Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Let digitization experts be like weeds

Zen GardenI have been reading the book Weeds: In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants, in which Richard Mabey extols these plants that we call "weeds" and talks at length about how they have spread themselves around the earth.  For those of you with pristine lawns, I now know that you should fear the mail carrier who walks from one lawn to another, carrying seeds on the soles of his shoes from who-knows-where!

Weeds - those plants that we don't want in our yards - have the uncanny ability to mold themselves to the environment so they will flourish.  Weeds adapt constantly.  It is as if they raise their heads, look around, and then decide what form they should take in order to live in their new environment.  In some cases, they seem to move toward a specific environment that is perfect for them.

In a couple of weeks, I'll begin teaching "Creating, Managing and Preserving Digital Assets" as I do each spring.  This year, I'm teaching it in the classroom, rather than online.  In this face-to-face version, I'm going to incorporate student-led discussions that are fueled with content from blog posts and podcasts.  I'm also looking forward to challenging our ideas of what digitization is and where it occurs...as well as how we can help.

Along the way to Cannery RowAlthough digitization programs have multiplied over the years, there are still cultural heritage institutions that have not gotten involved.  We do to get more organizations involved, often through one-off projects.  For example, here in Central New York, library and information science (LIS) interns are working with the Central NY Library Resources Council to digitize materials from several collections.  This has been a win-win situation for the cultural heritage institutions and for the graduate students.

Even though there are institution uninvolved in formal digitization programs, digitization has been adopted by many organizations and people, likely without them realizing it.  The ability to convert something into digital form occurs daily and effortlessly, even in some of those institutions that cannot digitize their historical materials.  How?  Those multi-function "printers"that we all have. They have spread like weeds and we have all adapted to them!  People have them at home and in the office, and they are moving content into digital form without - for example - understanding the implications around finding those items later or ensuring that they are preserved.

We all can digitize, but we all do not have access to someone to teach us how to care for our assets.  Those teachers - people knowledgeable in digitization - need to find the right environment for spreading what they know.  They need to find cracks in the conversations to insert information that will help someone take care of their digital files.  And we need to get the information the people where they are, whether that be at home or in the office, because that is where they are engaging in this activity.  Since we seem to think that everything can be solved with social media, is there a way of using social media for this?  For example, when a person shares a photo (e.g., Instagram), could that person gain access to tips on how to ensure that photo lasts a lifetime? Could we would with manufacturers to build information into those multifunction devices (or supply it through those devices)?

mmm...have I just come up with a class project?

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