Academic Digital

Raiders of the Lost Archives @timeshigered

Fascinating, having done most of my research just before digitisation made a huge difference, great to see someone looking back “before”:

But when I got to the library itself it was Aladdin’s Cave. There were manuscripts and rare books (the world’s best collection of Victorian novels in serial, for example), many of them uncatalogued. It required a certain nerve to ask the librarian to cut the page of a monthly serial of – say – a William Harrison Ainsworth part that had been sealed for 110 years. All the stuff I was interested in was untrod snow. And, of course, you had no way of knowing the full riches within the collections unless you were there in person (the same was true of the British Museum’s “rare books and manuscript” department, which lagged years behind “accessing” its vast holdings. It was a scholarly bran tub).

Forty years on (a full academic career) and everything is different. Professor Google, Dr Xerox and Mr Jumbo Jet (not to say email and dirt-cheap telephony) have created the research equivalent of Marshall McLuhan’s global village. Things are moving at ever faster speed. Within the foreseeable future, the British Library (successor to the old BM, with its elephant folio catalogue) will have all its contents digitised and text searchable. No more days out (lunchless, typically, given the non-existent refreshment facilities) at Colindale. Once the Google Books Library Project sorts out its copyright problems, one will be able to access a whole copyright library from one’s iPad. Electronic cataloguing now has the amazing utility of a car’s GPS system. It takes you wherever you want to go, no fuss whatsoever. And once you have it, you can’t imagine what it was like not to have it.

Read full story.


Digitising the 19th Century

Increasing access to historical materials – looking forward to hearing about new research emerging from this:

Cengage’s plans to digitise the 19th century could open up a whole new world, finds Matthew Reisz

Described by its provider as “the most ambitious scholarly digitisation and publication programme ever undertaken”, Nineteenth Century Collections Online (NCCO) was launched last week.

Created by educational resources provider Cengage Learning, the project builds on the success of its ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online) programme.

Abigail Williams, Lord White fellow and tutor in English at St Peter’s College, Oxford, believes that ECCO has “transformed 18th-century studies across the world…It has been exciting and liberating in opening up the arcane, the ephemeral and the neglected, and allowing us to read way beyond the confines of the canon. The searchability of the text enables us to retrieve words and references from among millions of pages in a few seconds.”

The only key downside of ECCO, adds Dr Williams, is its creation of “a two-tier system among universities”, since “no serious 18th-century scholar would now think they could do research without it, yet not every institution can afford it”.

Read full story or visit the site.


Digital Preservation?

An interesting issue – re: digital preservation (had some clues of this whilst doing my PhD):

Save all, read all? Matthew Reisz on the archivists devising protocols for preserving born-digital data

An attempt by university archivists to find a common approach to the problem of how to deal with digitally recorded material has led to a groundbreaking paper on the subject.

The “white paper” arises out of a collaborative project headed by the University of Virginia and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with the participation of digital archivists at Stanford and Yale universities and the University of Hull.

Published as AIMS Born-Digital Collections: An Inter-Institutional Model for Stewardship, the report focuses on “a common need among the project partners – and most libraries and archives – to identify a methodology or continuous framework for stewarding [the] born-digital archival materials” that have been “slowly accumulating in archival backlogs for years”.

Simon Wilson, senior archivist at the Hull History Centre, a partnership between the university and Hull City Council, said the issue was multifaceted.

“What do we do if people bring in a bag of floppy disks? How do we read them and decide whether they are worth preserving for years to come? How do we access material on a laptop that has died?

“In the past, we just needed the right physical conditions and could store paper-based material for hundreds of years. Now the tools for creating and storing digital material mean we are faced with a fresh challenge every few years. We can’t be technology museums,” he said.

Read full story.

Academic Digital

Sustainable Collections?

Initiative seeks sustainable ways to preserve collections. Matthew Reisz reports

Britain’s university archives own everything from medieval court records to prime ministers’ letters, with definitive collections including subjects like theatre companies, pressure groups and leading businesses.

Yet while essential for researchers, they are unlikely to escape the “deep cuts” that the Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable has warned are coming for higher education following the Comprehensive Spending Review this autumn.

Against this backdrop, the National Archives has launched a range of linked initiatives to find ways of building a sustainable future. ….

…Another possible scenario is that archives will be required to generate a greater share of their running costs. Here again the National Archives are available to help.

“It took us four or five years to get digitisation right,” said Mr Morley, “so we can draw on our experience. That can offer opportunities for revenue generation for some archives, although they need to keep a balance between what researchers and family historians need. Any money generated by digitisation should also be used to digitise less popular material.”

Read full story in the Times Higher Ed. I got involved in attending conferences/courses on digitisation whilst doing my PhD, and, shortly after, provided the majority of content for “The Art of War“.


Archives used for @ww2poster

Filing documentsThe archives used for the PhD project are as follows: