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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.


To Win the Future: Innovate!

February 1, 2011


While many were critical of President Obama’s State of the Union address last Tuesday, one positive aspect was his expressed commitment to the support of technological innovation.  Below, I highlight those portions of the speech that discuss the importance of innovation, science, and technology in the resuscitation of the American economy:

  • “The future is ours to win.  But to get there, we can’t just stand still.  As Robert Kennedy told us, ‘The future is not a gift.  It is an achievement.’  Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat.  It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.”
  • “The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.  None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from.  Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution.  What we can do — what America does better than anyone else — is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.  We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook.  In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives.  It is how we make our living.”
  • “Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation.  But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need.  That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet.  That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS.  Just think of all the good jobs — from manufacturing to retail — that have come from these breakthroughs.”
  • “Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans.  This isn’t just about — this isn’t about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls.  It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age.  It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world.  It’s about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.”
  • “Now, we’ve made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste.  Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse.  We’re selling acres of federal office space that hasn’t been used in years, and we’ll cut through red tape to get rid of more.  But we need to think bigger.  In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.  I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote –- and we will push to get it passed.”

Books Not Bites

January 29, 2011

Butler Library Signage

A relic I stumbled upon in the admin offices of Columbia’s Butler Library.  I for one, hope we are leaving these days behind.

JFK Library Unveils Digital Archive

January 28, 2011

Photo: JFK Library

On January 13th, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum unveiled “the nation’s largest online digitized presidential archive.”  This collection contains important records, photographs, recordings, papers, and other materials from the President’s days in office, and gives the public unprecedented access to materials formerly housed deep inside the Boston library.

The search functions are fairly sleek and intuitive, including both a faceted navigation system and an advanced search.  However, it is clear that this is a digital archive very much tied to a physical archive.  It is not made extremely clear at the outset that not all material listed in the digital archive is actually available digitally; one is often directed to a finding aid describing the contents of a collection but not the collection itself.  This is not to say that this archive is a not extremely valuable, it is just to say that there is a good deal of disappointment involved when search results include items which are not actually digitized, and when there is no way to exclude these items from the search.

Despite frustration with the lack of this search functionality, there is no question that other presidential libraries should follow suit, and continue to work towards providing the American public with access to important information about their leaders.

Queens Library Stops Buying Books

January 28, 2011

Photo: Flickr user azrasta

WYNC reported that after $4.5 million was cut from the Queens Library’s budget, the library stopped buying books so they didn’t have to reduce hours or staff.  QL’s CEO attributed this decision to the fact that libraries are more than just about the books within them: “It really comes down to libraries being about community — being a place for seniors in the morning, kids afterschool.”  While this is certainly true, libraries have always been about providing access to information, including information that is new and current, and I can’t help but find this announcement rather disturbing.  I can only hope that this is a temporary measure meant to gain the attention of elected officials and to push the public to stand up for these important community institutions.  However, if this is the beginning of a trend, and libraries fail to provide their users with access to new published works, it is yet another win for Amazon and another loss for the American people.

Transforming Digital Scholarship

January 19, 2011

Book Cover


Charles W. Bailey Jr. is an avid advocate of open access publishing and his latest work, Transforming Scholarly Publication Through Open Access: A Bibliography, is a compilation of over 1,000 references from journals, books and other works regarding the open access movement.  It can be freely downloaded as a PDF, viewed as an XHTML website, or purchased online.  His website, Digital Scholarship, is a wealth of information on digital copyright, digital curation, digital repositories, open access, scholarly communication, and other digital information issues.

Hip-Hop Database

January 13, 2011

Photo: Flickr user

The Hip-Hop World Count is an amazing project in development by Tahir Hemphill.  A database based on the lyrics to over 40,000 hip-hop songs will analyze the average words, lines, and characters per song, the education level to understand each song, and geo-code each song.  Hemphill is looking for funding through Kickstarter, so if you have a few dollars to spare, help get this project onto the web!