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Digital archives can make huge amount of data available for both researchers and the public. It can be distributed throughout the internet and can be accessed by multiple persons at the same time in different places. This is one of the main reasons that researchers and historians chose the digital medium to archive their data. Which other advantages does digital media give over classical archives, and how can the public help in digitizing our cultural heritage? These are some of the questions we will investigate in this blog post.

The authors of the first abstract, Beyond the Library Walls: The National Library of Wales Research Programme in Digital Collections, discusses the digitization of text at The National Library of Wales. The design of a digital archive is critical, considering it will be used by many different user groups. The archive is of interest for both researchers and hobby readers. The abstract descibes how mulitple libraries, museums and collections was combined in the archive, using great amount of collaboration between the institutions to tackle the challenge with separated data. The library experimented with methods for crowdsourcing and collaboration to add additional value to the data. One example is the project Cymru1900Wales, where librarians used crowdsourcing to gather place names in Wales from old maps they had in their collection.

Exploring Community Engagement in the Design of an Online Archive describes an approach to the expensive and time-consuming digitization of data. The abstract follows the process of the Theatre Royal Nottingham in the creation of a digital archive. Building an archive is expensive, and researches show that one-third of the digitized media is never accessed. Crowdsourcing can be used to tackle both of those problems. The users of the archive can be included in its creation. The authors of the abstract gives this the name “prosumers” by combining the words producer and consumer.

Some tasks require more than just raw work power. Sometimes historical knowledge is contained only in the mind of people. Similar to how books decay, great minds with great memories die. The abstract Digital Humanities as Catalyst for Digital Art History: The Slade Archive Project describes a project done by The Slade School of Fine Art in London. The goal for the project was to make historical data about the school available for researchers and the public. Similar to the previously discussed projects, the data was separated throughout several locations. After digitizing the data, the project used digital tools to let the consumers add value to it. The researchers realised that the public had huge amounts of knowledge that they never would have been able to access without crowdsurfing. The viewers of the archive could now “tag” people in old class pictures and draw lines between professors and students. The study also included multiple subprojects, studying a wide varity of things. For instance did they measure the impact of the school internationally by tracing the career path of former international students.

The three abstracts describes a clear trend in digital humanities. The process of digitizing vast amounts of historical data is time-consuming and expensive. The data can be in bad shape and the researchers often lack the required knowledge to get the most information out of the data. Even in an archive is made available to the public through digital media, the public can be ungrateful. A lot of the digitized data is never accessed due to lack of interest. Many of the challenges in constructiong and maintaining digital archives can be tackled by crowdsourcing. The public possesses a great amount of work force as well as knowledge.

The use of crowdsourcing to build digital archives is used many applications. We can see similar trends on the internet. The most famous example would be Wikipedia, which lives under the slogan “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit”. Researchers use Wikipedia’s success as an inspiration when they need to construct a digital archive.

Even though crowdsourcing sounds like the solution to the construction of digital archives, it is important to be critical. The abstract about the Theatre Royal Nottingham describes crowdsourcing as a way to know which data is important to digitize. As good as this sounds, it is a dangerous approach. It makes it easy to forget data that does not feel that important today. Data that in ten or 50 years can be of huge interest. The recommended approach would therefore be to combine crowdsourcing and more classical approaches, to obtain the optimal of digitization. The abstract about the National Library of Wales and the abstract about The Slade School both have the approach that the public will add additional value to already digitized data.

It is clear that digital crowdsourcing is a powerful approach to constructing a digital archive. The idea of combining all the information in the world in one unified archive is tempting. Some the libraries of ancient history tried, but the logistics of a project like that is enormous. As researchers around the world start digitizing their archives, we will get closer than ever. The era of computers provides us with an amazing oppertunity to fulfill this ancient and great goal.


References:

  1. Beyond the Library Walls: The National Library of Wales Research Programme in Digital Collections; Rhian James, National Library of Wales, United Kingdom; Paul McCann, National Library of Wales, United Kingdom
  2. Exploring Community Engagement in the Design of an Online Archive; Laura Carletti, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom; Angeles Munoz, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom; Jesse Blum, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom; James Goulding, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom; Victoria Shipp, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom; Joanna Robinson, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom;
  3. Digital Humanities as Catalyst for Digital Art History: The Slade Archive Project; Melissa Terras, University College London, United Kingdom; Liz Bruchet, University College London, United Kingdom; Amna Malik, University College London, United Kingdom; Susan Collins, University College London, United Kingdom; David Beavan, University College London, United Kingdom; Jo Volley, University College London, United Kingdom; Alejandro Giacometti, King’s College London, United Kingdom;
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