Whose Job Is It Anyway?

Recently, DPLA has been making waves throughout the library community with the recent layoffs of six employees – a developer, a web designer, an ebook team member, an administrator, a metadata librarian, and a curation and education specialist.  Considering that it is the Digital Public Library of America, the laying off of a metadata librarian seems a particularly disturbing choice. While many questions from earlier this week remain unanswered, DPLA has attempted to provide a few vague answers.

Throughout the course of our class discussion on the topic, the question occurred to me – the mission of the Digital Public Library of America (just from its name alone) makes it sound awfully similar to that of a National Library/National Museum.  But we have the Library of Congress as our National Library. Oh, wait. It’s the Library of Congress. I’m so confused! Whose job is it to curate, preserve, and display our cultural heritage?

Let’s begin by taking a look at the mission statements of the respective organizations.  The DPLA mission (insofar that it can be found on the website) is: “The Digital Public Library of America empowers people to learn, grow, and contribute to a diverse and better-functioning society. We do this by maximizing public access to our share history, culture, and knowledge.”

On the surface, the Library of Congress’ mission is: “The mission of Library Services is to develop qualitatively the Library’s universal collections, which document the history and further the creativity of the American people and which record and contribute to the advancement of civilization and knowledge throughout the world, and to acquire, organize, provide access to, maintain, secure, and preserve these collections.”  Aside from issues of public access, the missions sound quite similar.

Upon further research, the Library of Congress website also states: “The primary function of the Library of Congress is to serve the Congress. In addition, the Library provides service to government agencies, other libraries, scholars, and the general public. The Library welcomes public use of its general reference facilities and endeavors to offer the widest possible use of its collections consistent with their preservation and with its obligation to serve the Congress and other government agencies.”  This webpage goes on to detail that the general public is only permitted use of the library’s collections once every other resource (public libraries, open access databases, academic libraries, and special libraries) have been exhausted.  A member of the general public may only use the Library of Congress physical collections as a last resort.

The primary function of the Library of Congress is to serve Congress.  This isn’t to say that they don’t have services and programs intended for the general public. In fact, they urge members of the general public to participate in their Beyond Words project to discover and transcribe old newspaper cartoons.  They have digital resources for teachers and digital collections available to the public.

While the Library of Congress was not originally intended as a National Library, it has certainly expanded into that role, even if its primary function (in terms of its physical collections) is to serve members of Congress.

DPLA, on the other hand, is entirely digital, while only a portion of the Library of Congress is digital.  LOC curates and displays artifacts within its possession, while DPLA curates objects from all over the country – from the largest museum to the smallest historical society.  Like a true library, DPLA offers research guides to help its patrons.

Of course, the biggest difference between Library of Congress and DPLA is funding.  The Library of Congress is a government agency while DPLA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. DPLA has received grants from all of the big names: the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the IMLS, to name a few. A more complete list of grants received by the DPLA and the projects they fund can be found here.

But our question remains: whose job is it to preserve our cultural heritage? Technically, it’s not the job of the Library of Congress – not according to their historical purpose, though they have certainly stepped into the role.  And who’s to say it’s any one organization’s job?  The United States does not have an official National Library and the U.S. government has other priorities at present.  The Library of Congress is doing the best job it can and the National Archives has their hands full. The DPLA is doing important work, even if many believe the project and its funding is being questionably managed. I, for one, am glad that multiple organizations are interested in and actively working on digitally preserving our cultural heritage.


Project Management & Digital Libraries

In Week 7’s lecture, we touched upon project planning and project management, and I’d like to expand on that a bit now.

Why is project management important in digital libraries?

Within most digital libraries, the work is project-based. It is important to properly manage these projects because often your resources (time, money, employees) are limited and you want to get your digital library completed in a timely manner before those resources run out.  It is also important that clear expectations are set for your team and everyone knows what their responsibilities are and how the project will work.

What project management methods are out there?

There are two basic types of project management: traditional (also referred to as waterfall) and agile.

Traditional project management requires a formal planning process.  It looks at the breadth and scope of a project from the beginning and plans all workloads and deadlines through the to end.  There is often little tolerance for change within this methodology.  This style of project management takes a lot of time and planning in the beginning and attempts to predict outcomes, despite at times multiple variables. In many environments for many types of projects, this methodology works just fine.

Unlike traditional project management, agile project management only needs enough of a plan to get started (though deadlines are vital).  Cervone has a wonderful set of articles (cited below) on using agile project management within digital libraries. They are short, quick reads and I highly recommend them.  Agile was originally created for software development, though many digital libraries have adopted it to suit their project management needs.

In agile, there is a focus on milestones, and every milestone must be tied to a deliverable with a completion date attached to it (Cervone, 2012b).  Given the newness of the methodology, many people comfortable with traditional project management may be resistant to try agile. Therefore, it is important that within the project plan communication is a priority, including how much communication people can expect, how communication will occur, a change management plan, and identification of the standards and norms for the team (Cervone, 2012c).

The main practice of agile is Scrum project management (yes, many terms and ideas of this methodology have been borrowed from rugby). Scrum’s main focus is on “sprints,” or spans of time (usually 2-4 weeks) where progress is made on a project. At the beginning of a project, a “backlog” of tasks to be completed is created (Dulock, 2015). Daily meetings, called Scrums, occur where each member tells the group 3 things:

  1. What they accomplished since the last Scrum
  2. What they will accomplish before the next Scrum
  3. What obstacles hinder their progress

The Scrum Master’s job is to eliminate the obstacles for his or her team. Team members are in constant communication and constantly collaborate. The goal at the end of every sprint is to have a product (or a piece of the larger product) that is shippable.

However, agile has its downsides as well. Agile works best when the project is an employee’s entire job. This is rare in libraries, as everyone in a library has other responsibilities throughout the day. However, while agile was created for software development, libraries can still take aspects of the methodology to apply to their projects.

University of Colorado Boulder took on a digitization project using Scrum methods. They didn’t use the entire methodology; rather adopted principles that would best suit them and their team’s needs (Dulock, 2015). The resultant process allowed the library to have more projects going at once, faster publication of digital collections, and more objects digitized and surrogate records created than before (Dulock, 2015).

There is no consensus on which methodology is best for LIS institutions. When planning a digital libraries project, it’s important to be aware of various methodologies and to know the culture of your institution and your team to know which would work best for a given project.  Sometimes it may be necessary to use some aspects from traditional and some aspects from agile to create a project plan that is optimal for your project.  At the end of the day, if a project is completed on time, on (or under) budget, and the employees are satisfied with the process as well as the product, it doesn’t really matter what methodology was used.


Cervone, H. F. (2012a). Understanding the elements of a digital library project plan: part 1. OCLC Systems & Services: International Digital Library Perspectives,28(2), 75-78.

Cervone, H. F. (2012b). Understanding the elements of a digital library project plan: part 2. OCLC Systems & Services: International Digital Library Perspectives,28(3), 126-129.

Cervone, H. F. (2012c). Understanding the elements of a digital library project plan: part 3. OCLC Systems & Services: International Digital Library Perspectives,28(4), 176-179.

Dulock, M. J., & Long, H. (2015). Digital collections are a sprint, not a marathon: adapting scrum projects management techniques to library digital initiatives. Information Technology and Libraries, 34(4), 5-17.

Copyright & Family Photos

I spent this past summer digitizing old family photos, letters, and documents in order to put together a coffee table-type book for my immediate and extended family.  Our Week 2 readings focused on copyright and intellectual property.  While thinking about this topic, I asked myself: are my family photos copyrighted? Did I accidentally pirate my family photos by scanning them and putting them online (via a private link) for my family to view, download, and make their own prints? Let’s find out.

Before going any further, I made sure to have my handy-dandy Copyright and Public Domain chart, courtesy of Cornell University, ready to eliminate any instances where objects may have fallen into the public domain.

Luckily, many of the items are automatically considered safe because when my father inherited the the house and all its contents, the ownership of the copyright of any and all photos my grandparents photographed themselves immediately transferred to my dad. This is covered in U.S. Copyright Law Chapter 2 § 203.  Now, what about the photos they didn’t take? What about the photo from 1998 of my grandparents on vacation that they asked a random stranger to take with my grandpa’s camera? Well, technically whoever took that photo with my grandpa’s camera owns the copyright to that picture until 2118 (because we have no way of knowing who they are or when/if they died, and therefore can’t add 70 years to that date). However, this is an extremely low risk item because the chances that anyone outside of the family ever seeing it are slim, the chances that the person who took the photograph will ever see it are slimmer, and the chances that the person who took the photograph will remember they took that photograph and demand it be removed are miniscule.

Now, what about my grandma’s senior portrait? That was taken in 1958 at a photo studio in Bend, Oregon and it even has the studio’s name and address on the back of the portrait.  Even if the exact photographer is unknown, it was a work-made-for-hire photograph (we’ll touch on that more later), and the studio likely retains the copyright to said photo.  This particular photo company is no longer in business, so who owns the copyright? The former owner? Their heirs? This seems to be a question I’m having trouble answering. Does the studio own the copyright? Who does the copyright transfer to at the dissolution of a company? Does the copyright transfer back to the photographer? Whomever owns the copyright, it’s not my family, so this photo is still under copyright.  However, it is likely the unknown author of the photograph is dead and no objections will be raised at its publication. But it would be worth it to do my due diligence and track down what I can until I reach a dead end.

Let’s talk about newspapers, because if there’s anything that grandparents love hoarding collecting, it’s newspapers! Most of the newspapers down at the ranch house were definitely under copyright, as The Bend Bulletin is still an operating newspaper and retains the copyright to all of its material, due to the “work-made-for-hire” category of copyright law where a reporter or photographer employed by a newspaper does not retain the copyrights to their articles or photos.

Now, did I make scans of these newspaper clippings? Yes. Do we have an original copy of that newspaper clipping in storage, unavailable for handling due to its fragility? Yes.  Did I still violate copyright? Yes, but I would argue it’s a very low risk violation, as no one in my family is going to print out a newspaper clipping (and given the size of the clipping in relation to the whole edition would likely fall under fair use). Not to mention, every time a family member was in the paper, my grandparents bought no less than 12 copies of that edition, and I would wager less than 12 people look at my digital collection. The Bend Bulletin is losing no money.

Lastly, let’s take a look at a photograph taken before 1923 and was never published. I should be free and clear, right? It’s in the public domain?


Remember, for the 1923 rule to apply it needs to have been created and published before 1923.  If it was never published, then you need to add 120 years from the date of the photo’s creation. So if that photograph was taken on New Year’s Eve 1922, it won’t be in the public domain until 2042.

So, did I violate copyright law by digitizing my “family archive?” For most of the collection, no; in a handful of instances, yes. But luckily, it is a very low risk collection.

Here are a couple of links I found useful, both with input from lawyers:

Photography and Copyright Law

Can I Scan That Photo Legally?