Month: September 2015

#Libraries Deepen the #Past with #History

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One thing that seems to have gotten lost in the current conversation about access to information in libraries, scholarly communication (by way of Open Access Journals etc) is the notion that these technologies do not very well represent the past.

The Digital Humanities folks seem to be the best workers toward goals of representing the past with their digitization projects and increased contextualization of those documents. The time one takes to learn a subject is also an exhibition of time itself connected with artifacts, ephemera, books, and archived websites.

I mean, design in the networked era is always changing but there is nary a place to appreciate the web itself as a historically situated technology and tool that collects history.

The Internet Archive is the only place where the history of the internet can be browsed.

But that is only one place. Might we need an archive of the archive? You know, Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe (L.O.C.K.S.S.). Yes, a micro-tangent.

They do offer a service (for a fee) for cultural heritage institutions called Archive-It, with which libraries, universities, museums etc can curate web crawls (collections of specifically chosen internet archives). This has some value. I worked with this tool a few years back at Folger Shakespeare Library.

But the main issue I see with the internet, digitized objects, born-digital resources, e-books, etc (and their archiving) is that the objects themselves, the files (be they DRM free, MP3, .PDF, .JPEG Open Source or Free Software tools, etc) is that the marks of history fail to make any impression on the objects themselves. These objects (say,  digitized manuscripts from the 16th century in Arabic) may be surrounded by dates, historical contextualization and narrative, but are not, in my view, fundamentally distinguishable from an object created just 15 minutes ago. The encoding of the object is the same and the viewing is from the same point-of-view –  –  – from a screen or networked device of some kind.

Books and paper do not have this trouble. Each copy of an analog object is physically dis-ambiguous from its “exact” copy right beside it AND the travels and journeys (its history) will become evident increasingly over time because we live in a physical world. The networked age and digital agenda can not represent this fact. It can only state it – a fundamentally different thing.

Libraries and museums as physical spaces full of physical objects CAN and DO represent the past in a more visceral mode.


Thank you for reading.