Hacking a secretive ‘public’ library group: Let’s ask DPLA steering committee members how they voted—and about open meetings vs. a Porcellian Club approach

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Update, Oct. 20, 2012: I’m pleased to report that the DPLA is now far more open than before, especially in regard to remote participation.

imageShould the Harvard-hosted Digital “Public” Library of America drop the “P” word from its name? COSLA, short for the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, fears that this branding competition could unwittingly harm America’s brick-and-mortar public libraries. I agree.

imageBecause the DPLA’s name issue is one of “Public” interest, you’d think that that Chair John Palfrey and colleagues would have officially released the results of a vote June 13 on the topic even though the meeting was closed to me and the public in general. No such luck so far, as best I can determine, assuming a vote was taken. Once again I’m up against the oligarchical tendencies of Harvard and friends, still dominating the 17-member DPLA steering committee despite additions from outside.

So I’ll e-mail the committee members to find out: (1) How the group voted on the name issue. (2) How the members individually voted. (3) Whether the DPLA should routinely hold steering committee meetings in private since the group or a successor may eventually be applying for tax money and meanwhile is helping, in effect, to shape national digital library policy (complete with the DPLA committee memberships of Deanna Marcum, a top Library of Congress official, and Susan Hildreth, director of a federal library-and-museum agency making grants). (4) Justifications for or against the P word, as well as the secrecy policy (no members of the public at the meetings). Update, June 20: Here are the refined questions.

If few or no DPLA steering committee members answer, what will that tell us about the DPLA’s openness or lack of it? Shouldn’t we hold individual committee members accountable for their votes? Is this a national digital library organization championing the commonweal or, in governance, the oh-so-private Porcellian Club (shown in the photo—yes, the same outfit featured in The Social Network)? Why does Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, the exact host of the DPLA, encourage such secrecy despite its supposed interest in democracy in cyberspace?

Details: 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.

Meanwhile big thanks to Brooke Gladstone of On the Media for inspiration on the issue of secret votes. No, she didn’t whisper into my ear. But I’m a fan of OTM, and I recalled how she asked listeners to contact Senate members about their particular votes—exercised in secret—on a whistleblower bill.

If by chance any LibraryCity readers want to pitch in and contact at least some SC members on their own and share the results (check in with me first to coordinate matters), that’ll be great although I’ll keep my expectations very very low, given all the job security worries among librarians these days. Needless to say, I’ve also heard: “I don’t want to fight Harvard.” 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 (as a compromise I’ve suggested at least a deadline for this much-needed action to happen).

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2 comments to “Hacking a secretive ‘public’ library group: Let’s ask DPLA steering committee members how they voted—and about open meetings vs. a Porcellian Club approach”
2 comments to “Hacking a secretive ‘public’ library group: Let’s ask DPLA steering committee members how they voted—and about open meetings vs. a Porcellian Club approach”
    • Ah, Matt, you’re missing the point. In many ways, not all, academic libraries and publibs are oil and water. I want to see both kinds of libraries thrive, but we need to respect their different priorities and set up intertwined but separate organizations—the very stuff that the elitists in charge of the DPLA have been resisting, in part by closing its steering committee meetings to the general public. They really should be broadcast online.

      Luckily not all librarians in academia feel the way you apparently do about both the dual system approach and the need to open up the SC meetings.

      Furthermore, I want much more involvement of academia in the publib world and universal access to both systems. I favor interactivity among different kinds of patrons, too, just so publibs and schools can set up their own, say, age-appropriate areas. And somewhat overlapping boards and a common tech organization would be cool—the latter could take over the useful Beta Sprint project. I also favor content exchanges and frequent interlinking But have Harvard and the like supply overlords for the public system? Absolutely not.

      If the DPLA wants to turn into the tech organization with sufficient publib participation and influence and forget the overlord act, I’ll be highly supportive. A future-minded publib-oriented organization would understand the urgent publib needs—including a graceful transition to e-books—about which I’ve written. The current DPLA, sadly, does not.


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