Newest DPLA steering committee member is small-town librarian in rural South Carolina: Smart appointment by Harvard-based digital library initiative

imageA small-town public librarian has been missing from the steering committee of the Digital Public Library of America—a troubling omission we’ve noted several times since the DPLA’s founding last year.

But now the Harvard-based DPLA has filled in the gap with the appointment of Dwight McInvaill, director of the Georgetown County Library in a rural and costal area of South Carolina. Great move. McInvaill has won national recognition for working with other cultural agencies to digitally preserve old photos, maps and other historical content, including newspapers. His own family has been in South Carolina since the 1820s.

More significantly to me, a press release from the Carnegie Corporation also mentions his interest in literacy issues:

"To combat at its roots a county illiteracy rate approaching 30%, the library has established—in concert with Georgetown County First Steps [link added; Web site image below]—collections of books in approximately 40 childcare centers. The library has also developed a special curriculum which a library storyteller uses to teach youngsters basic language and motor skills. The library also offers childcare providers quarterly training sessions for accreditation. For this work, the library received in 2003 the first ‘Counties Care for Kids Award’ given by the National Association of Counties."

imageThis is exactly what I’d like to see more of, especially as the costs of tablets and other hardware drop and the equipment becomes useful in family literacy programs. You can already buy tablets with color screens (best for kids) for $300 at Walnut—well under the prices of iPads, even if the econo-tabs are not rugged and easy enough for most library systems to offer yet. In fact, in the near future, tablets could actually be given away to low-income mothers and fathers (with face-to-face help from librarians, teachers, health and social workers and others, as opposed to simply expecting electronics to replace human contact).

$100 tablets do exist, actually (and maybe $50 ones if you’re the Indian government). But typically they’re more for techies than ordinary mortals.

The tablets for library use ideally would work with physical keyboards and let TVs and other gadgets serve as optional monitors. Such an approach would allow them to be used for much else beyond parent-to-child reading and other tasks (such as conveyance of health and job-hunting and  -training information in text and multimedia). Perhaps DPLA-related people, in consultation with focus groups of library users without tech savvy, could help develop extra-easy-to-use freeware to facilitate such a project.

Mass use of tablets in rural communities couldn’t happen overnight, especially with the current budget mess at all levels of government; but the DPLA and others can at least work toward it. Without access issues dealt with, national collections will be far, far less helpful to low-income people and other Americans hoping to use libraries to improve themselves educationally, economically and otherwise. Given the existence of First Steps, it would appear from afar that Georgetown County might be a terrific testbed for a DPLA-style effort as long as connectivity issues could be addressed and staff training and proper technical support provided—and as long as sufficient enthusiasm existed locally among library staffers and in the community at large.

As for existing e-books, yes, Georgetown County has some, via OverDrive, which I envision as one of many possible contractors for a genuine public national library system. But the books and other media should reside on library servers controlled by librarians; and public and scholarly library systems should be intertwined but separate—considering the vast breadth of services to be provided by the systems. The public library side could use a mix of traditional business models and open content to multiply the number of e-books and other librarian-selected items and weave in vast collections from the scholarly side. In addition, the DPLA should spin off a technical services organization shared by both the public and scholarly sides to work on issues such as access for the masses, standards in partnership with organizations like the IDPF, and a common technological infrastructure shared by both sides.

Still missing from the 17-member DPLA Steering Committee are any school librarians or other K-12 educators, or librarians and academics from the fields of science, medicine, and technology, and minorities are still underrepresented. More public librarians, including at least one more from a small town, would be good, too. I also am disappointed by the committee’s failure to hold routine public meetings in person and online (at least as far as I know). A long-promoted public meeting in Washington, DC, now planned for October 21, is no substitute for routine meetings in the open—a way to increase the amount of grassroots interest and input, not just honor the best librarians’ traditional passion for openness.

That said, I remain a big fan of the DPLA’s Beta Sprint project and continue to see potential in the initiative—here are some past suggestions. I expect to offer more ideas in the next few weeks. I wanted to do this earlier but got unavoidably sidetracked by other projects.

A few more bio details on McInvaill: "From 2002-2004, he chaired the American Library Association’s Taskforce on Rural School, Tribal, and Public Libraries. In 2003-2005 and 2007-2008, he chaired the Rural Libraries Committee of the Public Library Association. He served recently on the Gaming Experts Panel of the American Library Association. He is also a Board Member of the Association of Rural and Small Libraries."

A random fact: Farther down the South Carolina coast from Georgetown is Daufuskie Island, where Pat Conroy, perhaps the state’s best-known writer, taught. Last I knew, Conroy was hardly a big e-book fan, probably just the opposite—but imagine what a younger, more tech-hip Conroy could have done with a wealth of e-books and other digital items available to his students, including locally originated content.

Related: Writings on the national digital library issue, with links to LibraryCity-related writings in the Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere.

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on “Newest DPLA steering committee member is small-town librarian in rural South Carolina: Smart appointment by Harvard-based digital library initiative
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