Digital Arts and Humanities

I hope to develop a critical understanding of digital technologies and research in the arts and humanities. I aspire to learn a set of practical computational skills which enable the creation of digital resources which can also open up professional perspectives for me in the future. I envisage exploring the possibilities of cultural studies and historical areas in the application of digital technologies and I hope to obtain practical and theoretical skills to enable me to go on to carry out novel research in the interdisciplinary field of the Digital Humanities.
 

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  1. Digitalisation and the library

    What is the role for the library in an increasingly digital age, where the user can access electronic information from a range of different sources from their own home or mobile technologies? As Moss, puts it, as we struggle to identify a role for these familiar objects are we in actuality creating: …a library in which reverence had succumbed to relevance.

    The value of the book is often presented in its reflective value, its depth and in its counter to the hectic speed we perceive to be emerging in the current environment. Our ability to form questions rather than to find answers is presented as a skill that we might lose in this digitised age, where answers in profusion present themselves to us instantly and neatly packaged. In considering digitisation here we are looking at individual projects that open up valuable cultural resources to all and we are also looking at a process that challenges our understanding of the current knowledge discourse. Where and how do we acquire the information that drives our understanding? As we shift the media that stores and accesses our acquired cultural knowledge we are engaging with this knowledge and making necessary choices and statements that are not value free. What seems like a straightforward and beneficial operational processes, does in fact have more profound implications.

    The emergence of the information society has opened up a level of potential access to resources that previously could not have been considered. Digitisation has offered electronic resources, such as texts, journal articles, reports, conference papers and other cultural objects, that previously only the largest of library services could have hoped to offer. This is at the heart of the ‘holdings v. access’ debate that to an extent is still being considered today. Essentially, individual libraries can access remote collections that from the point of view of the user can be accessed (via password control) at all times. This alleviates the issue of lost or damaged issues, the storage of current and back issues and their use being tied to library opening hours. However, it brings an issue of cost, of medium- and long-term access, of control over stock development and so on. Libraries become more dependent upon the publishers as the suppliers of access. The cessation of a subscription to a particular journal has meant the loss of access to the whole, and publishers tend to deal in a range of journal titles rather than individual titles resulting in libraries being obliged to purchase titles that have only marginal relevance. This in turn often leads to academics and librarians having conversations about whether or not a specific title wanted by an academic might be substituted by a similar title from a publisher’s catalogue. These are not always amicable conversations. To a large extent the flexibility of access has driven this debate and libraries are looking to enhance the benefits gained from this in order to provide a more effective service. Libraries, in the stereotypical view, are places where you get books. The library’s significance has been equated with the value of the book from its earliest beginnings. Anything that impacts upon the position or perception of the book will, therefore, impact upon the position or perception of the library.

    Knowledge, therefore, and the perceived repositories of this knowledge (libraries) operate at the edge of this far from stable context. When ideology changes so too does the knowledge that supports it. It is either discarded or accepted. Forces shape what is to be discarded and what is to be accepted. When we talk about the destruction of a library, therefore, we are looking at a metaphor for shifts within the wider discourse of knowledge. The move towards the digitisation of collections cannot, therefore, be divorced from these social forces. Rather, they will shape the priorities in relation to this process and in doing so condemn some texts to the oblivion of increasingly obscure non-digital collections. They will exclude as effectively as any pile of books burnt in a city square or library destroyed by the forces of modern warfare.
    …the discovery of the earliest books also establishes the date of their earliest destruction.
    Including and excluding is the key to the significance of this topic and the relationship being suggested between book burning and digitisation. Who is making the choices? What forces will configure the rationale behind these choices?

    The digital library is certainly emerging and it represents both an opportunity and a challenge to our existing services. Does it spell the end of the physical library that is so familiar to so many of us; or are we more accepting of the library that has neither walls nor any physical stock?

    Bibliography

    Baez, F. (2008). Universal History of the Destruction of Books: from ancient Sumer to modern-day Iraq. London: Atlas and Co.
    Deegan, M. & Tanner, S., (2002). Digital Futures: strategies for the information age. London: Library Association.
    Hughes, L. (2003). Digitising Collection: strategic issues for the information manager. London: Facet.
    Needham, G. & Ally, M. (2008) M-libraries: libraries on the move to provide virtual access. London: Facet
    Nicholas, D. & Rowlands, I. (eds) (2008). Digital Consumers: reshaping the information professional. London: Facet.
    Ward, M. & van Kranenburg, R. (2006) RFID: standards, adoption and innovation. JISC Briefing paper (currently available from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/techwatch/tsw0602.pdf )

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