Why the DPLA should avoid confusing the missions of public and academic libraries: Thoughts from an academic publishing veteran

By Sandy Thatcher, former director, Pennsylvania State University Press

imageJust two quick observations on the continuing debate by David Rothman et al. about whether and how the Digital Public Library of America should serve the interests of both academic and public libraries, and how their roles in serving their patrons differ:

1) Every year the Association of American University Presses participates in an exercise with two divisions of the ALA that produces a collection development tool called "University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries." While this demonstrates some crossover between academe and the more general library sector, it is also very instructive to see just which books from university presses are chosen for this bibliography. Hardcore monographs rarely find their way into it.

2) Mass digitization so far—with the possible exception of Project Gutenberg—has focused more on scholarly than on popular content. Remember that Google worked almost exclusively with academic libraries (except for the NYPL), that the HathiTrust is a consortium of academic libraries, that the "million book" project led by Carnegie-Mellon also involved academic libraries, etc. As I have suggested previously, there are good reasons for this, particularly with respect to copyright issues, which constrain digitization for public libraries more than for academic libraries, and will continue to do so even more in the future as the interests of members of the Authors Guild (whose books serve patrons of public libraries) in copyright protection are quite different from those of academic authors, as Pam Samuelson so well articulated in her submission to the court in the Google case, and as scholarly publishing is much more likely to move more toward open access than trade publishing is. The problems confronting each type of library are therefore significantly different in major ways, including legal, suggesting that the approaches to solving them will have to be quite different also.

(Above are the personal views of Sandy Thatcher (Facebook page here), as reproduced by his permission from the DPLA email list. He and I would disagree on many (not all) copyright issues, but on this one, he is right on the money. Sandy is on the Board of Directors of the Copyright Clearance Center. Housekeeping note: My analysis of a major Beta Sprint proposal for the DPLA—from various institutions—will most likely appear Tuesday or Wednesday or later in the week. – David Rothman.)

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