Wk 2.2 Digital Archives and Digitizing Sources

Preserving, curating, and aggregating data are all important aspects of digital archiving. Preserving data relates to ensuring the viability or survival of a source or information. Curating data has to do with protecting and presenting information. Lastly, aggregating data is the process of selecting and collecting information. Some of the challenges of these practices include the cost and time of preservation, maintenance of a digital archive on different technological platforms, and the challenge of creating an inclusive yet focused collection.

One tension present in digital archiving is the commercialization of information. This is exemplified in fold3, a website that claims to “(provide) convenient access to US military records, including the stories, photos, and personal documents of the men and women who served.” This “convenient access” to the resources on fold3 can be yours for an $8 monthly fee! JSTOR is another database that charges for access. Traditionally only people affiliated with an institution that pays for JSTOR had access to this database. This tension has been (somewhat) addressed by the introduction of Jpass, which provides individuals access to JSTOR for a fee. While not breaking through the barrier of cost and commercialization, this option allows researchers not affiliated with an institution to utilize JSTOR as a resource.

If I were to ever digitally preserve or document my family history I would first decide what my goals for the project were. For the sake of this exercise, my goal would be to digitally document my maternal family’s experience immigrating to California from El Salvador in the 1980’s. I would organize the information I gathered spatially and chronologically. After forming a basic timeline of events, I would add digital records of physical objects (photos and documents) where applicable. Determining what to keep private would be a decision for my grandparents, aunt, uncle and my mother as it is their story that I am preserving. Ideally, this information would be content on a larger platform where other Salvadorians could add their own information. There is a large online community of Salvadorians who would be welcome to create their own timelines or add digital records to existing timelines and maps.

The example above is a broad project that could quickly get out of hand and become a large, unsearchable collection of memories and digital items. For this reason, it is important for an archivist to have clear criteria for their digital collections. Continuing with the hypothetical Salvadorian immigrant project, some criteria could be geographic limitations (only information from migrations to southern California or perhaps only from people originally from San Vicente – my mother’s hometown) and time limits (only information from the period of the Civil War, 1979-1992).

Generally speaking, I think archivists must carefully consider potential audiences. Digitally preserving material does increase the access people have to these items but that does not always mean an increased audience for the information. For example, if I were to digitally preserve all of my family’s home videos and share them in an online exhibit, they would be available to anyone with access to the Internet instead of only the people with access to the VHS cassettes. Despite the increased access, the number of people interested in watching “Reuter Christmas, 1995” would remain very, very small.

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