Ben and I would enjoy hearing your thinking on "selection criteria". Please leave a comment or consider writing a blog post in response.
The phrase ‘selection criteria’ is an interesting one. Paul Conway from the iSchool at the University of Michigan gave a short presentation at SAA on how experienced researchers feel about our digitization efforts. In general, those he interviewed somewhat mistrust our selection activities. They wonder what was not chosen and why, and who decided it was not worthy. He’s working on some articles that will express these assertions through more scientific means.
I find the argument convincing since it’s existed in archives for quite awhile. Subjectivity is present in many of our professional choices, from what we collect or don’t collect, to what we keep or discard within a collection, to how we choose to arrange and describe materials. These choices have definite consequences on the future understanding of the materials. Researchers have long wondered why and how archivists make these decisions, so it’s only natural they would wonder the same concerning our ‘selection criteria.’
I am not sure how most institutions decide what to digitize. I suspect that, like the American Heritage Center, most digitization is done in response to patron requests or as part of stand-alone - and possibly grant-funded - projects. The former leaves us with a mass of scattered material from random collections. And the latter is not likely to be a complete digitization of collection items; in reality it typically leaves out certain items for a variety of reasons (duplication, quality, importance, etc.). Either way, we are likely to have users that a) don’t understand why we’ve digitized what we have, and b) wonder what else we have that is related to the digitized items.
I am starting to think we need to be much more transparent about how we go about selecting for digitization, in the same way the profession has started to move towards more transparency in how we arrange and describe collections. As such, I think we need to make an effort to express why selected material was digitized. But I hardly think that is enough. I think we can also move toward models of digitization that leave users with fewer gaps and fewer concerns of the type expressed by researchers to Dr. Conway.
At the AHC, we’re been tossing around the idea of a ‘no-item scanning’ rule, where we only scan, at minimum, whole folders at a time. If a patron requests just one scan, we’d give them their scan, but take the additional time to scan the rest of the material in the folder. So when the next researcher comes to our digital collections, they won’t find a single scan from an entire folder and wonder what else is there, or why this one scan was chosen. They’d find the item plus all related material from the folder – a complete folder scan. The same would go for project-based digitization (though we’re trying to move beyond ‘projects’): we would scan whole parts – the folder, box, or series.
Would users like this? They may, after all, still wonder, ‘why this folder?’ But they wouldn’t be wondering, ‘what else is in this folder?’ and I think that would be a major step forward.