February 16, 2018

Tom Blake | Movers & Shakers 2014 — Tech Leaders



Digital Projects Manager
Boston Public Library

MLIS, Simmons College, 2006

@tomblake18; www.digitalcommonwealth.org

Photo by Bahadir Kavlakli

Digitizing Massachusetts

When Tom Blake became digital projects manager of the Boston Public Library’s (BPL) new Digital Services department in 2008, he was already three years into digitizing, cataloging, preserving, and providing online access to BPL’s extensive collection of rare, nonlending materials, including medieval manuscripts and incunabula; letters written by John Adams and George Washington; Shakespeare’s First Folio; and the death masks and ashes of executed anarchists Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. He had also partnered with the Internet Archive (IA) to provide library books and BPL’s vast genealogical collection to IA’s Open Library, giving the public access.

But Blake had a bigger vision. Because BPL serves as the Library for the Commonwealth and must provide specific library services for all state residents, “Tom saw an opportunity to make the BPL digitization program a key part of that mission,” says colleague Danny Pucci, lead digital projects librarian at BPL.

Under Blake’s leadership, in 2011 BPL’s Digital Services department embarked on a two-year, statewide digitization program in partnership with Digital Commonwealth (DC), an online portal and repository service for digital cultural heritage materials held by Massachusetts libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives. While its members were eager for digitization, DC’s repository system was badly in need of an upgrade.

Funded by Institute of Museum and Library Services and Library Services and Technology Act grants distributed by the state, BPL offered DC’s then 37 members free digitization services and repository development. So far, Blake and his team have digitized more than 75,000 objects from 100 institutions, and the DC has grown to 200 members, from large academic libraries to small independent museums. The collections, now in beta, will soon be available via the DC portal and repository system. Blake’s commitment has also resulted in a relationship he forged between BPL and the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), meaning that these materials will be harvested by DPLA and made available nationally. The project has been such a success that in 2013 Massachusetts gave it a line on the state budget, freeing it from grant dependence.

That’s because Blake’s team does more than scan and assign metadata. “We have spent the past couple of years not just offering free digitization services but actually driving out to each [institution] for one-on-one consultations,” Blake says. “During these meetings, project plans are laid out and resources are identified that will help each partner achieve their specific goals…we are a partner, helping to connect and raise the profile of digitized collections throughout the state. We’re not just a service vendor.” It’s all in the interest of public access.