Spark 4: Digital Libraries Investigation

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The Kansas City Public Library: Digital Branch and Missouri Valley Special Collections



The Kansas City Public Library mission is to act as “a doorway to knowledge for all people in our community.” The collection development plan promotes this mission by offering a framework of five guiding principles: literacy, lifelong learning, imagination, intellectual freedom, service excellence. According to their “About the Library” page, “…the system consists of a central library, nine physical branches, a digital branch and an outreach services program serving a constituency of over 250,000 in Kansas City Missouri.” In addition, they serve 1.7 million citizens in the metro area of Kansas City, including neighboring library districts via reciprocal borrowing agreements. The public library digital library offers patrons a vast number of resources. Electronic books, music, movies and comics are available via Overdrive, Freegal and hoopla. The resources and research portion of the digital library offers an array of databases, some of which are restricted to patrons, others are open access. Learning tools span Tumble books for children, age specific research databases, to life-long learning support. Apps specifically for the Kansas City Public Library’s services and suggestions for useful third party apps are available on the APPS page. Hansen’s assertion that, “sustainability should be seen in relation to the results” and that a high level of usability, well-chosen technology and a “healthy, long lived business model” are key all apply to this digital library (2012). According to a press release, KCPL is a, “local and national leader in the promotion of digital literacy” and was awarded the 2008 National Medal for Museum and Library Service in recognition of the creation of, “an ideal place for Kansas City residents to gather, work, play, and learn.” More recently, the KCPL was a 2017 Library Aware Community Award recipient (Lewis, 2017).


The governing body is a board of nine appointed trustees. R. Crosby Kemper III is the Executive Director of the library. Library partners include the SHLB Coalition (a Washington D.C. based non-profit that promotes digital literacy), Mid-American Regional Council (MARC), a non-profit focused on regional planning, and KCResearch, which offers community information and resources for greater Kansas City. The KCPL is funded by property tax revenue and grant funding from the Federal government and the state of Kansas, temporary grant streams, fines, fees and donations (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report). KCResearch is managed by the library with funding from a grant from the Kauffman foundation.

Chowdhury (2014) asserts that three elements must be measured to ascertain the sustainability of digital libraries: economic, social and environmental. These elements translate to better, less expensive access with reduced costs of processes of creation, distribution and access, and ease of discovery with a minimal effort by the user. Kelly defines sustainability as, “the continued operation of a collection, service, or organization related to digital libraries, archives, and repositories over time and in relation to ongoing challenges” (2014). Threats to sustainability for KCPL specifically could entail property tax shortfalls, and grant funds exhaustion, as detailed in the 2016 annual financial report. Eschenfelder’s observation that in times of economic crisis government funding can become an unreliable resource (2016) is supported by the threat faced by the cut to federal library funding posed by the Trump administration’s proposed budget, as reported by the ALA news (2017). Despite potential threats posed by the vagaries of politics and tax revenue projections, the KCPL appears to be robust and thriving. The Missouri Valley Special Collections, begun in 1960, is comprised of, “the non-circulating local history and genealogy resources of the Kansas City Public Library as well as the Library’s archives.” During 2006-2007, the SQL online database migrated materials to CONTENTdm Missouri Valley Special Collections Digital Gallery; it launched in July 2007. A new site is under development for this collection. The adaptations to software and hardware changes over this ten year period project speaks to issues of sustainability for the digital library and public library (founded in 1873) as an organization. Therefore, economically, and in regards to responding to technological changes, and responsiveness to community needs, the library is sustainable.

Collection Content

The collection development policy is detailed regarding branch roles. The policy for the “E-Collections” refers to, “online databases, e-books, e-audio books, digitized local history, informational resources on the Internet etc.” The Central Library branch is tasked with “digitizing text and images” from its non-circulating subject collections, including the areas of local history, their “historical children’s literature collection, foundation collection, bound periodicals and government documents.” The policy acknowledges “electronic resources are an ever-changing medium…” and that, “they must be evaluated on an ongoing basis.” In this way, the CDP is responsive to Baggett and Gibbs’ assertion of the, “need to continuously adapt to remain relevant to online audiences” (2014). This openness to adaptation is also evident in the CDP’s willingness to “reassess and adapt its collections to reflect new and differing areas of interest and concerns” as well as to changes in patron demographics and community needs.

Information Organization

The library website is aesthetically pleasing and easily navigated. Digital resources can be accessed via multiple pathways. For example, selecting by material type, patrons can choose books, music or movies from the top banner. Each material type is a link to a page devoted to that format, and also prompts a drop-down box. The Missouri Valley Special Collections uses CONTENTdm and Dublin Core metadata and organizes collections by topic. For example, selecting “Arts” results in four collections. The Advertising Cards collection contains 650 items and can be browsed or searched. A search for “cat” produced 29 items. Controlled vocabulary is utilized. Finding aids suggest search terms by listing general headings.

Collection Storage and Preservation

The collection contains digitized and digitally born objects. Digital objects created by the library are digitized at the Central branch from originals in the non-circulating collection and archives. Image file formats are TIFF, but displayed as JPEG.

Collection Access & Technical and Service Aspects

Access to digital library resources is dependent upon the collection or database. Some require library cards, others are open to the public. Kansas City metro residents are eligible for an eCard, obtainable online. This feature will be of use to individuals who may not be able to obtain a library card in person. The Digital Branch does not offer a “help” feature per say, but standard AskNow! Librarian chat is available during business hours. The Missouri Valley Special collections page offers a wide range of help topics and instructions. Permission and fees are required for use of all images in the collection unless they are temporary or for scholarship purposes.

The interface on the main library webpage is easy to navigate and user friendly. The Missouri Valley Special Collections CONTENTdm is not without its problems. Materials are easily discovered, but maps, for example, can be frustrating; Unlike other digital collections, the map image cannot be manipulated by a cursor. However, an implement icon allows for dragging and selecting parts of an image, which can be saved, printed or emailed. A printing icon is available, which isolates the image from the webpage but with metadata and information on rights and restrictions on use. A nice positive feature, “my favorites”, allows users to save search results without a library card.


Donghee Sinn (2012) writing about measuring impact of digital libraries with regard to historical research, observes that, “Xie argues that criteria for the importance of digital libraries have to be set by users and not by the assumptions of information professionals.” For this review, I am in the unique position as both a user as a genealogy researcher, and a future library professional evaluating the digital library. The materials I discovered for my personal research were very useful, and the experience was a positive one with regard to ease of use and the functionality of the site. From a professional point of view, the site, and specifically the Missouri Valley Special Collection and other reference and research resources, were very impressive. Zhang (2010) found that users of digital libraries are, “most concerned about accessibility and service sustainability.” With this criteria in mind as a user of this digital library, I was personally very satisfied and can easily imagine that actual patrons are as well. The Kansas City Public Library sets the bar very high for excellence.



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Measuring the Impact of Image-Based Social Tools on Discovery and Access. Journal of Library Administration, 54 (1), 11-22.

Chowdhury, G.G. (2014). Sustainability of digital libraries: a conceptual model and a

research framework. International Journal on Digital Libraries, 14(3/4), 181-195.

Eschenfelder, K. R., Shankar, K., Williams, R., Lanham, A., Salo, D., & Zhang, M.

(2016). What are we talking about when we talk about sustainability of digital archives, repositories and libraries? Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology53(1), 1-6.

Hansen, J.H. (2012). How to Make Digital Objects Available to Library Users in a

Sustainable Way. Microform & Digitization Review41(3-4), 180-185.

Hines, S. (2017). President’s budget proposal to eliminate federal library funding

‘counterproductive and short sighted’. ALA. Retrieved from

Kansas City Public Library. (2016). Annual financial report. Retrieved from

Kansas City Public Library. (2009).  Collection development plan.


Kelly, E.J. (2014). Assessment of Digitized Library Archives Materials: A Literature

Review. Journal of Web Librarianship, 8(4), 384-403. Doi:10.1080/19322909.2014.954740

Lewis, C. (2017). Library earns national award for bringing value to community. Kansas

City Public Library Public Notices: Press Release.’s-crosby-kemper-iii-assumes-lead-role-national-coalition)

Sinn, D. (2012). Impact of digital archival collections on historical research. Journal of

the American Society for Information Science and Technology63(8), 1521-1537.

Zhang, Y. (2010). Developing a holistic model for digital library evaluation. Journal of

the American Society for Information Science and Technology61(1), 88-110.

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