“Digital” might be a ubiquitous prefix to the term Digital Collections as most Library and Information Science programs now include skill-building for tools like the proprietary software Contentdm, while there are many proponents for alternative open-source tools. Many extracurricular and postgraduate courses are also emerging, such as the recently announced Digital Directions and Digital Humanities Institute for Mid-Career Librarians. This forum seeks to address some of the questions that arise from the recent development.
A digital collection could comprise many things to different scholars and archivists. The hosts for this forum find in their projects the definitions of a digital collection. To Kaitlin Scharra, a digital collection could be the artifacts from a city’s past, and to Connie Wallace, it is unpublished letters from soldiers. Ben Shapiro studies digital collections as they relate to the surrounding physical content they reference and the digital landscapes and practices socially distributed curation and use they reside within.
Many questions rise from their projects. How might one organize a digital collection whose content has strong relation to songwriting and music? Likewise, how might a digital collection support untold stories or counter narratives? Could we refer to a digital collection as a “virtual memory bank”? And if we did, how would we know what to put into our memory bank? What artifacts would be considered worthy, and how could scholars go about collecting these artifacts?
How would you identify a digital collection? How are curators, visitors, and organizations using, sharing, and learning from them? These questions are certainly open-ended in today’s technology-based environment. To some extent, we might want to ask the question: Can a collection exist today without at least a digital component to it?
Professionals and scholars face many evolving and exciting challenges regarding organizing, archiving, and preserving “collections” within digital environments. Moreover, digital environments pose numerous new possibilities for the design of “visitor” experiences and interaction, as well as obstacles such as finding space and website hosting options, and managing the digital collection as it continues to grow. The digital world of collections have been pioneered by such organizations as George Mason University and their collection of documents from the French Revolution, and most recently the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
Here are a number of other digital collections online:
- Duke Library’s Digital Collections
- U.S. National Library of Medicine
- Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collection
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
These examples show the wide spectrum of what could be considered a digital collection, and perhaps provide understanding in how digital collections could be interpreted.
There are also a number of open-source tools to use to create digital collections online — such as Omeka, CollectionSpace, Collective Access, and OpenExhibits. What does the plethora of tools do to standards of metadata such as the Dublin Core? Some of the tools require scholars, curators, and archivists to become programmers since the tools require some customization of HTML, CSS, and PHP. What are the institutional ways to receive proper education to deal with this changing landscape? And how do we orient ourselves as scholars in a world where archival collections get smaller, and increasingly “local”? What about curatorial practices — do they change or remain similar in the practices of the digital archive? What about the objects? Is it still important for scholars and curators to have access to the “actual,” physical object? Or does it become irrelevant in today’s digital landscape?
We look forward to gathering input and hosting discussions from the many individuals who are already making their mark in the digital world with collections. We hope to explore these efforts and support collaboration and ideas for future efforts by considering a broad set of ideas. Some of the questions we would be interested in discussing in this forum include:
- How can we better understand and distinguish between processes of personal, professional, and socially distributed curation from both research and practice perspectives?
- What is the relationship of collections, physical or digital, to their surrounding physical or digital context? How can this relationship be leveraged for the purposes of learning, engagement with the public etc.
- Many museums have historically faced pressures to expand their collections and/or access to reach marginalized populations. How have these pressures and efforts to meet such pressures evolved alongside new, digital collections?
- What is the relationship between the scale of a collection (digital or physical) and its design for a specific or a broad audience? How can we better think about digital collections and designing for scale?
- Constance (Connie) A. Wallace, Clemson University
- Kaitlin Scharra, Wayne State University
- Meagan Manning, University of Minnesota
- Ben Shapiro, Vanderbilt University
- Anderson Rouse, Clemson University
- Dr. Tracy Neumann, History, Wayne State University
- Dr. Lynne Goldstein, Director of The Campus Archaeology Program, Michigan State University
- Dr. Steven Lubar, Brown’s Lost Museums Colloquium