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Why Not Digitize?

February 8, 2011

Photo: Flickr user szczel

There are many print collections which at first glace appear to be great candidates for digitization.  Why wouldn’t you want to provide increased access to a collection of zines, for example?  Kelly Wooten, a Duke librarian and curator of the Bingham Center Zine Collections, explores this issue in her post, “Why We’re Not Digitizing Zines.”

Besides the obvious lack of funds available for the digitization of print materials, there are other reasons to keep a collection out of the digital realm.  Wooten gives four reasons why Duke is not digitizing their zine collection:

  1. Permission
  2. Copyright
  3. Privacy
  4. Print Culture

The first and third reasons, permission and privacy, are very much intertwined.  Authors of zines are difficult to track down and thus difficult to get permission from.  Permission is particularly important because of the issue of privacy.  Wooten writes, “Even though zines are ‘published’ rather than private, like a letter or diary, we have no idea whether 10 copies were made for close friends or 1,000 copies were made and sent far and wide through a zine distributor. They are most often written by young women who never imagined that their deepest secrets and angsty rants would be archived in a research library.”

As for copyright, let’s just say that zinesters weren’t too concerned about infringement.

Print culture is Wooten’s fourth reason for not digitizing Duke’s zine collection.  Her argument is that zines are handcrafted objects that were/are meant to be handled physically, and digitizing would take away the value of all of that handiwork.  Wooten claims that this is her weakest point, and I tend to agree.  I would argue that digitizing zines would make those physical copies even more valuable, as accessibility to zine culture would increase readership and feed demand.

And so, it seems that certain valuable collections are destined to gather dust while time passes and the issues of permission, privacy, and copyright are no longer a concern.  While I understand these issues and certainly agree that libraries must respect them, I can’t help but think of all those adolescent and college girls that might otherwise stumble upon a digital treasure trove of zines and connect to a community of women that experienced the very same struggles in the past that these girls are going through in the present.

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