Thursday, October 6, 2011

digitization: land of moving parts, self-discovery, and . . .

Hi everyone! My name is Caryn Radick and I am a digital archivist at Rutgers University Libraries.

I hesitated a bit before asking to join the posting activities for the Day of Digital Archives (and thank you, Gretchen, for organizing). Although I fully expect that I will be called upon to help tackle managing born digital materials at my institution, thus far my experience has been in the realm of the digital to analog. I thought I would share some of my thoughts of different aspects of digitization that I've encountered thus far. All of these aspects will be important to keep in mind when moving into working with "born digital" material.

The Moving Parts Aspect

I haven't run into a digital project yet that didn't involve collaborative effort. My work on digital projects has provided me with wonderful opportunities, put me in touch with innovative, enthusiastic colleagues, and enabled me to be a part of a community of digital archivists and curators.

I am constantly amazed that there are so many moving parts to a digitization project. There are the different people (curators, conservators, the people working on scanning and inputting metadata, programmers and web designers) who are all juggling other responsibilities (finding a good meeting time for all of the players can be a challenge). The material may be simple to digitize, or may need special handling, special equipment, or reformatting. Levels of information about material vary (as does metadata). And the project may have a deadline. It's a challenge to have so many strands to pull together and kept track and yet not allow myself to be tugged too far into their differing directions.

The Prioritization Aspect

In some ways, setting priorities for digitization is easy (e.g., wanting material digitized because of an anniversary or event). Once we move beyond issues of timeliness, a number of factors play a role. Amount of material. Whether the material has been processed/described. What types of material are in the collection? How long will it take to get through the process? Do we have the right to digitize this material? And of course, what will it mean to researchers that this collection is available online? The latter is a driving force. This also brings us to..

The Time Management Aspect

Before embarking on my archival career, I worked in publishing where there was always a deadline. With digitization, sometimes a project comes with an absolute deadline, sometimes the deadline is more of a range (next semester…). I have found this aspect to be a particular challenge (especially in light of the moving parts and prioritization aspects). I'm finding my way on this one.

The "Self Discovery" [or, "What I've Learned About Myself"] Aspect

I constantly learn and relearn the lesson that I am not alone when it comes to questions I have regarding digitization (or other parts of my responsibilities). I will spend more time than I should trying to work something out that I think I should know, and then bring myself to the point where I will ask someone to explain only to learn that the same issue confuses them as well, or that my grasp on a situation is pretty much all there is to know and the issue I've brought up needs to be explored. So, I'm learning to spend less time wondering what I'm missing and more time trying to track down someone who can help me figure it out. I feel fortunate that there are many wonderful resources and people to turn to.

The "Things Change" Aspect

The words "evolving," "iterative," and "moving target" come up a lot when your work involves archives and technology. I knew that in taking on the position of digital archivist (a recent career development), that I'd be committing to seeking education and accepting that just because something had been done a certain way was no guarantee it would continue in the same manner. This is the aspect that reminds me that I may one day (and sooner than I think) write about my work with "born digital" or about something else on the horizon I'm not even aware of yet!

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