3.22.’17 Digital Archives

Digital Archives are a new thing, though they are not new to me. I grew up with many types of online and digital storage being introduced to me at a young age. So the idea that collections of information can exist in a digital format is not alien to me personally but it is still very new to the traditional archivists who have run official collections of documents. Collections like those in our Special Collections at Ramsey Library. What digital archives offer that Special Collections cannot is wide access. Yes anyone can visit SC during their odd weekly hours but online resources are accessible to anyone with a computer and internet connection. That is the most prominent argument I have heard for digitizing collections. However, once the information is out there, interpretations tend to take over as well as copyright infringement. The more people publish and handle the collections, the more the context is changed. The more people have access to the collection, the higher the possibility that someone will skip the tedious step of citing their sources. So yes, digital archives are more available and spread information to more people but that means they are also more likely to be mis-handled.

One thing I found very interesting was a quote from the New Yorker article saying “The user of the electronic library would be able to bring together ‘all texts—past and present, multilingual—on a particular subject,’ and, by doing so, gain ‘a clearer sense of what we as a civilization, a species, do know and don’t know.” This stuck out to me because Anthony Grafton presented this as a positive possibility for the future of digital archives. However, I think many people who were raised with these technologies believe we are already there. We know everything and it is just a matter of finding it. That is not true at all but the idea that the internet is vast and immeasurable is also a very prominent idea for people of my generation. We take that to mean that all we need is online. I think this sentiment discourages students from looking for information elsewhere.

Therefore digital archives have to complement physical archives. It seems silly that this should even be said aloud and not assumed, especially for history! Now as we continue into the information revolution, more and more archivable things will only exist in digital formats and may not have physical collections to complement. I believe we are a long way off from that though and in the field of history, we will never reach that point.

To speak about the collections and websites posted on our syllabus, they were first and foremost much nicer than our project. I reviewed the September 11 Digital Archive and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. Both projects were attempting to preserve the experiences, not just facts, of major and tragic happenings in our current history. I thought that these projects, since they seem to be driven by compassion for the people involved, were very heart touching and thought provoking. I am not sure that our project has the same tone to it. I also expected these websites to be the actual collections but the 9/11 website also operated as a place to collect information and experiences. If I could do a digital archive on my project I would say that it ought to be in companion with other major festivals that celebrate Appalachian culture. Our most unique feature is our audio files and so i feel those would take special collecting as well as organizing.

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