Archive for the ‘cyberinfrastructure’ Tag

FYI: Libraries Are Changing

Recently, I went to the Hartford Public Library.  I was there with my wife picking up a book that I needed for a group project in my Public History Seminar.  When I walked into the main lobby, it was buzzing with people.  I was impressed.  I thought that it was amazing that so many people were utilizing the library on a Wednesday afternoon.  Once I walked passed the lobby into the stacks, it was dead.

Being a frequent stack surfer, I was able to use the Dewey to quickly locate the necessary book and shuffle back through the lobby, where I noticed most people using computers for various research needs and social networking sites.  Here is the choice that I have to make.  Am I an elitist who looks down on people for not using the wealth of knowledge in the stacks of the library?  Or, am I a person that is going to recognize that just like every other facet of our worlds (academic or otherwise) the library is changing.

Let’s be real.  People who are still clinging to analogue mediums and not embracing the digital will fall to the wayside.  Take for instance Michael Jon Jensen’s Keynote Speech at the Biannual Meeting of the Illinois Association of College and Research Libraries on March 30, 2006.  In his speech, Jensen lays out how scholarship has evolved with the development of new media and technologies and the groups (i.e. libraries, publication houses) that don’t adapt to the changes they could be left in the dust or worse, totally lost.  Lost in a sense where users will not be able to locate your material quickly and efficiently via the web.

Of course, you can talk as much as you want about creating more efficient ways of accessing archives and reference materials, but the trick is creating and characterizing digital files.  From experience, this is typically not an easy task. If the images are not born digital, then the source (article, manuscript, poster, political cartoon, object, landscape, etc) either has to be scanned or photographed using a digital camera depending on the source.  This is the easiest part.  Next, you have to apply metadata in various forms so that others can search, identify, view, and interact with the source.

The fact is research is changing and if archivists, scholars, and researchers do not step up and set standards in the digital medium, their expertise and collections will be lost.  No one will know what materials are available to them.  Already, we see this happening.  Ask almost any college student and they will tell you that they first place they go for reference is the net.  As a high school teacher, I know that the first, and many times only, place I go to for primary sources is the internet.  Why? Its fast, free, and accessible.   How many people, especially Mr. and Mrs. Everyman, are able to get to a library or Historical Society during business hours?

Although there are some disadvantages to digital media, one of which being potential cost in equipment and man hours, I believe that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  One of the biggest advantages being increased access to materials displayed online.

Honestly, this blog post could go on and on about advantages and disadvantages of digital media, but it really doesn’t have to.  Here is the bottom line.  Libraries and archives are going digital.  This is great because increased access to information best suits our democratic society.  From what I gather there was a time in the digital humanities debate accessing whether or not we should digitize, what can be digitized and by whom.  Now, archivists, scholars, librarians, are working to define their role in this rapidly changing climate.  Although the medium people utilize to access source materials is changing, there is one thing in the library that will stay true.  Librarians and archivists will still serve the community.  They may serve a more diverse audience than ever before, but they will still hold an important place in the scholarly process.

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It’s Not Bad, It’s Different

I am one of the many that believes that the migration towards over-dependence on computers is terrible for society.  I further believe that the idea that humans are uploading their brains to the internet so that we are not burdened with unnecessary trivial knowledge is absurd.  However so much I believe that living a wholly digital existence is unpalatable for me, there are many advantages to the evolving digital scholarship.

In her blog post “Doing Digital Scholarship” Lisa Spiro examines several questions discussing digital scholarship.  A few of these questions look into what digital scholarship is, what it takes to produce digital scholarship, and the types of resources and tools included.  This article also discusses the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)  Commission on Cyberinfrastructure’s report discussing five manifestations of digital scholarship including collection building, the tools necessary to collect analyze and produce intellectual products, as well as authoring tools.

As more and more digital resources become available, the necessity for a sound, encompassing, and open Cyberinfrastructure is increasingly necessary.   Many historians may scoff at this idea, but the truth is that most sources in the US today are “born digital.”  Although historians may have to utilize many different types of resources when constructing a display (digital or otherwise) or writing, we must realize that digital scholarship is not bad, it’s different.

Of course, with the new many new types of materials available (e.g. videos, websites, and emails), there is also a need for collecting and organizing this new data at an ever-increasing rate. Dan Cohen’s piece From Babel to Knowledge describes this necessity, laying out initial lessons in the realm of digital collections.  Basically Cohen is advocating for creating means of digital collection, relying on keeping many of these collections free and open, as well as collecting as much as possible, focusing on quantity over quality.

Of all the readings from this week, Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail, was the most interesting.  This was probably due to the fact that this author had a much different approach to discussing digital media.  It was interesting to read about the freedom that the internet provides for finding a niche market.  Although the article discussed mostly entertainment media, the principles are obviously applicable to digital scholarship.

Anderson remarkably points out that aside from freedom of space restrictions overhead is greatly reduced.  So we can take scholarship that we are already doing in public history, make it more dynamic with integration of different and exciting types of data, occupy space for a fraction of the cost, tailor our product to a niche market, and reach more people.  Digital scholarship is not bad; it is just different from what people are used to. Just because historians engage in digital scholarship, does that mean that the essential core of history is changed?  I believe not.