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Libraries swapping stacks for bytes

The dig­i­ti­za­tion of col­lec­tions from Amer­ican libraries, archives, and museums took center stage at Blackman Audi­to­rium last week, when North­eastern co-​​hosted the inau­gural DPLAfest to rec­og­nize the Dig­ital Public Library of America.

DPLAfest was co-​​hosted by the DPLA, the Boston Public Library, the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties, and Sim­mons College’s Grad­uate School of Library and Infor­ma­tion Science.

Launched in April, DPLA strives to bring dig­i­tized ver­sions of col­lec­tions from uni­ver­si­ties (including North­eastern), libraries, and public orga­ni­za­tions to the masses in a single online portal. To date, the online library has dig­i­tized 5 mil­lion books, works of art, and records of America’s her­itage from 1,100 insti­tu­tions across the country.

“We have made tremen­dous progress, but we feel there are still gaps across the board,” exec­u­tive director Dan Cohen said in his opening remarks on Friday. “We are really proud of the diver­sity of the insti­tu­tions that are con­tributing. But we want to do better, and we can do better.”

The event kicked off a day­long series of work­shops at North­eastern as well as Sim­mons Col­lege aimed at gen­er­ating col­lab­o­ra­tive dis­cus­sions about dig­i­tal­iza­tion and DPLA’s future endeavors. It brought together librar­ians, archivists, museum pro­fes­sionals, pub­lishers and authors, teachers, stu­dents, and others.

For its part, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Libraries is building its own col­lec­tion of online e-​​books, jour­nals, and peri­od­i­cals. For example, the number of e-​​books has increased from 8,400 in 2006 to nearly 400,000 this year. Last year, Snell Library also launched the Dig­ital Media Com­mons, an inno­v­a­tive media lab and dig­ital cre­ativity center where stu­dents and fac­ulty can uti­lize a range of tech­nolo­gies. This semester, a novel 3-​​D printing studio will also open in the DMC with con­sumer– and professional-​​grade 3-​​D mod­eling and cre­ation tech­nology. The DMC’s expan­sion is expected to com­pleted later this fall.

In her opening remarks on Friday, Uta Poiger, dean of the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties, praised the part­ner­ship between DPLA and North­eastern. “It seemed right away a good fit for our insti­tu­tions,” she explained. “A dig­ital library devel­oping a phys­ical foothold in the city of Boston, and a brick and mortar col­lege and uni­ver­sity com­mitted to doing pio­neering work in net­working sci­ence, com­pu­ta­tional social sci­ence, and the dig­ital humanities.”

North­eastern is also estab­lishing its own lead­er­ship in dig­ital human­i­ties research, which applies com­puter and net­work sci­ence tech­niques to dig­i­tized texts. For example, the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Net­works—the university’s research-​​based center for Dig­ital Human­i­ties and Com­pu­ta­tional Social Science—supports fac­ulty research, trains stu­dents in dig­ital human­i­ties and com­puter sci­ence skills, and spon­sors events that advance the dis­cus­sion of tech­nology, teaching, and research at North­eastern. One of the center’s cur­rent projects is Our Marathon, a dig­ital archive of sto­ries, photos, videos, social media, and other mate­rials related to the tragic Boston Marathon bombings.

Eng­lish pro­fessor and NULab co-​​director Eliz­a­beth Mad­dock Dillon con­grat­u­lated DPLA for not only pre­serving the past, but for allowing people to think in new and pro­duc­tive ways about the past and the future.

“Dig­ital Human­i­ties involves using new tech­nolo­gies to think about very old and enduring ques­tions, such as the rela­tion­ship between the past and the present,” Dillon said.

– By Joe O’Connell


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