboards would offer diverse, documented

perspectives and link elsewhere. High school students among others could

participate, acquiring practical civic experience in the adult world,
especially on matters affecting them,

rather than simply memorizing the
nuts and bolts of government. Library and news professionals

yes, I’ll
discuss funding possibilities

would supervise the forums. Users could
customize the dashboards to play of topics of special interest to them.

fication should be just one purpose of the DPLA and related
activities. But it would be especially helpful at a time when public
relations so often is trumping disinterested journalism, and when
academia and its traditional truth
seeking are under siege, j
ust like
the very idea of public education itself.

In 1980, the ratio of PR workers to journalists was about 1.2 to
1. Today it is 4 to one. “Journalism is literally being rolled over by

propaganda,” John Nichols, coauthor coauthor of
The Death and Life

American Journalism,
has said.
. The Internet makes it easier not just
for reformers to research and spread exposes of shoddy corporate
practices, but also for unscrupulous companies and think
tanks to con
the citizenry directly without any gatekeepers.

Meanwhile, thanks to judicial lapses such as the Supreme Court's
Citizens United decision loosening up campaign finance restrictions, it
is easier than ever for profit
drive business people and others to back
extremists. And that could do no small amoun
t of harm when the
constituency of a political party may differ starkly from the general

A Scandal Away

Significantly, it could take just one scandal, real or Swift Boat
synthetic, for a Tea Party
style candidate to defeat a foe and reach the

Oval Office even if the candidate's views were vastly out of sync with
those of most Americans. If Tea Party
style Scroogery prevails in the
end at various levels in the public sector, elite schools like Harvard
might fare better in the long term than wou
ld public libraries and tax
funded universities. Skinflint legislators cannot wreak the same on harm

on Ivy League institutions as on state universities. And Harvard and
others in the elite have invested billions in a stock market
increasingly detached fro
m the priorities of America's poor and the
middle class. Besides, more foreign investments could at least help
mitigate the damage to Harvard's endowment fund and related activities
if Tea Party math keeps wrecking D.C. and Wall Street. For all I know,
haps certain Harvard academics think their school can turn itself
into a genuine, stateless multinational.

If so, however, they are wrong. Despite the productive and
essential presence of student and faculty from abroad, Harvard is a
national university
relying in part on the stature of its host country
for prestige, and the bulk of the funding and students come from the
American elite. Whether or not certain academics there understand,
Harvard has an interest in U.S. prosperity and prestige

a point still

not fully expressed in the present vision coming out of Harvard
DPLA, not one of whose steering committee members is a K
12 educator,
even though school libraries are among the most needed and common
varieties. Tellingly, the DPLA studied and at fir
st seemed headed toward

modeling itself after European national libraries, among others. The
Europeans tend to place a greater emphasis on national heritage than on
the most practical knowledge for the masses, including the prosperity
building and civic
lated kinds.

Laudably, the DPLA has evolved somewhat in response to critiques
from me and others, and I'm especially appreciative of its R&D and its
continued interest in such Web
enchancing concepts as linked open data,
whichhas found strong support in E
urope. But at least as evinced by the
composition of the steering committee (missing K
people and too light

on the small
town variety), the DPLA still seems to care too much about
the needs of the urban and academic elites compared to America as a
. Like Wall Street, even though the parallel is not exact, given
the Street's profit orientation, the DPLA as an organization is in many
ways out of touch.

Harvard and the Social Contract

For the greater prosperity and general well
being of the country,
we need balance and a genuine respect for the social contract, as it has

been traditionally interpreted in the U.S. Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard
law professor with middle
class origins in Oklahoma, reminded us of
multimillionaires' moral obligations in the
context of tax legislation
and of the need for all to pay their fair shares. Mightn't her comments
also apply to Harvard and other elite institutions, not just

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own,
nobody,” Warren said wh
ile campaigning in the Massachusetts Democratic
primary for a U.S. Senate seat. “You moved your goods to market on the
roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to
educate.” Who says every Harvard professor is a prep school produ
Even more relevantly, Harvard and other major American universities are
where billions in factory
created wealth have flowed with the help of
the tax code. Harvard should not need Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics
to acknowledge the university's societ
al obligations here. The Occupy
Wall Street demonstrations may or may not get anywhere, but they could
well be a harbinger of far more disruptive activities of the nonelite if

the people at the top fail to take notice of the rampant unfairness in
America t
oday, which the DPLA would aggravate if national digital public

library efforts were simply part of a “big tent” with academic
librarians calling the shots (public libraries are major gateways to
economic advancement, and it’s not as if the protesters are
disconnected from the library world

they even have their own library,
with far more than just political works).

Why We Need Separate Academic and Public Systems Online

Especially desirable, then, practically as well as morally, would
be separate public an
d academic digital library systems, so that they
could better focus on their respective priorities
even though

interested citizens could use the academic system
. The content and other

requirements of Ph.D.
degreed researchers are so often a far cry fro
those of K
12 students in low
income families served by public
libraries. Without early intervention by teachers and librarians, most
of the students will never reach their full potential as either citizens

or workers, to the long
term detriment of our e
conomic security and very

much related political stability.

Other strong arguments exist for an academic library system

with significant private funding

and a mostly tax
funded digital
public system, tightly intertwined but separate. If the extrem
ists set
the tone at all government levels, freedom of expression might suffer at

many local libraries and perhaps even within the public national digital

system. The academic system, less tax
dependent, could serve as a
bypass. But the economic and genera
l social arguments for the two


and for the very existence of well
funded digital libraries


the very most compelling. Americans must not simply to be able to read;
they need to analyze information for school and work and ponder what it
eans not only to them and their families but also to their communities
and the nation as a whole. Our educational system over the decades has
failed to teach this analysis adequately or impart the curiosity that is

prerequisite. What to say when seniors pl
ead: “Keep government out of
my Medicare”? Or when politicians appeal to voters' ignorance and
depict Social Security as a Ponzi scheme even though it is repairable
through such obvious means as elevation of the cap on taxable earning?

If nothing else, o
ne wonders how many U.S. voters know that the
top one percent of American families enjoy about 23 percent of income
now, a huge jump from about nine percent 35 years ago. Why would the
upper one percent of families

have paid about 38 percent of all
ome taxes in the 2008 tax year

a statistic dear to right

if they had hijacked so much of our national income and
wealth? Might not the grubby numbers count in debates in areas ranging
from tax policy to job creation? Will the rich and sup
rich really
bestow jobs upon the rabble if laid
off construction workers, clerks,
and so many other consumers lack the income to buy much beyond the
necessities? Who’s to say our multimillionaires won’t just invest
aboard or simply hoard the money?


imagine the oft
hoodwinked voters as workers, managers, or
maybe even CEOs; we are talking about a mass failure to fathom practical

mathematics at a basic level.

More Like Us


Confusingly, the comprehension and awareness issues are not just
matter of reading, mathematical, and scientific literacy as reflected in

scores; in fact, our schools are far from the very bottom in global

studies of overall educational quality. Standardized tests, moreover,
are just one way to measure student ac
hievement. But improving our K
international rankings would hardly hurt if we can achieve this without
destroying America's real edge

the creativity, resourcefulness,
curiosity, and entrepreneurial zeal and risk
taking that have helped us
prevail in are
as ranging from R&D to entrepreneurship, thanks to those
Americans who have risen above the norms. Call these characteristics the

“More Like Us” traits, similar to those that
The Atlantic
’s James
Fallows has described in a book of that name.

The MLU fact
or is one reason why public e
libraries, just like
those of brick and mortar, should carry up
date material of interest
to business and technical people, not just play up preservation of
heritage and other laudable scholarly activities; we need truly fu
service public libraries with a balanced approach.

Both kinds of traits and talents

the academic ones and others

could be crucial to the U.S. maintaining an edge in a number of areas.
The movie
The Social Network

amuses us with semi
silly talk from a
ictionalized Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook co
founder, about the number of
geniuses in China; more seriously, if America’s population is a
fraction of China’s, and if Shanghai easily led the K
12 rankings from
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Deve
lopment, with the
Chinese striving to spread the success elsewhere in their country, maybe

we should look beyond the whimsy in the movie dialog. And not just on
the test score issue, but, far more importantly, also on the promotion
of the quantifiable and
nonquantifiable abilities that have already
served us well even if our K
12 schools today are not the absolute
global champions in the rankings.

With the above in mind, Harvard University, Zuckerberg’s alma
mater and organizational host of the DPLA, shoul
d play a major role in
fostering literacy of various kinds, traditional
, civic
, and Net
related, and others

far beyond the organization’s currently envisioned
efforts. University President Drew Gilpin Faust or Provost Alan M.
Garber or the latter's offic
e will ideally take a close interest in the
library project and strive for synergies with other activities and
resources elsewhere at Harvard, given the university's avowed respect
for multidisciplinary approaches.

Granted, Harvard University is just o
ne institution, and while it
lacks a formal mission statement, many would say that the university as
a whole exists mainly to originate and promulgate scholarly knowledge
and teach Harvard students to appreciate the possibilities. But with
Washington so of
ten focused on the well
being of the socioeconomic
elites rather than of the country as a whole

through billionaire
optimized tax cuts and the like for the benefit of campaign donors

perhaps Harvard needs to rethink its mission somewhat. In fact, a 1997
ission statement for the Harvard College, the university's
undergraduate component, talks of the need for graduates to “serve
society.” Many schools use similar generic language, but at Harvard it
should resonate more than elsewhere.

Facilitators, Please


institutions should not be public libraries’ overlords. But I can see
Harvard and other major universities expanding, not shrinking, their
role in the world of public libraries and publi
c schools
academics can sufficiently distinguish between overlording and

Overlording would mean folding the digital public and scholarly
systems into one, with the most likely result: dominance by the academic

elite, oft
d from average Americans' concerns. Facilitating
among other things would mean massively shared content with the approval

of those on the public library side, as well as the creation of a joint
technical services organization. I'd like to see both of those

forms of
facilitation happen and many others, too, such as university
fellowships and cultural enrichment programs for mid
career public
librarians who have distinguished themselves.

The Madonna Effect offers Harvard

in particular

new opportuniti
for the popular good, based on the university's close ties with
Washington, especially now. The effect as mentioned here is named after
the popular singer, an example of the stars whose recordings have
displaced those of many obscure rivals in mind shar
e and revenue. In
today’s Net
centric world and especially in academic circles, people
pay too much attention to the Madonna equivalents.

Barack Obama is no exception as an attention
giver or
taker if we
go by the percentage of Harvard
educated appointe
es in his
administration (although I have not checked to see if, say, the Kennedy
Administration surpassed him). As reported in The Harvard Law Record in
2009, almost a fourth of more than 100 White House appointees attended
Harvard. “At least seven admini
stration staffers,” said the Record,
“earned degrees from the law school alone,” as, of course, did
President Obama himself and his wife; and his secretary of education,
Arne Duncan, holds a Harvard undergraduate degree. Harvard’s Berman
Center for the Int
ernet in American Life is the organizational host of
the DPLA, and Berkman is an offshoot of the President’s law school.

Harvard as a Power Center with the Potential of Effecting Change in the
Library World and Elsewhere

Harvard is most everywhere, direct
ly or indirectly, in the Obama
administration even if Duncan and Housing and Urban Development
Secretary Shaun Donovan are the only alumni in the cabinet as far as I
know. For example, one of Obama’s appointments to a health
advisory committee was
the pediatrician mother of Law School Prof. John
Palfrey, the chair of the DPLA. Vivek Kundra, Obama’s former chief of
information, who, if he wanted, could promote the library
information package I've discussed in the Fallows blog, is a join fello

at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and, yes, Berkman even
though he is not an alum.

In certain ways, especially in the development of ideas and of
national leadership, Harvard is a quasi government or at least a partial

one, consistent with its

role as a national university. New Congress
members, for example, can fly up to Harvard for orientation at Kennedy.

On top of everything else, Al Gore

who, like me during the 1990s,
was pushing for library books to go online in massive way, via the
ary of Congress

is a Harvard alum. He advises Google and sits on the

board of Apple. While hardly disinterested financially, Gore potentially

could serve as a bridge between the school’s library
related efforts
and some dominant corporate players and phila
nthropists on the high tech

side. (Disclosure: I myself am a very small Google shareholder, a fact
that did not prevent me from opposing the Google Books settlement.)

Harvard cannot control the actions of its alumni, but it can
marshal its powerful netwo
rk to try to influence them, from Barack Obama

on down

including his fortuitously situated secretary of education. And
if Obama is defeated? Then all is not necessarily lost for Harvard as an

institution. Willard Mitt Romoney, yes, the Perry rival in the G
OP and
perhaps the party's leading Presidential prospect as of this writing,
holds dual degrees from Harvard's law and business schools.

Harvard and the Library of Congress

Reflecting Harvard’s clout in Washington is the DPLA itself.
Could a new library
elated organization out of Podunk U. have drawn the

same band of influentials?

Among the 17 steering committee members are Deanna Marcum, ,
associate librarian for library services at the Library of Congress, and

Susan Hildreth, director of the Institute
for Museum and Library
Services, which among other things awards library

I do not know how close Harvard Prof. Robert Darnton (the original
proposer of the DPLA idea in his role as the school's library director,
too) is to Marc
um's boss, James Billington, Librarian of Congress, but
the two men are both Harvard
educated historians whose teaching careers
at Princeton overlapped. Nothing nefarious here, just an illustration of

how Harvard, not Podunk, is coming across as a major sh
aper of national
digital library policy, far more than is the American Library
Association. In the past, maybe the White House or the Library of
Congress might have spearheaded a national digital library initiative
going beyond Washington’s limited activit
ies in this area. Why not now?

A fall
out from a possible fear of the small
government movement, the
copyright lobby, or the Darnton
Billington relationship?

Although LOC cooperates with national digital library projects
overseas and focuses at home on pr
eservation of public domain content
and other nonencumbered material in the cultural area and others, it is
far from a genuine public library in the scope of its current services
online; efforts like the LOC
supported World Digital Library are no
nt for a full
service approach. Have LOC and the Obama
Administration farmed out national digital library policy to Harvard and

friends, as opposed to working meaningfully toward a full
national digital public library system?

For that matter, the
DPLA as envisioned now isn’t a true public e
library, either. And such
a failing is the crux of a big and rather disturbing problem.

Despite promises to keep discussing the issue, the DPLA so far has

on the “Public” in its name over the objections of the Chief
Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA). And, however noble in
intent, the DLPLA has not fully committed to the creation of a true
national public library system online, either in governance,

administration, or range of

envisioned offerings; in fact,

it is unwittingly weakening the franchise and branding of local
institutions qualifying for the term “public library.” In a March 2011

concept note and elsewhere, the DPLA’s focus is

on old books, other
cultural preservation, and the improvement of systems to help library
patrons find content, develop their own, and benefit from collections at

other libraries. Those all should be major priorities for a DPLA
organization. But thi
s is far from the well
stocked, ever
universal digital library system that I described at length in the
Chronicle of Higher Education

earlier this year.

To give one example, the DPLA so far provides for no realistic way
to meaningfully fund ma
ss access to bestsellers and other trade
published books

the very stuff that can often induce young people and
parents to read for fun and enlightenment alike and thereby strengthen
academic and vocational skills. Nor, at least publicly, does DPLA show
ugh interest in working with government officials and with other
organizations to map out ways to help address hardware and connectivity
issues that will restrict the number of Americans directly benefiting
from the library initiative.

Positives of the Ex
isting DPLA

On the positive, there is some hope in Chair Palfrey's “What is
the DPLA?” statement to the group's mailing list on July 1, a draft of
a forthcoming concept note. The what
is document even starts with a
mention of both libraries and “communiti

presumably patrons, too,
not just community institutions

helping to “make the recorded heritage
of humanity broadly available through digital means.”

What's more, the DPLA is commendably striving to bake
interactivity into such places as its catalog
software, a community
friendly goal. Here's to the DPLA as one big virtual “watercooler”! In

a related vein, I very much like the way the organization reached out to

individuals and groups across the country to solicit their ideas with
the group's Beta Spr
ing competition, which recently announced nine
finalists in areas such as such as unified searches for the National
Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian; multimedia using

the nonproprietary HTML5 Web standard; and improved handling of
rches, browsing and other tasks by way of LibraryCloud and ShelfLife,

developed at Harvard. ShelfLife presents related books as
“neighborhoods that are visually displayed as books on a shelf.” Users

will eve be able to rate and review books, Amazon
styl. T
he DPLA hopes
to share the related open computer code with local and national
libraries, and I, for one, can appreciate the potential of these tools
to surpass commercial alternatives and make libraries less reliant on
the usual vendors and more useful to
patrons. Kudos to John Palfrey and
his associate, David Wineberger

coauthor of
The Cluetrain Manifesto
, a
classic on the Net as a conversation

for the just
efforts. Without the right technological tools, nothing can happen.

More ambition,


As a group, however, the current DPLA lacks the breadth and
ambition I was hoping for. I don't see a sufficient appreciation of
modern public libraries as dynamic life
changers, and beyond that, what
about their possibilities as information tools
for civic improvement?
The DPLA and local libraries cannot single
handedly solve our problems,
but as sources of information for actions at the individual level and
beyond, whether it's finding a job or puzzling out pollution data on a
by oil refinery
, digital libraries are a logical place to start.

Part of the vision problem is that a year after the DPLA
organization’s creation in October 2010, the steering committee members

apparently have yet to reach a consensus on the precise scope and
purpose o
f the group, and if or when they do, then I fear it will happen

without long
term strategy suitable for the country as a whole. Let's
hope that the public meeting in Washington helps. So far, a mere four of

the 17 DPLA steering committee members are local
public librarians, and
just one African
American and one Latino are members even though
nonHispanic whites will be a minority in this country well before the
end of the century. Women are still somewhat under
represented, and, as
noted, no school librarian
s or other current K
12 educators sit on the
committee; nor are there any career librarians from scientific, medical,

or technological areas.

The DPLA appointments are not disasters, but in striving to serve
both academic and public libraries, the commit
tee does not even
adequately meet the often
separate needs of those two worlds. With two
different e
library systems, there could still be plenty of common
content and somewhat overlapping boards with the shared members
commanding respect on both sides. En
couragingly, the newest DPLA
steering committee member is a adventurous librarian from Georgetown
County on the Atlantic Coast of South Carolina. Dwight McInvaill has not

only has introduced Kindles and other e
media to his library system but
also has reac
hed out to daycare providers in his literary effort; I can
easily see a system like his as as testbed for the thoughtful use of
tablets for low
in come people, related training and support, and other
innovations. At the same time he is also an avid cultura
preservationist. So, yes, some individual committee members can
simultaneously care about highbrow priorities and those of the nonelite,

but let's not expect all members to be so protean.

A To
Do List for the DPLA and Harvard

Here are other thoughts for

Harvard and the DPLA to help libraries
smarten up society, including in civic matters, while respecting local

1. Immediately drop the word “Public” from the DPLA's name, in
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“Public.” Rather the word should be reserved as it more or less is

for reinforcing the branding and franchise of local public
libraries. Consider the less
threatening “Scholarly Digital
Library of
America” and “National Digital Library of America.” Why should
Harvard and friends run or seem to run our “public” library system,
mortar or digital, and grab media attention that instead could

go for a genuinely public effort when the

time came? The actual digital
public system should be built around instead around a group such as the

devoted to public libraries and composed of librarians

and also
include heavy input from the Public Library Association, part of the
American Libra
ry Association. In the past I would have suggested the
Library of Congress, but now I am not quite as certain, given LOC's
forfeit of important digital roles to the DPLA. A fall
out from LOCA’s
fear of the small
government movement, the copyright interests
, or both?

2. Aim for more of a multidisciplinary effort.

Granted, one cannot
plan libraries without considering such legal angles as copyright law,
and for the sake of continuity, too, the current DPLA leaders and
staffers from the law school should rema
in. But why isn't the Harvard
Graduate School of Education also playing a conspicuous role both in
planning the DPLA and, ultimately, in helping to develop content for it?

And mightn't business school participation be increased to refine
business models; a
nd what about the participation of the John F. Kennedy

School of Government, on both business and administrative issues?

3. Think in truly strategic ways, both organizationally and

The separate public and academic systems, for example,
ould establish the shared technical organization not just to provide
reliable short

and long
term archiving but also to evaluate, develop,
and refine technologies in areas ranging from connectivity options to
the hardware and software ergonomics of e
ing. At the same time, a
major strategic goal should be for library e
books and other media to be

easy to enjoy, and without so much reliance on the actual Amazon,

which is always in search of customer lock
in, both at the consumer
level and others.

The interests of Amazon and libraries are hardly always the same.
As Library Journal’s Mike Kelley and INFOdocket’s Gary Price have
separately documented, major privacy questions arise when libraries rely

on Amazon and other nonlibraries.

at least at the consumer level, albeit not at the
production one, Amazon has stuck to its proprietary e
book standards.
Libraries should continue ties with the International Digital Publishing

Forum, creator of the nonproprietary ePub standard. At the same

they should nudge the IDPF toward the rapid creation of non
standards for Whispersync
style services and other convenience features
even if such wrinkles are not directly related to ePub. How can
libraries, universities, and publishers wrest
control away from Amazon
if Kindles are so much easier to use than rivals?

In the end, the market, not the aspirations of alpha librarians
and academics, will determine who prevails; and standards and usability
are everything despite the obliviousness of
most consumers and even most

policymakers to the arcane technological details.

4. Let a strategic approach also lead libraries to hasten the
transition to electronic information in book format and others.

we read enough tributes, from librarians,
to physical books and strolls
through the stacks? Work on new business models and other strategies to
grow the number of e
books and other available digital content,
including for recreational reading by children and their most important
role models, their

parents. Of course, paper books have their place

example, as tenderly archived backups for the electronic variety and
perhaps as enticements for some first
time readers. But so many students

these days prefer to Google up information rather than rely
on physical
books. It isn't simply a matter of laziness. Online is where the most
current information, and even the most authoritative, is so often found,

particularly in the most rapidly evolving disciplines such as computer
science. Shouldn't the DPLA, t
hen, be more aggressive in encouraging
public libraries to speed up the electronic transition?

The demand is there. In May 2011

even before the OverDrive e
service started directing Kindle owners to Amazon for library books
authorized for the local l

I discovered that 127 library users
were lined up electronically for the New York Public Library's one
digital copy of a biography of the chess champion Bobby Fischer.
Imagine, now, the Kindle's effect on demand. Gary Price even wonders if
the Ove
Kindle connection could hurt libraries because patrons
will so often not be able to find what they want, at least not without
long waits. “Could disappointing experience(s) with a high visibility
service like this lead to increased discussion on the

topic of libraries

not being all that useful these days?” Exactly.

If nothing else, in setting its priorities and helping libraries
arrive at their own, the DPLA should remember that Amazon actually sells

more e
books these days than paperbacks and hardb
acks compared

forerunner for the industry as a whole. Compared to the last June, adult

trade paperback revenue in the U.S. was off almost 64 percent in the
same month in 2011, while e
book sales increase 167 percent. Some legacy

publishers already are re
ceiving a fifth of their revenue from
electronic book. Those are just snapshots, but the trend is clear, with
digital books and related media, such as learning software and perhaps
educational games, destined to dominate in a decade or two, if not well
ore. In terms of potential choices at a time when the recession has
already decimated many a library budget, the economies of e
books make
even more sense for taxpayers and typical library patrons than they do
for retail purchasers

just so public libraries

care much more about
access issues than the DPLA does at the moment.

Digital books could be especially helpful for low
income people
if, through the public, nonprofit, and private sectors, the right
hardware and connectivity and technical and literacy s
upport were
available with encouragement from the DPLA. Library e
books are
available 24/7 for two

or three
job families and can be self
thus obviating the need for the fines so frightening to families on
tight budgets.

Significantly, under pre
ssure from the FCC in antitrust matters,
Comcast began making low
priced desktop computers and Internet
connections available, far from a total solution but an example of the
possibilities, especially if e
friendly tablets are
another opt
ion. In past writing on information stimulus

an attractive
possibility, if only Washington will allow it!

I've already told how tax

breaks for middle class taxpayers could be cost
justified for the
purchase of multi
use tablets whose costs will be falling
anyway in the
near future. Unless we deal with access issues more seriously than the
DPLA has so far, not just for the poor but also for aging baby boomers
and people with disabilities, libraries cannot go digital to the extent
they urgently need to. And i
f they do not? Then Netflix equivalents from

companies like Amazon could displace them, aided by brand
hardware such as the just
announced Kindle Fire tablet.

If libraries cannot act quickly enough, we might see the
prediction of Mike Shatzkin, a

prominent New York publishing consultant,

come true as perceived by politicians favoring well
off constituents.
“Libraries make no sense in the future,” he has said, donning his
prophet's hat, because “there is no need for a building.” I disagree.
es offer valuable community services and spaces, far more than
just books and other content. But for now, some in the Tea Party crowd
(Shatzkin's political opposites) are already onto this one. Rick Perry
is well aware of the potential of electronic media
as a cost
saver for
schools, and he just might apply his logic to public books in time. “I
don't see any reason in the world,” he has said, “why we need to have
textbooks in Texas in the next four years.” Ideally educators and
librarians, too, will better
understand the inevitability of
digitization and work to phase it in properly in libraries (with due
attention paid to ergonomics, privacy and other issues that many in the
government crowd may overlook in their fixation on the bottom
line). Who says

the Tea Party and friends are always completely wrong?

5. Nurture innovation but do not forget the very most urgent
public needs, which are not just for more helpful catalogs and other
tools, but also for access.
The DPLA or successors should work towar
d a
time when a cash
strapped mother at a health
clinic can benefit from not

just physical books to read to her child but also a library card and
tablet providing her with the ability to access medical information,
related content, and thousands of fre
e e
books for recreational

The International Children’s Digital Library, started well before
Harvard and friends founded the DPLA, is full of colorful titles, which
a national digital public library system could pick up as part of its
. But how much good can the books do for low
income people if
they lack ways of accessing and reading them?

Of course, the hardware and content are far from the only needs;
person guidance and inspiration from librarians and educators is a
must. Work
with libraries to help them offer relationships, not just
technology. The best public librarians are often social workers in
disguise. For now, the DPLA is too much of a technological experiment
and not enough of a human one. With less of a geekish approac
h, the DPLA

would be an easier sell to the library world, many of whose leaders feel

intimidated by Harvard.

6. Encourage both public and academic libraries to preserve their
traditional functions

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as “
book warehouses” and much more.





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fronts. Librarians ideall
y could staff them. As Hill intended, library
outposts should not be replacements for neighborhood branches; rather,
they should help position libraries to be more in the center of
community life. Paper books mustn't vanish from libraries overnight, but


their importance shrinks over the years, that will free up space for
suitable small businesses

for example, bookish coffee shops or
independent bookstores with print on demand capabilities.

Family literacy, a nonpartisan cause taken up by the Bush family
is key in promoting both the use and absorption of content. Interviewed
by the Washington Post, James Billington said: “When National
Geographic asked about the seven libraries that influenced me most, I
said that the most important in my life was the Ne
lson Billington
Library: the random books that my father bought, read and shared in the
house that he loved. His library and his own way of using language set
me off on everything else.” Not everyone is lucky enough to have a
father like Nelson Billington,

but librarians, teachers and volunteers
can help parents and children identify, obtain and absorb their own
favorites. The importance of family literacy

so far removed from the
day priorities of the majority of academic librarians, the ones
who wou
ld be most likely to dominate a “one big tent” approach

is one
of many reasons for the establishment of separate academic and public
systems since their priorities are so different. Dual systems would also

help address the inevitable concerns that academic

libraries were
passing on research costs and other special expenses to public
libraries, a major risk if a one
system approach prevails.

9. Embrace openness.

While academics at Harvard and elsewhere love
collegiality, in public institutions this can at
least unwittingly lead
to cronyism and to exclusion of outsiders with uppity new ideas. Last I
routine steering committee meetings were still closed. The meeting

set for Washington in October will be available on the Web, and that is
exactly what how

the DPLA should handle all other committee meetings,
with rare exceptions such as the most sensitive personnel matters, which

could be addressed in closed sessions. In addition, all DPLA working
groups should offer public mailing lists

both unmoderated an
d, for the
busy, unmoderated. And their own key meetings and ideally all of them
should be broadcast both real time and in delayed form.

10. Work for the separate public and academic systems to
cooperate not just on sharing of resources but also on fund
aising and
to position themselves as synergistic answers to national and personal
challenges, not just library ones.

Libraries empower patrons with
knowledge of new options and opportunities, whether the issue is choice
of presidential candidates, medical
treatment or a job
programs. What a contrast to, for example, traditional welfare

Using the most cogent arguments, the current DPLA or successors might be

able to draw far, far more contributions from the “$600 billion
challenge” that Bi
ll Gates and Warren Buffett have made to America's

to pledge at least half of their net worths during their
lifetimes. The $600 billion would dwarf the amount now given; what's
more, I suspect that quite a few of the wealthy would rather that
libraries not promote civic involvement, just as politicians and library

officials in some and perhaps many localities might resist the idea. But

we need to begin in places where enough well
meaning people of all
political stripes are receptive to the poss
ibility, and let success lead

to more of the same.

11. Get the word out that national digital library efforts will

through philanthropies and the participation of interested
states and localities
whether or not certain extremists or publishing
cutives want this to.

Bypass the Tea Party's Washington gridlock by
way of thoughtful outreach to state and local governments as well as
major philanthropies. Ideally President Obama will understand the bypass

possibilities as well as the contributions tha
t libraries can make as
problem solvers in areas ranging from employment
related training to
nutritional information. COSLA has already explored the scenario of
national procurement pools

a good start but not enough by itself. At
any rate,
philanthropy al
one won't do; public libraries need public
money. On both the academic and local public sides, libraries could
divert increasing amounts of money from purchases of paper books to
digital content in that format and others.

If too many publishers balk at ma
king material available for use
on library servers on reasonable terms, libraries should place more
emphasis than before on development of original content without
recurring costs. Libraries often may end up renting rather than truly
owning content. But in

exchange, publishers and writers could and should

agree to much shorter copyright terms. Both sides, librarians and
providers, should spend more time working together for more
library money and less time on the constant copyright
wars. The DPLA
ould not rely on possible legislative or courtroom successes as
substitutes for adequate library funding

especially given the current
power of the copyright lobby over Congress and given the many judges
predisposed to favor business interests.

12. Help l
ocal libraries create snazzy
looking “civic
dashboards” that as a default would come with links to librarian
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seeking as opposed to the media’s “cult of savviness,” its fawning
focus on politicians’ ability to kowtow
to ignorant voters (a priority
that Rosen so correctly decries).

Already the DPLA is wisely positioning its technology as a
potential platform through which many in the library world could make
contributions. Now imagine the specifics, and not just on nat
issues alone. What about proposed zoning changes? Schools news? City
deficits? Local environmental information, such as the anti
progress or lack of it that a local factory is making? Or Congressional
redistricting news or changes in voting

laws, such as more onerous
registration requirements? Groups such as ProPublica and the League of
Women Voters could suggest templates for the dashboards, subject to
local review, and they could also offer content of their own. If local
public library sys
tems could not offer dashboards due to political
pressure or for economic reasons

obviously libraries are not drowning in


then perhaps the academic system could cooperate with alternatives
within the limits of its own resources.

Less than perfect civ
ic dashboards would be better than none at
all and help justify public libraries' continued existence

including the

mortar kind; the dashboards could lead to links on local civic

events held within the physical libraries. And, of course, the
boards could point to timely paper and e
books alike, for example
environmentally related books. While some city governments do post
information on zoning, taxes, and other matters, it is often poorly
organized, easy to overlook, and out of context.

Via p
romotion of the dashboards and in others ways, the DPLA could
help voters enjoy more control over their futures. Walter Lippmann,
author of Public Opinion

yes, a Harvard man

actually subscribed to the
theory that voters needed experts to herd them along. T
he typical
citizen is not going to spend hour after hour perusing information on
the worst belchers of smoke or plans for a huge shopping center near his

or her neighborhood. But at least the interested could benefit from the
opportunity to do this conveni
ently from home, especially in an era when

so many Americans are pressed for spare time.

Here in Alexandria, Virginia, a city served by the Washington Post
among others, news organizations failed the public in not paying
sufficient attention early enough

to a $1B+ high rise. It arose near me
in Alexandria, Virginia
a veritable Quarter Pentagon, with 6,400
workers on the way and with scary security vulnerabilities documented
belatedly in Time Magazine. With a civic dashboard and better informed
voters, m
ight not the outcome have been different? For reasons like the
above, I'm hardly surprised that the media are no longer as respected as

in past years. Librarians, on the other hand, still enjoy high
credibility, and the dashboard concept would be one way t
o leverage this

in a socially useful way.

Even newspapers could benefit in the end, given the increase in
interest in civic matters, especially as a result of a more practical,
more relevant approach to civics in schools. News reports could rely
more on
fact and informed opinions

from experts and citizens linked from

the dashboards or contributing directly

and less on special interest
groups and partisans. Large metropolitan dailies can no longer cover
suburbs in sufficient detail despite all the talk abo
ut hyperlocal
journalism. With civic
dashboard arrangements at libraries, they could
more easily pick up both breaking news and trends. Furthermore, the
existence of the dashboards would not preclude good newspapers from
offering civic coverage in their ow
n hyperlocal editions. The challenge
is to get local dailies to provide in
depth coverage, period. And start
ups like and many local blogs? They are too busy fighting to
stay alive to give civic affairs the coverage it deserves. As I, of all
le, know first hand, a blogger can do only so much. Even as a group,

bloggers can’t provide comprehensive coverage, and all too often they
are writing about sports, food or other personal interests as opposed to

civic ones.

Local television news? It’s the

main local news source, as
documented by a recent Pew study. The trouble is that it focuses on
“weather, breaking news, and traffic,” not zoning and local budgets.
Even newspapers don’t practice civic related, data
driven journalism

with accompanying peop
le angles

to the extent they could. And among the
main reasons for insufficient coverage, whatever the media

television or the internet? Simple lack of interest. The civic dashboard

concept could educate and engage a whole generation students t
Newspapers in Education has failed to win over. In the most practical
ways students would learn to research and write on civic matters,
improving their language skills, not just their analytical ones, and
learning to work in groups. Prepublication, the
ir thoughts would be
subject to review not just by peers and teachers but by actual editors
and librarians. All students would participate, with the teachers
choosing which ones to send on for possible dashboard use, so the
evaluators were not swamped. Alo
ng the way, librarians could steer
to books and other content that strengthened their
understanding of the issues about which they wrote. Jeremy York, a
HathiTrust project librarian, and an assistant librarian at the
University of Michigan, has he
lpfully reminded the the DPLA of the value

of “Primary Sources and Technology in K
12 education.” Time to
encourage teachers and young people to apply the same precepts to
coverage of civic news in their communities, not just history,
especially if the two

areas can converge?

By growing interest in civic matters, the dashboards could provide
new audiences for the content financed by funds for national and local
news, envisioned by former Washington Post executive editor Leonard
Downie, Jr., and Columbia Un
iversity professor Michael Schudson. A
debate has raged within journalism about whether the business model
would would be good for freedom of the press since it would be so
reliant on tax money (although it would hardly be the only source for
news organiza
tions). I myself have mixed feelings; I’d rather
newspapers be supported by the traditional mix of subscriptions and
advertising (with some miraculous way found to completely fend off
pressure from pushy advertisers). But given the current shortcomings of
local news, I am all in favor of experimentation. The existence of
multiple information sources on the civic dashboards would reduce the
risks. Downie and Schudson, incidentally, have suggested that
universities could play a role, with the journalistic equ
ivalents of
teaching hospitals.)

I can also envision a new kind of library job, a cross between
librarian and editor. Time for changes in library school curricula in
this and other respects
another way in which Harvard (home to the
Nieman Foundation for

Journalism at Harvard) and the DPLA might be
useful? For now, consider the legions of laid
off journalists who could
help local libraries start civic dashboards.

Henry Adams: Harvard Man and Infrastructure Booster

Let me conclude with a few words from He
nry (1838
1918), one of
the most distinguished Harvard graduates and faculty members. Adams was
a vicious anti
semite, an all
bigot in fact, and hardly a
complete paragon of democratic beliefs; but he was capable at times of
g the better part of the traditional ethos of a
school from which have graduated seven future presidents of the United
States. In
The Education of Henry Adams
, he recalled a trip over horrid
roads to Mount Vernon, George Washington's plantation, just a few

from where I am writing the current essay. “To the New England mind,
roads, schools, clothes, and a clean face were connected as part of the
law of order or divine system,” Adams said. “Bad roads meant bad
morals. The moral of this Virginia road was

clear, and the boy fully
learned it. Slavery was wicked, and slavery was the cause of this road's

badness which amounted to social crime....” Might not our underfunded
libraries and oft
overcrowded schools be a little like the bumpy roads
of old Virginia,

with today's American elite dodging their
responsibilities in other ways?

A civic
aware vision from the DPLA and its hosts at Harvard,
jibing with the egalitarian sentiments of a modern good
roads advocate,
the law school's own Elizabeth Warren, needs t
o prevail over the
shortsightedness of the Tea Party, greed
driven multimillionaires with
polluting factories to protect against the Environmental Protection
Agency, and their future equivalents. Do we really want to risk
remaining in the endless loop?

e: This is a living document and may change as I fix errors or make
other refinements. I’ll welcome suggestions via email or or the
comments area. I’m also reachable at 703
6540. For the benefit of
latecomers: I’m a writer in Alexandria, VA, have been
a national
digital library advocate since the earlier 1990s, and have written on
the topic in places ranging from The Chronicle of Higher Education and
an MIT/ASIS information science collection to the Washington Post, U.S.
News & World Report, and the Atl
antic’s Web site. I founded TeleRead
the oldest site devoted to general news and views on e
books and related

topics such as digital libraries. In early 2011, I participated in a
DPLA workshop. The late William F. Buckley, Jr., my political opposite,

two columns in the 1990s endorsing my basic vision of a well
stocked national digital library system integrated with local schools
and libraries, and with hardware and other access issues addressed. The
above opinions are my own, not necessarily anyone el



1. Public debate in the U.S. is increasingly dumbed down

with falsehoods, which the media often tolerate in the interest of
“objectivity” or “the cult of savviness.”

2. Too many politicians are swayed by rich cam
paign donors,
“kept” think tanks, and the Koch
encouraged Tea Party.

3. Compromised legislators at all levels of government work to
slash rich people’s taxes at the expenses of the rest of us who must
make up the difference in payments or reduced govern
ment services.

4. Our schools and libraries

not just frills like money for bridge

are frequent cost
cutting targets.

5. As cuts happen, whether in library spending, K
12 budgets or
student loans, intelligent civic debate will suffer. How many
know, for example, that about
23 percent

of income goes to one percent
of our population, compared to this elite’s
nine percent

of income 35
years ago? See Figure Two in a paper by the economist Emmanuel Saez..

6. If ignorant of essential fact
s and truths, Americans will keep
electing and reelecting corrupt, short
sighted politicians who inflict
yet more damage.

7. Online libraries must not become propaganda machines, and they
should serve people of all political beliefs, including any Tea P

in search of the facts. But they can

break us out of this
endlessless loop simply by accurately enlightening Americans on timely
and relevant matters. They can also promote practical and meaningful
civic opportunities similar to the kind advoc
ated by Tufts University
Prof. Peter Levine. Digital media are cheaper than paper at spreading
around knowledge. And it’s easier for people to talk back

whether to
each other or the elite. The challenge is for truth
seekers to seize
control on the Net and
in the legacy media from propaganda
focused think

tanks and similar organizations that for decades have dominated civic
debate on behalf of the special interests bankrolling them.

8. As

of many goals, the Harvard
hosted Digital Public Library
rica should seek to upgrade the quality of civic life
advantage of links and interactivity. The DPLA will most likely rely
heavily on private funding. Part of it could come from foundations,
certain wealthy individuals looking beyond their direct
interests, and others worried about the endless loop. Like
people, not necessarily the same ones, could also be sources of funding
for virtual civic activities at local libraries. These activities could
benefit from participation from journ
alists and from appropriate changes

in library school curricula and continuing education, so that library
professionals could better serve as online editors and moderators.
Teacher training also could be updated.

9. Harvard itself has certain civic and o
ther moral obligations to
the country as a whole. Billions from the rich have flowed to Harvard
and other Ivy League schools, thanks partly to tax breaks, some rather
problematic. Harvard Law Prof. Elizabeth Warre, a U.S. Senate candidate,

has called for t
he wealthy to pay their fair shares of the upkeep of
roads, and of other public services such as police protection. Mightn’t

the same concept apply at least indirectly to the institutions
benefitting from the donations of these wealthy recipients of servic
Warren is not attacking wealth per se, not calling for the rich to give
away their entire fortunes, just fulfill their moral obligations. That
is how I feel toward Harvard, which should devote far more resources to
the current DPLA effort, both the aca
demic and public library parts, as
long as the end result is two different systems online
academic and

10. Yes, the DPLA should help America's public libraries establish
their own national digital system focused most of all on common needs,
h as K
12 education, whether public or private. The Harvard
group should not insist on "one big tent," where Ivy League academics
far detached from the concerns of ordinary citizens would most likely be

the main ringmasters. Instead the current DPLA
needs to turn into an
focused system, accessible to all Americans just like the
public digital system. The smarter the citizenry by way of this dual
system approach, the more likely we can break out of the endless loop
and see American politicia
ns more seriously care about such trifles as
consent of the governmened.

Both of these two intertwined but separate

digital systems should avoid the phrase "public library" in their names
to respect the branding and franchise of existing local institutio
One technology organization could serve both systems to reduce
redundancies. It could make content
sharing easier between systems and
work with governments, corporations, and nonprofits to address such
access issues as hardware and connectivit