Digitizing Special Collections: Shifting Gears

Last Friday, Dan Linke, Don Thornbury, and I gave presentations reporting on recent conferences and workshops that we’ve attended. (See the previous post for Dan Linke’s electronic records presentation.) My presentation is available here.

Rather than give a session by session review of the last few conferences I’ve attended or presented at (the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting, the Digital Library Federation’s Fall Forum, and the Society of Georgia Archivists Annual Meeting), I decided to discuss some of the more provocative ideas from the OCLC/RLG Services’ report “Shifting Gears: Gearing Up to Get Into the Flow,” which addresses many issues relevant to archives, special collections, and digital libraries, both at Princeton and elsewhere. The report was inspired by the “Digitization Matters” forum held at SAA 2007. (Audio of the forum presentations is also available online.)

Given some of the ongoing discussion we’ve been having at Princeton, one of the most resonant parts of the report for me is the portion related to description, particularly the urging to “take a page from archivists” and “stop obsessing about items.” As archivists, we have experience and expertise in describing large (and small) collections of materials; we should make use of our abilities in this area and not limit ourselves to the item-level, bibliographic cataloging approach that has dominated digital collections, especially since the majority of collections we are digitizing consist of unique and non-published material. Bill Landis’ talk at the Digitization Matters forum discusses this issue in greater detail.

For those interested in more specific information about individual sessions, the SAA 2007 wiki and DLF’s conference website have a number of presentations up and available. And as I mentioned on Friday, anyone who missed Mark Greene’s presidential address at SAA’s closing plenary session should read the text online.