Public questions for Digital Public Library of America Chair John Palfrey and other steering committee members: Doesn’t governance matter?

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imageHarvard Law Prof. John Palfrey, chair of the Digital Public Library of America, still has not, to my knowledge, released minutes from the organization’s June 13 steering committee meeting in Washington—closed to the public. The DPLA committee kept me out even though I had been an invited participant in the DPLA’s March workshop at the Harvard Faculty Club, and I’ve grown more and more curious about the committee’s operations; hence, the questions ahead on issues ranging from budget to formal or informal bylaws.

Little is known publicly about the secretive committee’s governance despite the P word in its name and the publicity the DPLA has received from outlets such as the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Library Journal, Information Today, and, yes, the tiny Web site. Click on the just-supplied links for Google search results.

imageAs author of a 3,300-word essay in the Chronicle on national digital library policy—and relevant writings at and in the Huffington Post and a lengthy chapter in an MIT Press/ASIS information science collection, as well as a DPLA-related commentary on Library Journal’s Web site—I believe that governance of “public” digital library organizations matters. Significantly, Deanna Marcum of the Library of Congress (photo) and Susan Hildreth of the Institute of Museums and Library Services are among the 17 DPLA steering committee members listed as of June 3. The committee is at least helping to serve as a quasi-setter of U.S. national digital library policy, and it or a successor may seek money in the future from government sources. Even if only for moral reasons—I am not a lawyer and have not researched the legal issues—a “Public Library” organization needs to function in the open.

So I’ll follow through on an earlier LibraryCity post and e-mail the following governance questions—in the form of electronic copies of the present entry—to Prof. Palfrey and all other committee members. I’ll also send copies to Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust and Law School Dean Martha Minow.

For DPLA steering committee members in general: I’ll be extremely grateful if you at least answer questions 1, 2, 3 and 4. I respectfully request that Chair Palfrey publicly reply in full to all questions in writing. I am reachable at as well as 703-370-6540. In e-mail, please use the subject line DPLA ANSWERS. Next week I’ll reveal which DPLA members responded and which did not, and I’ll reproduce answers, with names. It will be telling if no or few steering committee members respond. Here are the questions.

1. Can you kindly pass on the copies of the minutes from the June 13 since this is the Digital “Public” Library of America and actual library boards are generally covered by open meetings laws, regardless of whether or not the DPLA is? Care to share any other copies of any other minutes that have not been publicly released?

2. Are you in favor of keeping the public out of DPLA steering committee meetings, and if so, under what circumstance should the meetings be behind closed doors? Should routine meetings be closed? However you feel, what are your justifications? Any votes taken or planned to be taken on the secrecy matter? Should committee meetings be broadcast on the Net, especially given member Carl Malamud’s expertise in netcasting, and why or why not? I can’t help but observe that Public.Resources.Org, his organization, is devoted to “Making Government Information More Accessible.”

3. Was a vote held, or will a vote be held, on the continued existence of the word “Public” in the DPLA’s full name? When? Just what were the results if the DPLA voted? How did you vote or will you vote? Got any particular variants of the name you prefer? Are you aware that the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies has officially opposed the “Public” in the name, fearing that it “might have unintended consequences of undermining support for public libraries in their states”? A PDF of the resolution is here.

4. When will the next committee meeting be held? Where? Or will the meeting happen just by phone or another electronic medium?

5. Who are all the current officers of the committee by name, title and institutional affiliation, and, if you know, their dates of assumption of office? Any other key committee members by name and title such as heads of committees? Have there been any changes in the committee membership since June 3, the date of the list I have, and if so, who was added or has left?

6. Any budget discussions or actions, and if so, can you pass on the information? Do you know of any contractors or employees by function and name, and if so, do you have payment information? I’m aware that the committee members are volunteers. But are they paying others for DPLA-related specialized services?

7. While the committee is said to be informal, does it have any bylaws or other written or unwritten rules governing its operation? Any specific references to secrecy and the reason for it? In the past, as I recall, the DPLA said it wanted public and foundation officials to feel comfortable, but this rationale does not work for typical “public” libraries.

8. Why would a prestigious, resource-rich organization like Berkman, the DPLA’s organizational host, still have an “informal” committee for this “Public” Library group even months after the committee’s formation?

9. I assume that no committee members of the DPLA have or have had connections with intelligence, security or law enforcement agencies—for example, through full-time employment or paid or unpaid consultancies—but I would welcome a definitive public answer on this issue, given the library profession’s interest in the Patriot Act and its ramifications for librarians. Specifics, please, if somehow my assumption is wrong?

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Note: I may refine the above before I send out the e-mails, and if so, I’ll make modifications here. Also, I’ll be soon posting “Five ways the DPLA can fix itself,” a list of constructive suggestions; the DPLA really should become mainly a technical services and infrastructure organization (given the often sharply clashing content priorities of academic and public libraries—and the current group’s persistent secrecy, not the best indication that it will be a trustworthy curator of controversial digital content of general public interest). Update, 8:35 a.m.: I’ve finished the promised list of suggestions.

Meanwhile here’s the list of committee members as of June 3, with hyperlinks I’ve added. I’ll follow that item with a reference to the June 13 meeting in an e-mail sent to the DPLA list.

Digital Public Library of America Steering Committee
Paul Courant, Harold T. Shapiro Professor of Public Policy and Dean of Libraries at the University of Michigan
Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the Harvard University Library
Carla Hayden, Chief Executive Officer of the Enoch Pratt Free Library (Baltimore, Maryland)
Charles Henry, President of the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR)
Luis Herrera, City Librarian for the City and County of San Francisco
Susan Hildreth, Director of the Institute for Museum and Library Services
Brewster Kahle, Founder of the Internet Archive
Michael A. Keller, Ida M. Green University Librarian, Director of Academic Information Resources at Stanford University
Carl Malamud, President, Public.Resources.Org
Deanna Marcum, Associate Librarian for Library Services at the Library of Congress
Maura Marx, Berkman Center Fellow and Executive Director, Open Knowledge Commons
Jerome McGann, John Stewart Bryan University Professor at the University of Virginia
John Palfrey, Faculty Co-Director at the Berkman Center; Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law and Vice Dean of Library and Information Resources at Harvard Law School
Peggy Rudd, Executive Director/State Librarian of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission
Amy E. Ryan, President of the Boston Public Library
Donald Waters, Program Officer for Scholarly Communications and Information Technology at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Doron Weber, Vice President, Programs at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

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Reference to the June 13 Washington meeting in a note that John Palfrey sent to list members:

Naming Issue

· The SC has heard and acknowledges the broad discussion on the listserv about dropping the P.
· SC members are asked to think about their views on this matter and to test variants/new ideas and bring feedback to the June in-person SC meeting.

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