in Libraries/Info Sci

Accidental digital collaboration

I can’t make everything digital. I have a hard time coming to terms with that fact, being such a technophile.

We have a few very old books (1600s and earlier) in our archives at work. Today while touring the US Space & Rocket Center’s archives, I saw a number of equally old astronomy volumes. They can be very gingerly paged through, but would never stand up to widespread public browsing. So how to make them available? My natural instinct is to say “scan it”. But with the somewhat limited scanning equipment available to us, that might do more harm than good to the original.

It’s the age old conflict of desires vs. means, I suppose. But it isn’t the end of the world – there’s still many, many other unique documents we can spend our time safely digitizing.

(And my romantic side likes that there’ll always be hidden unique treasures in an archive somewhere, locked in an eternal battle. The item decays further while technology races to develop a means of preservation.)

I think my point is this: Sometimes you have to pick and choose your battles in preservation. There are plenty of less challenging yet equally vital preservation tasks we can undertake. Computerized records constantly need to be migrated to new storage formats. A pencil sketch from 60 years ago may soon fade past readability. Focus on those, on the difference you can make. One nice plus about digitization is that it only need be done once for each unique work. Even if I can’t scan that 17th century book, maybe someone else with another copy will. Instead of wasting my efforts, I can instead concentrate on something within my means which nobody else has.

Accidental collaboration, you might call it.