D-Lib Magazine
The Magazine of Digital Library Research

D-Lib Magazine

May/June 2017
Volume 23, Number 5/6
Table of Contents


Guest Editorial

Libraries Advancing the National Digital Platform

Trevor Owens, Ashley E. Sands, Emily Reynolds, James Neal and Stephen Mayeaux
Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)

Corresponding Editor: Trevor Owens, tjowens [at] imls.gov




National Digital Platform

Over the past few years, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has worked with various stakeholders to develop and support the national digital platform (NDP) as a framework to approach investments toward improving digital infrastructures for libraries. We are thrilled that D-Lib Magazine has provided institutions working on NDP projects with the opportunity to share how they are advancing the digital capacities of libraries and archives around the country.

Broadly, the NDP represents the combination of software applications, social and technical infrastructures, and staff expertise that provide digital content, collections, and services to all library and archives users. As libraries and archives increasingly preserve and provide access to digital information, opportunities increase for collaboration around the tools and services libraries employ to meet user needs. Cultural institutions around the country can leverage and benefit from shared digital services and systems. A focus on developing and sustaining shared infrastructures is a key element of much NDP work, as well as ensuring that those tools, services, and systems exemplify library principles.

The projects presented in this issue are those of the librarians, archivists, and allied professionals who have responded to the call to action to improve digital infrastructures for libraries and archives. These essays represent the views and perspectives of the individuals and institutions completing this work and are not presented on behalf of, nor do they represent the views of, IMLS or the United States Government. As context for the efforts described in this issue, we provide background on how NDP developed as a framework and how it continues to evolve in dialog with library and archives stakeholder communities.



IMLS's enabling legislation (20 U.S.C. 9101 et seq.) establishes a key role for the agency in supporting both the development of national information infrastructures and the library workforces to make use of those infrastructures. Over the past two decades, the IMLS Office of Library Services (OLS) has invested more than $1 billion in developing and improving digital library tools, services, and infrastructures. The foundation of IMLS support for digital infrastructures comes through the Grants to States component of the Library Services Technology Act (LSTA), which annually provides population-based block grants to each state library administrative agency. From 2002 to 2011, the Grants to States program supplied $980 million in support of information infrastructure projects, including $67 million toward digitization efforts. Additionally, from 2005 to 2013 the "advancing digital resources" category of the IMLS National Leadership Grants for Libraries program invested $30 million in the development of digital resources across the nation. Over the years, several other public and private funders — notably the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation — have also made significant contributions to library and archives digital services and infrastructures.

Building on this longstanding commitment to using technology to enhance library capacities to serve their communities, IMLS convened diverse stakeholder communities in April 2014 to discuss national priorities and needs (convening notes). Participants emerged committed to a more strategic approach to the development of shared digital tools and services around the country. In April 2015, the IMLS OLS again worked with stakeholders from across professional communities to explore ways to better focus digital library funding (convening report). One result of those discussions was our realization that the term "innovation" was often understood by the community to mean "novelty." We heard repeatedly that the drive to innovate with new digital library services during the early 2000's had led to fragmentation — many novel tools with few users. As a result of these dialogs, two core axioms emerged that are also present across the various projects featured in this issue: 1) all libraries can collaborate on shared tools, services, and digital approaches to meeting user needs; and 2) collaborations and shared infrastructures will only be valuable to the extent they are anchored in library and archival principles.

Building on these convenings, the OLS team has identified improving the national digital platform as an explicit area of focus in two grant programs: the National Leadership Grants for Libraries program (NLG) and the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian program (LB21). The NLG program supports work addressing substantial challenges in library and archival practice, including research, software development, planning activities, and more; the LB21 program supports education and training activities diversifying and strengthening the library workforce. As of early 2017, between the NLG and LB21 programs, IMLS has funded 83 NDP awards. This portfolio of grants represents over $28 million in IMLS funds and more than $15 million in cost-share provided by grantee institutions.


Emergent Focal Areas

During the first two years of NDP-focused IMLS awards, three portfolio focal areas emerged. The OLS team refers to these emergent foci as building equitable digital communities, expanding digital cultural heritage capacities, and opening scholarly communications. This special issue is organized into sections based on the emergent areas, which are briefly presented here:

Building Equitable Digital Communities
As digital equity institutions, libraries increasingly play key roles in local communities. In this respect, libraries (public libraries in particular) provide essential resources and services to improve daily life for people of all ages. This work builds and advances the principles for access and adoption outlined in the 2012 IMLS report Building Digital Communities: A Framework for Action. IMLS-funded work in this focal area supports the full range of social and civic functions libraries play in their communities, including but not limited to: education, economic and workforce development, civic engagement, public safety and emergency services, health information, and social connections. Projects in this area also help to expand digital inclusion, broadband access, and digital literacy.

Expanding Digital Cultural Heritage Capacities
Libraries and archives are essential to preserving and providing access to the cultural record. New technologies, including those developed in libraries, have led to significant opportunities for libraries to collect, preserve, provide access to, and enable use of collections. The complexity and amount of digital content managed by libraries continues to increase dramatically. Work supported by IMLS in this focal area is focused on enhancing tools, services, and practices to expand the capacities of libraries and archives as memory institutions. A common goal is making collections as widely usable as possible while respecting issues related to intellectual property and cultural sensitivities.

Opening Scholarly Communications
Libraries play an increasingly critical and central role in the production and dissemination of knowledge. The opening scholarly communications focal area emphasizes building, revamping, and educating for the social and technical infrastructures necessary to support research and scholarly communications. Scholarly communication includes any data or deliverable developed at any point during the research lifecycle. Efforts to increase the accessibility and preservation of resources are frequent themes related to work in areas including open source software, open science, open scholarship, and open data.



IMLS-funded efforts in these focal areas are only one component of the related dialogs and projects happening throughout the professional community. Collectively, these efforts are already significantly helping libraries envision, refine, and implement digital infrastructures. The essays in this issue provide concrete examples of how library and archives communities are responding to the NDP call to action. Readers interested in shared infrastructures for libraries are encouraged to learn more about ongoing projects and to consider applying for IMLS funding to further develop and improve our shared national digital platform.


About the Guest Editors

Trevor Owens is the Supervisory Senior Program Officer responsible for directing the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) national digital platform initiative. He previously worked on national digital preservation strategy in the Office of Strategic Initiatives at the Library of Congress, and open source software projects at the Center for History and New Media.


Ashley E. Sands is a Senior Library Program Officer at IMLS where she manages a portfolio of competitive grants focusing on opening scholarly communications. As a doctoral student, she spent more than five years researching the data practices of astronomers with the UCLA Center for Knowledge Infrastructures.


Emily Reynolds is a Library Program Officer at IMLS, managing the agency's portfolio of competitive grants related to digital cultural heritage projects in libraries. Previously, Emily worked as a National Digital Stewardship Resident at the World Bank Group Archives, and earned a Master of Science in Information from the University of Michigan School of Information.


James Neal is a Senior Library Program Officer at IMLS, managing the agency's portfolio of competitive grants related to open education resources, digital inclusion, and broadband access. Prior to joining IMLS, James was a children's librarian and digital services librarian with Prince George's County Memorial Library System in Maryland.


Stephen Mayeaux is a Library Program Specialist at IMLS. He received his Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011. Previously, he was the Information Manager at the American Library Association, Washington Office.

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