Going Digital….

Let’s face it, we are living in a digital world. We have so much technology (smart-phones, tablets, cameras) all with the ability to create born-digital items and we all want to be able to access things remotely via digital repositories and libraries. I find it fascinating that I can see the letters that eventually resulted in “The Wind in the Willows” from my computer when the originals lie in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Digitization is making the world a far smaller and more accessible place. However, is looking at an image online really the same as visiting the Bodleian and seeing the old, slightly yellowing paper and the beautifully scripted handwriting of Kenneth Grahame in the flesh? As it is put in Document! (a discussion of a seminar held in NIVAL about the Document! exhibition), “the texture of the paper, that wonderful dusty old-book smell and the hastily scribbled notes in the margins of our shared history would all be lost as would the spontaneous, accidental find that leads researchers to intriguing and often rather odd discoveries,” if we were to go purely digital. And whatever about literature, this is an especially interesting question when you consider art or craft work. Is an image of a painting the same? Does it capture the textures? The subtleties of colour? There is need for both the preservation of and access to the original as well as the production of the digital for those who cannot visit the houses of these treasures.

Where I think these artistic items need to be preserved both physically and digitally and that there should be access to both (where it is not detrimental to the object), I believe that born digital material needs to remain digital and be preserved as such. I believe this because reading about the Tate’s e-ephemera and from doing my own digital library image collection I have learnt about the administrative metadata that would be lost if the image or document (e.g. email) was printed. This is something which is going to become more of an issue in future years. Where will we store this digital information and how will it be preserved? In fact, this is going to be a very important question. Check out this article about storage in DNA. Although storage is getting less expensive the more you transfer digital items the more metadata will be attached. We are creating digital materials at a huge rate and this is only going to continue. As we can see from the article concerning the Tate we have already collected e-ephemera that is sitting in email inboxs and has not been catalogued or correctly stored. There is a huge backlog and who can say what it is reasonable to weed out. This is especially interesting in relation to government communications etc. and the information we may need to access in the future. See CILIP report on Ephemera for more information on this area. Or take the huge undertaking by the Library of Congress to archive Tweets. Many of us would ask where does it stop? I think that a question that is almost as important is where do we begin? There is just so much data out there. I won’t even go into how to make this information accessible. Surely this will be a future career for some of us information professionals.

Realistically, digitization IS going to force us to change the way we think about libraries and we can see already from the James Joyce Library that there will be changes to library space. In the James Joyce the area that used to house reference books is now the Hub where students can sit in comfortable surroundings and study or collaborate with groups in a less formal setting than the study areas above. I don’t believe that this is a negative impact of digitization. In fact I think it is great that the library had the foresight to create this area and create a space that allows the library to remain important to the student experience. I have seen this is the HSE’s library in Dr. Steeven’s hospital where they have created a meeting space for doctors as they no longer need large amounts of physical space for journals as they are mostly available online. This meeting place actually goes some-way towards increasing the visibility of the library service which is a very positive outcome.

There are positives and negatives associated with the increase in digital technologies. The only definites seem to be that there will be more and more digital creations and there will be change to libraries. It will be up to us what these changes are. It will be up to us as to whether the digital items we are creating will last as long as the scrolls from ancient Egypt or even the Book of Kells. Digital content will require management, storage and preservation but who is going to take the responsibility?? And who is going to pay for it?