Dan Cohen Interview: MN Digital Library 12th Annual Meeting
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Dan Cohen Interview: MN Digital Library 12th Annual Meeting

August 12, 2019


I’m Zach Miller of Minitex and
I am here with Dan Cohen, the founder and director of the Digital Public Library of America He was our our keynote speaker today at the Minnesota Digital Libraries 12th annual meeting. Thanks for coming
Dan. It’s great to be here. So for people that weren’t able to
make it to the meeting, what was the big highlight or takeaway you’d like
to communicate to them. Well I think the biggest takeaway really
is that DPLA is a collaboration. What I talked a lot about today and we heard about it in other sessions as well is that there are many ways to get
involved the DPLA. There is material around the state of Minnesota that has been put into the DPLA and we’re driving traffic and eyeballs back out to that. But really more on a human level we
really saw today that there are so many people in the stat that are interested in getting involved
and there are many ways to do that from a DPLA community rep to serving on one of our advisory committees, to really getting involved with something major like Minnesota Digital Library where it really is in the action of creativity DPLA, creating the aggregation really one day at a time. It was exciting to be here and to witness everything going on. So when you think about DPLA tomorrow, what’s the real future that
your excited about and what’s the dreamed future they’re
even more excited about. Space ships, things like that, jet packs. You know, first of all, we still have a
lot of work. I think the real future in the next couple of years will be about doing what I like to call completing the map which is making sure that you have an on-ramp
like the Minnesota Digital Library in every state in the Union. Right now we only cover about fifteen states and so we need to bring on 35 more states and make sure that they have what we call service hubs or places like Minnesota Digital Library that they can go through to get their content into the DPLA. So I think we’ll be spending a lot of
the next two to three years on that. We’ll also be spreading out and thinking about different kinds of item types, gaps that have collection, to really ensure
that we have the full range of human expression in the DPLA. I think that’s part of it. I think in our dream
jetpack scenario, actually a lot of what I talked about today was DPLA as a platform which is often not talked about as much as an aggregation of library content. And I think we’re seeing some really exciting things going on and some maybe hints of the future in the way that people are really getting creative. Software developers,
educators, others who are using the data and the content from DPLA to really dream up completely new apps from iPhone app’s to integrating DPLA material across the
globe. I pointed out today that there’s a exhibit on the first world war that is produced by Europeana which is our sister project in Europe and it incorporates DPLA content and that’s really exciting. I guess it means that we are really bootstrapping into a global digital library.
So that’s an exciting future that we all have to look forward to. So not necessicarily jetpacks, but still very exciting. Yes, we will leave the jetpacks to Google maybe and other places, yes. So you mentioned serendipity during our talk and the importance of serendipity and the ability of people to come to DPLA and discover really valuable stuff sort of accidentally. Can you talk a little bit more about that? This is such an important theme for me, because I think that in our transition from analog world
where we really had the pleasure of
browsing bookshelves and almost literally physically bumping into things. Same with history in archives, I’m a very traditionally trained historian litteraly would bump into things, I would open up boxes in archives in Europe and the United States and find new things, find new letters. That notion of serendipity and how we bring that up online, I think in an age where we’re just doing keyword
researches, it’s almost a little bit too targeted and there’s not a lot of fuzziness
to it where we might bump into things on the edges. One of the things that DPLA is trying to do with our interfaces and through our partnerships
is to have different kinds of material adjacent to each other online and get into your visual realm. I gave one example where we have book side by side with visual culture, artwork, some photographs. So that’s a way for the student, the teacher, the advanced researcher, to really bump into things and to have a
serendipitous discovery of something they normally would find online. Sounds like
a way for people to spend more time than they intended on the
internet is but in a productive way. Yes, and we are happy to have people spend
hours and hours on DPLA site and I browsing is really exciting. I think that there is something in the DPLA
for everyone and there’s really extensive holdings in a variety of areas where there is amateur enthusiasts not just profession historians like me to find
interest there so, we’re happy to have everyone take a
look, go to dp.la and see what is in our holdings. So, last question for you Dan, as you know the Minnesota Digital Library is now housed within Minitex and we’re all about libraries at Minitex. And of course, libraries are about more than books but I still would love to know what’s the best book that you’ve read recently or what are you reading now? Oh my gosh, that is a fantastic question. What is the best book I have read recently? This is going to sound strange. I’m trying to think of what I have
right now on my iPad. Well let’s see. I am vary between fiction and nonfiction. I recently read Robin Sloan’s book, which I highly
recommend, his first novel called Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Which anyone who is interested in libraries should absolutely read
about this all night bookstore that has curious,
potentially UFO-like properties to it. And on the non-fiction side, I’m currently reading a book, this might be of slightly less interest, but on the history of accounting. I am a professional historian and I am interested in things related to numbers. I wrote a history 19th century math so
I’m sure everyone watching this video now is very excited, but there is a great new book by Jacob Soul which is about the origin of the spreadsheet Essentially the origin of the spreadsheet an
accounting and the profit and loss statement. He makes an credible argument that it led to you many revolutions and interesting things. Jake is a terrific historian at UCLA and, did I get that right, or USC. USC. And a really brilliant scholar of early modern and modern history. So if you are interested in that, you can Google Jacob Soul’s history. Well if we
didn’t know what before, we definitely know it now, that you are not a
one-dimensional person. No I think I actually I do
have three deminsions. It is great to be here in person, I do so much digitally that it is nice, I am a gregarious person, it’s great to talk to people live, It’s great to talk to people via video and so I’m not
just all on Twitter or via email. It’s wonderful to be here in Minnesota and to have a a chance to talk to you and your colleagues. Well thanks
again for coming Dan. Thanks so much. day

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