British Columbia Library Association

BC Digital Library for the public good

By Shirley Lew and Bronwen Sprout

The BC Digital Library (originally referred to as the Provincial Digital Library or PDL) is an idea and a proof-of-concept that has been in active discussion among BC GLAM sector members since 2015. From the beginning, the vision for BCDL was to create a resource and associated support services that featured the shared social assets of this province’s cultural heritage created by and for our communities.

Those who have been involved with BCDL discussions since that time understand that this vision will only be successful if there is a shared commitment to a planning framework guided by a shared set of principles and values. A key value identified early in the process was radical collaboration: what is required to ensure BCDL remains open, accessible, and inclusive to small, remote, large or urban communities across the province? What role and responsibilities does BCDL have in reconciliation? How do we build and sustain community and digital infrastructure that spans our diverse sectors and forms of practice? Other values important to BCDL collaborators include action, sustainability, stewardship, and coherence. As the May 10, 2015 Symposium Final Report highlighted, “at the core of these values is the deeply held belief and commitment to the public good.”

Essential questions and priorities raised in early BCDL discussions have guided the work since. Central to these was the importance of learning from our past experience and from similar initiatives around the world. A federated digital library is not a new idea and useful examples of technological infrastructure, methodology and workflows exist in other contexts. However, what is new for the BC GLAM community is learning to do radical collaboration well and in a sustainable manner. Learning from our past and from the experiences of others, we recognize the need to pay close attention to challenges such as governance, sustainable funding models, achievable and enabling metadata standards, building a model that connects to wider national and global environments, and doing this work by collaborating creatively and effectively across our disciplines and organizations. BCDL should connect communities now and in the future.  

BCDL is aspirational. While some of these ideas may sound radical, mostly they shouldn’t; they are the core principles and values identified at a gathering of more than 100 representatives from the academic, archive, K to 12 education, library and museum sectors in BC in a 2016 symposium. The broader vision, aspirations, planning framework, and priorities identified at that meeting have sustained and guided the conversation since.

Where are we now? BCDL benefits from the ongoing work of a core administrative team, the in-kind contribution of partnering organizations, who have built a proof-of-concept harvesting and search interface. The same team conducted a community survey that informed a comprehensive business analysis. Discussions and dialogue that have tested and refined the vision for BCDL through conference presentations, reflected in papers and proceedings, and in updates to various representative tables in the GLAM sector, such as the BCLA Board meetings. Most recently, a day-long session was held with the three research universities – University of BC, University of Victoria, and Simon Fraser University – to explore what BCDL means to them.

We know now that BCDL is much more than a digital initiative and infrastructure. BCDL is also a network of voluntary commitments, sustained by relationships in and across the BC GLAM community, and grounded in a deep desire to contribute to the public good.

For more information, please visit the BCDL website here.


Shirley Lew is the President of the BCLA Board and the Dean, Library, Teaching & Learning Services at Vancouver Community College. Bronwen Sprout is a Director on the BCLA Board and the Head, Digital Programs and Services at the University of British Columbia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *