We had a half day of plenary sessions yesterday, starting with a pairing of a scholar who relies on digital sources to help his work (Matthew Fisher, UCLA) and a digital library professional (Steven Davison, UCLA). Matthew’s talk was a great reminder of all that library cataloging is (and is not) doing for a medieval scholar, and all the digital library projects are (and are not) doing for a medieval scholar. Digital resources have fundamentally changed teaching and learning, he said. However, saying “wow, you can look at this manuscript from Oxford and this one from Paris side by side without going anywhere” is no longer very compelling. Young scholars like himself take this place-shifting for granted. Matthew needs materials to mashup for his work — catalog records, images, transcriptions. Steven’s talk made a useful distinction between digitization (created piles of content) and digital projects (services for piles of content). Making the shift in digital library projects and programs to a more Web 2.0-like approach is difficult, but at UCLA, they are working on a number of projects that have Web 2.0 characteristics.
Peter Kaufman (Intelligent Television) gave the penultimate talk, reminding us that the truth is out there (online) and that special collections have a responsibility to help feed an inexhaustible appetite for content. This is in keeping with a long tradition of libraries serving as content producers. Special collections content needs to be visible “downtown” (a reference to Karen Calhoun’s reconfigured Tokyo subway map, showing major content providers at the center with libraries nowhere in sight). Peter referenced the importance and emergence of ubiquitous, mobile computing as well as a trend to more and more video consumption. Film editors are your friend. They want your content and your help.
Jackie Dooley gave a very nice wrap up with her 10 Commandments (delivered in front of the obligatory image of Charlton Heston). I’ll attempt to summarize these;
- Embrace the continuum of the book (which includes not only digital, but also other formats). Our missions of access are well served by each step in technology which make transmission of information easier. Beauty may be sacrificed at each step, but digital has a beauty of it’s own (okay, I added that last bit myself).
- Find yourself. Revisit what you love about your work, and translate this to the digital. We are the permanence people, remember this as you move forward.
- Digitize with abandon. Don’t be limited by the edge cases. Find the things that are easy to digitized and go for it.
- Educate yourself about the born digital (and know what’s going on in institutional repositories, if you are on a campus).
- Make your work economically sustainable.
- Follow the archivists’ lead. Greene-Meissner has provided a good path for archivists. Perhaps there is an analog for the rare book crowd?
- Be promiscuous (with your metadata and content, that is). Read That Woman’s Report. Broadly expose metadata and collections.
- Collaborate. In the digital realm, you cannot go it alone. Work across your institution, with IT people. If you are in a campus environment, be sure the library is involved in any digital humanities center.
- Revere the knowledge and opinions of the young. Young people have great ideas and insights into new ways of doing things. Encourage them.
- Proactively define our collective future. It’s our time. Let’s make it happen. We’ve started a conversation, let’s keep it going.
The RBMS preconference was terrific this year. It made a lot of people very excited, but also made a number of people deeply uncomfortable. Some of us were talking at dinner last night, and I think phrases like “get on with it,” and “get over it” were taken quite personally, and perhaps in some of the wrong contexts. Digitization is not appropriate for all collections. Not everyone has backlogs that they need to worry about. Creating a brief record and making that available in the short term does not mean never adding richer data later. Those of us who are excited about digital futures have an obligation to be more concrete in terms of providing examples for some of the very good potential we see in exploiting the power of excellent library data and methods and models for moving forward that take theory into practice.