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Sunsetting ESDN in July 2019

Posted on January 29, 2019

For almost five years, METRO has operated the New York State Service Hub for the Digital Public Library of America, ESDN. Over these years, METRO has facilitated the addition of 443,200 records from about 200 organizations to the DPLA platform, thus making many hard to find primary source artifacts more discoverable on the web. Despite these results and a great deal of investment in the service, we must sunset these activities beginning in FY18–19 due to a lack of sustainable funding. This is sad. We and our partners have all invested a great deal in this effort. In this post, we’ll explain the history of the service, how it has been paid for, why we haven’t been able to develop a business model to sustain it and what will happen next. We welcome your comments and suggestions.

In 2013, METRO’s board of directors saw promise in the nascent DPLA project and decided to dedicate reserve funds to launch the New York State service hub. METRO hired a Project Manager, Metadata Specialist, and a Technical Specialist who set out to design a community of practice and workflows for statewide contribution to the DPLA. This team was successful and did an amazing job. The original annual budget for the hub was $300,000/yr. $250,000 of this was released from reserve funds at METRO and another $50,000 contributed by the other eight regional multi-type library consortia (library “councils”) distributed across the state.

Because METRO is one of these nine library councils in New York State, we were able to collaborate and use this existing infrastructure as a mechanism for developing relationships with organizations all across the state. By organizing with the eight other regional councils, serving New Yorkers from Buffalo to Potsdam and everywhere in between, we developed a network of professionals who helped to identify organizations in every region that would benefit from participation in the DPLA project. In addition, we coordinated with the New York State Library and the New York State Archive to contribute their collections to this national effort. As of November 2018, items from approximately 200 organizations across the state are being harvested by our hub and shared with the world via the dp.la URL.

Why can’t METRO continue?

When METRO’s Board of Directors authorized the use of reserve funds to start a New York State service hub for the DPLA, the intention was always to seek stable, dedicated funding from state agencies and other partners. It was clear from the beginning that the service hub could not be funded out of METRO’s reserves in perpetuity. As of 2018, more than one million dollars of METRO’s reserve funds have been dedicated to operating and improving this service in the absence of a full commitment from any other entity. At this point, METRO can no longer support this work.

Questions and Answers About Funding

Here are the usual questions we get about hub funding, and this is by no means a complete list. If you have others, please feel free to comment. Our answers aren’t exhaustive either: happy to clarify or expand on anything here.

Why not charge institutions on a per-item basis to contribute?

This question has been posed often. One of the biggest problems with this approach is that it undermines the very purpose of the DPLA idea. Due to the extremely labor intensive nature of aggregation work, charging per-item at a level that would cover staff costs to operate the hub would result in high rates. By charging contributing agencies per-item, we would exclude smaller organizations with smaller budgets and de-incentivize diverse contributions. Since our interpretation of the purpose of the DPLA aggregate is to surface unique, marginalized, hidden histories and artifacts alongside those made available at our larger, well resourced institutions, we just didn’t see a way to implement this kind of business model and remain true to our mission.

If this is a statewide project, why isn’t it receiving full support from state agencies?

It was receiving some support from state agencies, only not enough. Each of the other regional councils, as well as both the NY State Library and NY State Archive have contributed a total of $50,000–60,000 a year. Given the labor that each of the other councils put toward the effort, and given how tight all of our budgets are and the many different kinds of services we provide to our members, this is all the group can afford to dedicate to the project.

What about philanthropic support?

We have tried, without success. We have approached government organizations and private foundations with a variety of ideas. Ultimately this is not a solution. Grants typically don’t fund operating expenses, and even if we were successful we’d only be kicking the can further down the road.

Next Steps

Disbanding the current service hub will happen with a clear plan and ongoing communication. METRO is working with each of the regional councils across the state to contact current contributors to DPLA. We will offer current participants one final harvest in the spring and DPLA has agreed to host existing New York State content for the foreseeable future. Current contributing institutions will have the opportunity to decide if they would like the content they have already shared with DPLA to remain in the national portal, or whether they would prefer to have it removed.

DPLA is working with us to contribute a last harvest to DPLA between now and June. DPLA is committed to ongoing representation of New York’s holdings in DPLA and has begun preliminary conversations with a number of collecting institutions interested in continuing, and growing, the New York State Hub. (f you wish to be part of those conversations, and a convening being planned this spring, please reach out to Michele Kimpton, DPLA’s director of business development, [email protected].)

Thank you for reading about this decision at METRO and thanks to everyone in the state that participated in the hub network; we hope you understand why we are pursuing this course of action. Again, as longtime supporters of DPLA, this is a difficult decision. Our partners have paid for hub services to run through June 30, 2019, and we will continue to provide services until then. Should any of our other colleagues and partners wish to take over this work, please contact DPLA directly. We will work with DPLA to help hand the project off to you as smoothly as we possibly can.