September 30, 2020

Digital Public Library of America: Prelim Plans for "Beta Sprint" Released

Full Text of Prelim. Announcement (by John Palfrey)

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Steering Committee is pleased to announce a “Beta Sprint” to encourage the development of demonstrations of what such a service might look like.  Most likely, any DPLA design would enable the indexing of and access to a wide range of content, which is presently distributed broadly.  Betas can tackle any part of such a system or the whole.

The Steering Committee’s secretariat will post the official intellectual property and other terms and conditions of the Beta Sprint online by May 20th. All participants will agree in advance to abide by these rules.

The idea is very simple.  We are looking for ideas, put into the form of code and content, that express what a DPLA could be. Initial versions of these beta systems are due to the Steering Committee on September 1, 2011.  The Steering Committee, or its designees, will select a subset of the most promising betas to be presented at a public, “big tent” meeting planned for early fall (likely October, in Washington, DC).  We welcome participation broadly, though, for legal reasons, participants must be 18 years of age or older.

The rules will be spelled out explicitly but may be summarized as follows: participants must send a brief statement of interest to the Steering Committee’s secretariat at the Berkman Center by email by June 1, 2011.  This one-page document must include the names of the participants, the basic idea behind the beta that is being developed, and any key partners who are assisting with the project.  In this statement of interest, the participants must also agree to the intellectual property provisions of the beta sprint, which are described roughly below and will be described in detail on a web site before long.  Participants will not be held to anything that is included in this statement of interest down the line.  Participants must deliver, in whatever format, their beta to the Steering Committee by September 1, 2011, for a brief review, which will take place over the ensuing two weeks or so.  Depending on how many promising submissions are delivered, the Steering Committee or its designees will select a subset to present to the public roughly a month later, allowing for time for submitters to develop further the ideas.  After the public event, the Steering Committee or its designees will make a public statement regarding whether one or more of these betas might serve as the foundation for the DPLA itself.  It is unlikely that there will be a winner, per se, of the beta sprint, but rather the possibility of one or more proposals helping to guide where we take the project.

With respect to intellectual property (IP): all participants must agree in advance to contribute a free, perpetual, worldwide license to all intellectual property used in the betas to the DPLA.  We anticipate that this might mean simply working with open source code, in most cases, but it also might mean developing a specific license that will ensure that there are no IP-related hold-ups down the road.  The Steering Committee’s secretariat will post the official intellectual property and other terms and conditions of the Beta Sprint on the web, and all participants will agree in advance to abide by these rules.  The point is simply to ensure that there is no extent to which a certain beta becomes the basis for a public-spirited DPLA, only to have a situation where the entire project is held up because of IP concerns.

The criteria for the submissions are very broad.  The betas should be roughly consonant with the description of the DPLA that is set forth in the four-page Concept Paper posted on the DPLA wiki at <> (where ideas diverge significantly from the concept note, it would be useful for the submitters to note that in their 9/1 submissions to the Steering Committee).  The betas might be at various levels of completeness when they are presented; the notion is not that we expect anything to be “done,” but rather expressive of a direction in which we might take the DPLA.  The best betas would be compelling on their own but also will function as a gesture toward future directions.  We encourage participants to work with a library or another holder of rights in content to demonstrate the effectiveness of a particular approach to building out a DPLA.  For inspiration, one might consider the general approach taken by initiatives whose leaders are on the DPLA Steering Committee, such as the Internet Archive, Public.Resource.Org, the Hathi Trust, American Memory, and others, as well as the Europeana project and the national digital libraries in the Netherlands, Norway, and South Korea.  Any number of approaches to building a DPLA, from a series of common protocols to a fully blown, centralized system, is possible to explore.  We encourage participants to engage the public in their development processes as well, to the extent that they are comfortable in doing so.

Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.