This week’s issue revisits the Digital Public Library of America and offers a progress report as we approach the April 2013 launch. We also look at recent posts from MLA Scholarly Communication Director Kathleen Fitzpatrick and digital artist Kyle McDonald, each confronting the ways public authorship is changing the contours of scholarly and artistic production.
Feel free to add your comments or questions below!
Ever since the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) emerged in late 2010 with the promise of creating a national digital library it has generated much publicity, enthusiasm, and criticism. I attended the plenary meeting in October 2011 and the excitement was palpable. The meeting began with the announcement of $5 million in funding from the Sloan Foundation and the Arcadia Fund, the Beta Sprint presentations demonstrated the commitment of intellectual energy to the project, and the April 2013 launch date loomed, yet seemed manageable. However, the movement seems to have stalled: there are many critical questions that remain unanswered; there is a lack of coordination between the workstreams that has prevented rapid progress, amplified by the non-existence of an executive to call shots; and the April 2013 launch date continues to loom (less than 9 months!).
That said, there are still plenty of positive forces working for the DPLA. The initiative is full of bright and committed individuals, all of whom are aware of these issues and are working to address them. Here’s an overview of what’s happened so far in 2012:
Hackathon (April 5): began testing the front-end platform and developing apps.
DPLA West (April 27): the workstreams discussed how to better organize their work (e.g. nodes), communicate more effectively, and create incentives for institutions to participate; the steering committee discussed how the organization should be structured and funded as well as the initial architecture of the website.
Technical Development Plan (July): an outline for creating the front-end DPLA platform and an API by April 2013.
Audience and Participation workshop (July 27, Baltimore)
Interested in participating? The DPLA website lists number of ways you can get involved. For example, you can help determine how the DPLA front end will look by providing feedback on the Audience and Participation workstream’s use cases (better yet, attend the Audience and Participation workshop later this month and share your thoughts in person!).
My Morning Serial: Feedback Loops
Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s recent post on blogs as serialized scholarship frames the scholarly blog as a return to form: specifically the early modern and 17th-century form of scholarly letter writing and serialized fiction.
Fitzpatrick makes some provocative points about the process-oriented discussion opened up by such serial conversations. Rather than the granite-hard conclusions of the journal article or monograph, blogs offer a more plastic reader/writer feedback loop: a forum in which commentators can actually have an effect on the scholarly product; and one that gives authors the chance to witness, in something like real time, the effects of their work on an audience…and adjust their research accordingly. As Fitzpatrick proclaims, “We need forms, and values, that capture thought in the process of happening, recording thought’s own seriality.”
This serial audience-author exchange resonates with another of this week’s readings, Kyle McDonald’s Wired article detailing last year’s “People Staring at Computers” blow-up. For those unfamiliar, McDonald’s work involved installing applications in the showroom computers at several Manhattan Apple Stores. The app took pictures of customers browsing the machines (a simultaneously public and somehow deeply interior action shot) and uploaded them to a private server—all of which made Apple (and the Secret Service folks hired by Apple) pretty darn anxious.
Aside from the harrowing tale of an artist’s run-in with the fed, the article offers a fascinating glimpse into the potential for contemporary art to reach beyond its often parochial blast radius. What McDonald recounts is less the story of a Secret Service investigation into potential computer fraud and abuse, and more one of a public audience that alternately rallies behind and decries the artist’s explorations of publicity, openness, and automated “computational art.”
In both McDonald’s and Fitzpatrick’s posts, what we find is the desire for gated communities (whether scholars or contemporary artists) to unmoor themselves from gate-i-ness…to use the public space of the web to reassert public relevance.
Of course the question remains: is public relevance necessarily antithetical to the kinds of vetting and gatekeeping both academia and high art rely on when it comes to legitimating their respective authors?
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!