What do we mean when we say “born digital”?

The phrase “born digital” is just as vexed as “digital libraries.” Taken all together, the “born digital” universe is all encompassing, and too much for any one professional or institution to tackle. No wonder librarians and archivists throw up their hands in frustration! It’s just too much.

Fortunately, my colleague Ricky Erway has written an essay, Defining Born Digital [pdf], that seeks to define the discrete components of the born digital landscape, which are:

  • Digital photographs
  • Harvested web content
  • Digital manuscripts
  • Electronic records
  • Static data sets
  • Dynamic data
  • Digital art
  • Digital media publications

If reading a four-page document is too daunting, you might also enjoy this rather humorous treatment of the subject, featured on our new YouTube channel.

I think that by better defining which corner of this vast universe we are working on (or seeking to understand), we will feel less overwhelmed and are more likely to make progress.

I’m interested in your reactions. How did we do? Did we miss anything? Does this help you?

2 Comments on “What do we mean when we say “born digital”?”

  1. It’s good to start putting definitions like this “on paper.” What struck me the most was the continuation of the dichotomy between manuscripts and records in the digital world. Obviously electronic records have gotten much greater attention as institutions tackle the issue of born-digital, thereby associating the term with records management. But I find it antiquated to continue calling personal papers “manuscripts,” even if qualified by the term “digital.” We process both types of records following the same fundamental principles. I don’t have a radical new term to replace “manuscript,” but I am wondering if someone does?

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