Taking the archiving out of the archives

How can we harness the current digital technologies to produce a relatively cheap, mobile digitizing kit that would allow for offsite accessioning and digitalization?

The revolution in digital collections and libraries has greatly increased access to archival and primary source material across the country. Now, if she desires, the average Jane on the street can examine and study millions of documents and images that had normally been restricted – not explicitly, but in practice – to professors, professional researchers, and individuals living in close proximity to the repository. Can we use some of the same technologies used to open access to the documents, in scaled down format, and increase access from the other end – from the collections end. Can we turn the letters, pictures, email, files, oral history, etc. of average Jane into a collection by having the archiving equipment and archivist come to her? I am inspired, I must admit, by the Story Corp project.

This necessitates the question of whether we would want her collection? As a social historian, I say yes – no matter who Jane is. But I know there are legitimate objections to this.  I’d love to have a discussion about the feasibility and desirability of this idea.

Session Proposal: Selection and Memory

Common practice for organizations who want to increase access to collections is to digitize the popular items within a collection. Does your budget really keep you from digitizing more? Are you trying to conserve money while working through the project, which might keep the remainder of the collection off the Internet? Since many people access the digital collection from far away via the Internet, and might not ever come see the rest of the collection, don’t we run the risk of changing the public’s memory of an event or person by emphasizing the importance of one representation of a particular memory by regulating the others in the collection to the unseen background? I am interested in talking with others about whether we are forming a new historical memory through our digitization efforts, and if there should be a policy for best practice that includes as much of the collection as possible.