NSS Notes on Archiving and Libraries, Brainstorming New Tools

This is the second in a series of posts in which I have attempted to share some notes on the New Scholars’ Seminar co-sponsored by centerNet, CHCI, and the University of Western Sydney.

In a session on archiving and libraries, some participants highly recommended the principles articulated by the Digital Curation Center at the University of Glasgow.  See dcc.org. 

The participants generally recognized a crisis of identity among libraries, which are becoming community centers, shared work spaces, and makerspaces while finding archiving and preservation increasingly challenging.  The important point was made that digitizing a collection is not the same as preserving it; digitization is done for access.  The participants articulated various questions: In a world in which we have access to everything, what does one save?  And if we have the ability to save everything, do we have a responsibility to annotate it or process it in some way so that it can be found in the future?  In the context of these questions, how are digital humanities and new media projects to be archived?  Should specific coding be preserved, or is there a way to preserve the essence, the “significant properties” of a work?  The book Re-Collection:  Art, New Media, and Social Memory by Richard Rinehart was highly recommended.

Librarians and archivists are called upon to be curators.  Some participants pointed out that there is little difference in this respect between libraries and museums, while others made the distinction that in a museum more of a narrative is offered.  A library bases decisions about collections to ingest on its collection development policy; taking on a collection is a significant financial investment. This part of the discussion was continued later in the general discussion following the breakout sessions, when scholars shared experiences in which they found that librarians were sometimes critical of projects that scholars dubbed “archives.”  They desired more communication between digital scholars and librarians about archives and archiving.  Some participants hoped to collaborate on writing an article on this topic.

In a session on brainstorming tools, participants wished for digital tools that do not (yet) exist.  One participant wished for a tool that would produce an aggregate portrait of a person across all of the devices and companies that gather data about us. 

The discussion also included a wish for clear methods of evaluation for digital tools (“A tool should be considered for scholarly credit if . . .”).  Some scholarly societies have issued some guidelines, and others are working on them.  Setting out some guidelines for metrics would be useful, too; is attention the same as impact?  What kind of impact is needed for credit for a digital tool?

Some location-based tools that might help a participant who is working on a digital walking tour were mentioned: Locacious; Layar; fAR-Play; Field Trip. ManyEyes is an IBM site that will provide various visualizations of your data.  There was a wish for a community of humanists who would set out a need prior to a conference or convention, then get together and program the tool as a community during the conference.  There was a plea for interoperability.

Finally there was a wish for a physical programming language that would work like blocks.  The participants looked up online and admired Siftio, but it’s not available anymore except occasionally on eBay.

--Contributed by Sylvia K. Miller, Senior Program Manager, CHCI