Background on the Digital Collections Service

Digital Collections for the Northwest

Since 2015, when the Oregon State Library and Washington State Library convened the Northwest Digital Collections Summit, the Alliance has been part of a group of organizations seeking to better support Northwest cultural heritage organizations (libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies) with digital collections. During the summit, participants identified deficits that included the need for shared standards, one or more shared systems, documentation and training, and support for collaboration.

The recommended next steps identified were:

  • Shared standards for digitization and metadata (descriptions of digital collections, also known as cataloguing).
  • Support for a shared regional digital content system.
  • Support existing local and regional collaborative digitization projects, as well as existing statewide newspaper digitization programs in both Washington and Oregon.
  • Develop various written materials (toolkits, outreach materials, etc.) focused on broad community participation.
  • Encourage institutions in Washington and Oregon to form one or more initial collaborative project(s) focused on eventual participation in the DPLA.

In 2016-2017, the Alliance partnered with the Oregon State Library and Washington State Library on a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant-funded project to develop shared metadata standards, documentation for implementing those standards, and training to assist cultural heritage institutions in creating and/or remediating digital collections descriptions to be compliant with shared metadata standards. Although the training was open to Alliance members only for that year, all the documentation from the project is publicly available, and was promoted through the Washington State Library’s Rural Heritage Program and in other venues. By the end of that project, Alliance members had brought the metadata of 67,000 digital objects into compliance with its shared standards and harvested those descriptions into a shared system.

In 2017-2018, this partnership continued with the addition of the Oregon Heritage Commission. See the details of that work here.


The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) connects people to the riches held within America’s libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions. All of the materials found through DPLA—photographs, books, maps, news footage, oral histories, personal letters, museum objects, artwork, government documents, and so much more—are immediately available in digital format. The DPLA aggregates digital collections through its network of regional and state hubs. The DPLA hubs model is establishing a national network out of the over forty state/regional digital libraries and myriad large digital libraries in the US, bringing together digitized and born-digital content from across the country into a single access point for end users, and an open platform for developers. The model supports or establishes local collaborations, professional networks, metadata globalization, and long-term sustainability.

A DPLA Hub for the Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest is one of the last remaining regions in the United State without a DPLA hub. The University of Washington contributes content directly to DPLA, but there is no on-ramp for other institutions. Cultural heritage institutions in the region and DPLA staff are motivated to form a hub in the region, and have been working toward that since 2014.

Last summer, the Alliance submitted its application to become a DPLA hub–initially only for its 39 members–and expects a response to that application before the end 2017. With 67,000 standards-compliant digital objects in a shared system designed to deliver those objects to DPLA, we are prepared to move forward with making that content available through DPLA as soon as the application process is complete.

As part of a year-long strategic planning effort, the governing council of the Alliance will consider extending hub services to non-members. While extending services is by no means a foregone conclusion, the existing collaboration with the Oregon State Library, Washington State Library, and (new this year) the Oregon Heritage Commission means a broad commitment throughout the region to ensure the degree of DPLA access that will serve all institutions. Since both the Alliance and DPLA are funded wholly or in part by membership fees, how those fees would be covered is also part of those discussions.

Regardless of the specific outcomes of that process, utilizing the standards, documentation, and training is of great benefit to cultural heritage organizations in the Northwest. Using shared approaches to digital collections description and access can only increase the access to and use of collections that document the region’s history, environment, economy, culture, and people in service of education, government, and business.