Limitations and ethical implications of digitizing medieval manuscripts
Digital technologies have found a use in almost every aspect of scholarly research and communication. Though the Internet proves advantageous by increasing access, it can also be detrimental to researchers. By solely encountering medieval manuscripts through a computer screen, users sacrifice the visceral experience that accompanies viewing the actual manuscript. This article seeks to identify limitations and ethical implications encountered when digitizing medieval manuscripts.
Digitization has indisputably revitalized medieval collections held in cultural heritage institutions on a global scale. Through the advances in technology, it is now possible to visit collections remotely, and institutions from opposite sides of the globe can collaboratively launch a collection's exhibition via a single website. As Thomas Friedman (2005) theorizes, the world is becoming flat—information and access are less constricted temporally, and information is accessible to a larger audience through a democratizing medium: the Internet. Bernardo Huberman (2009) argues that the general notion of libraries, once unique repositories of knowledge, has been irreversibly changed by the Internet and social networks. He posits that the World Wide Web has swiftly "transformed forever the way people think of information and the ways in which they access it" (p. 63). Now, information held within medieval manuscripts is not limited to the physical page, but can be interactively and independently indexed, collated, and searched for content once digitized.
These rapid advances are groundbreaking and offer significant opportunities for future access and collaboration. But there are limitations to digitizing medieval manuscripts, and these limitations incite ethical questions. How can a digital surrogate truly be authenticated? Is digitization a form of preservation? What effect does a digital copy have on the original manuscript's intellectual value? These questions are approached differently depending upon the professional field that addresses them. For example, medievalists are more concerned with accessing the content of a manuscript's digital surrogate; information professionals are concerned with the preservation issues behind digitization, in addition to the access it grants.
Rather than celebrate the advancements that digitization brings to library science or medieval studies, this essay works to bridge the divide between the two fields in order to work toward a consensus on the importance of digital access and preservation. While acknowledging the extensive access digital surrogates provide, it is important to remember the preservation needed to sustain them, and the effect they have on the original. By promulgating digital access and digital preservation on equal levels, medievalists and information professionals can work together to standardize current practices across disciplines and advance the digitization field collectively.
Each digital initiative has unique needs and diverse resources available to its projects. These variables make it impractical to try and produce a universal standard process or best practice that will be successful for every digital initiative. The proper solution would be for each project to assess its motives for digitization, the project's needs, its resources, and its time constraints, then consult standards or best practices put out by trusted institutions, such as the Library of Congress, Digital Curation Centre, Preserving Access to Digital Information (via the National Library of Australia), Council on Library and Information Resources, or the International Federation of Libraries Association.
It is true that digitization offers a means of dissemination and access along with substantial possibilities of advancement for the future. But this future access is dependent upon the preservation measures taken today (Blue Ribbon Task Force, 2008). Today's society is in the midst of a digital revolution, and scholars and professionals are in a position to shape it. Just as technology is shifting, so must their approach to disseminating information shift in order to remain viable. New strategies for digitization and preservation education can be implemented by exploring different techniques and collaborating across disciplines (Wolpert, 2001; Roosa, 2005).
Such a cross-disciplinary reformulation of digitization initiatives must be informed, however, by a systematic understanding of the limits and drawbacks of digitization for various fields. An excellent example of a study that contributes to such an understanding is the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access. Sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Library of Congress, the Council on Library and Information Resources, the U.K. Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), and the Electronic Records Archives Program of NARA, the Task Force is developing strategies to mitigate the risks of digital information and preservation. By looking at current literature on digitization from the information field and digitization practices within the medieval field, I hope to show the drawbacks of digitization without proper implementation. Some of these drawbacks as applied to digital surrogates of medieval manuscripts are storage, replication, preservation, authenticity, representation of the original, and the effect on intellectual value.
This section will discuss the tangible limitations that are immediately encountered upon digitizing documents. When the original is scanned, a digital surrogate is created that needs to be stored, possibly duplicated, and most definitely preserved. These issues are not unique to either the information field or the medieval field, and must be addressed at the beginning of every project.
Digitization seems to offer efficient storage solutions, but as it decreases needed storage space, it increases the opportunities for damage. Both analog and digital formats are susceptible to human interaction or environmental changes, but digital files are also susceptible to user error. With proper procedures in place for viewing and editing digital files, user error can be minimized, but the latent risk of unknowingly altering the file is still present. Digital storage is also an evolving technology, so long-term cost benefits cannot be adequately extrapolated (De Lusenet, 2006). Though it seems that digital storage would be cheaper than offsite storage or conservation of an original, there are many hidden costs (Smith, 2003). For example, TIFFs are the accepted archival format for digital surrogates of medieval manuscripts. In capturing the maximum amount of information, however, their file size becomes very large, and thus expensive to store. Other pitfalls related to digital storage are IT staffing, infrastructures, maintenance, back-up servers, refreshment, and even electricity costs (Blue Ribbon Task Force, 2008). Though most initiatives encounter one or more of these problems, it is difficult to quantify the costs on a broad level since many reports or studies conducted focus on a specific project or institution. The literature shows clearly, however, that because of these pitfalls, digital storage is not necessarily more secure or economical than traditional conservation of the original and proper archiving methods.
Replication of digital information is ideal and gives an exact copy with no decay by virtue of copying. Although the creator or user of this information might find this ideal, it complicates matters considerably for an information professional, who aims to collect (Smith, 2004). Because digital information is so flexible and easily altered, it becomes conceptually problematic to "preserve" original content. Digital reproductions hold value by preserving content, but the authenticity of that content is not always guaranteed. What happens if corruption or loss of data occurs during replication? This can potentially be avoided by redundancy, or making multiple copies of a document in multiple formats, but that may not be economical if an institution's repository numbers in the thousands of items. Each of those surrogates would then have several copies in several formats, all needing to be stored, preserved, and monitored, exponentially increasing the size of the repository's data set. Good equipment and software are another solution to detect and prevent aberrations, but if these problems are somehow not detected, the reproduction is no longer identical to the original. This inadvertently creates a new version of the file. Medievalists must be aware of this possibility so replication of digital material can be carried out as carefully as possible.
An essential difficulty related to digitization is the problem of preservation. Digital access is not synonymous with digital sustainability. Digitization is a technology that entirely relies on software to read the data and a playback device to project the data. This dependence on hardware and software, which are most often proprietary as well, differs from the earlier technologies of microfilm and reading, which do not solely rely on playback devices. Digitization complicates access to information by creating a barrier between the user and the information; the only way to bypass that barrier is to apply the necessary technology. This becomes expensive and labor-intensive when the information needs to be retrieved from obsolete media or software. In that case, without active human intervention, the information is inaccessible (F. Grevin, personal communication, April 1, 2009). Elizabeth Yakel (2004) suggests that initiatives should "switch from thinking in terms of projects to thinking in terms of programs" (p. 103). This reconceptualization places more emphasis on the continued effort to sustain a program rather than to simply complete a finite project. Implicit in this restructuring is the assignation of value to an object, giving it long-term substance (Yakel, 2004; Blue Ribbon Task Force, 2008).
Long-term preservation of digitized materials is a contentious topic. There is no direct solution yet to preserving digital information, either digitized material or material born digital (Borgman, 2000). The inherent physical fragility of digital media makes preservation even more complicated. A simple preservation suggestion would be to back up the image, but this would only last until the backup medium is supplanted by newer technology. At that point, which could be only a few years, the file would then need to be migrated to the newer medium. Medievalists and librarians know that a true solution would have to last more than a few years.
Several options are available to keep digital obsolescence at bay, but none have proven conclusively successful. Technology preservation proposes to keep the original software and hardware along with the file, but is it safe to assume that someone 50 years from now will be able to operate and maintain outdated hardware encapsulating digital files (British Library, n.d.)? Emulation requires software to be developed that allows the original file to "run native." This implies, though, that someone has to actively update the emulators and maintain their complexities. This option may not always be cost-effective for a project or institution (Blue Ribbon Task Force, 2008). Redundancy, which creates several analog and digital formats of the same file, is an option, but can complicate file authenticity. In creating multiple copies of a digital surrogate in multiple formats, there is always the risk of corruption to one or more files that goes undetected at the point of creation. An even greater concern, as previously stated, is cost: if an institution has thousands of digital surrogates, if not more, is it truly cost effective to create multiple copies of every single one? Storage costs would grow exponentially as the institution digitized more of its collections, forcing the institution to spend more money on storage for the original surrogates.
The only solution that seems viable at this point is migration, where digital information is upgraded to a new medium. But even this solution holds several problems (Borgman, 2000). First, migration is not conducive to being data encoded using proprietary software or GUIs. Though this can be circumvented by using open-source encodings and software, many companies still produce proprietary software and plug-ins. Secondly, migration can be very expensive. What are the cost benefits of upgrading entire digitized collections to a newer media, which will then again have to be migrated in a few years (F. Grevin, personal communication, April 1, 2009)?
A suitable compromise between digitization and preservation currently eludes professionals. Hybrid conversion is a solid suggestion, and a good start to solving the problem. With hybrid conversion, a preservation microfilm is created from the manuscript, then digitally scanned to give a master image file, or vice versa (Smith, 1999). Though a digital copy of a microfilm would cause no degradation to the film or the information within, the best option would be to first digitize a manuscript, then create a preservation microfilm from the scan. With an initial digital scan, the maximum amount of information is captured, enabling the user to view textual minutiae with clarity and at a higher resolution if the digital image is of sufficient quality. This option is currently expensive, however, and its wide practicality depends upon the price of preservation microfilm nearing that of regular microfilm.
Beyond the creation and storage of digital surrogates, there lie more complications to be aware of for the information professional and the medievalist, such as authenticity of a surrogate, its representation of the original manuscript, and the impact it has on the intellectual value of the original. By considering these factors and making them public through their digitization projects, medievalists can inform their audiences of pitfalls that accompany digitization. Taken one step further, by highlighting these issues and offering solutions, medieval initiatives can engage their audiences to think of digital preservation as well, and lend credence to their concern for future generations' continued access to the surrogate.
Authenticity and forgery still remain issues in the digital world. How can the authenticity of a digital surrogate be guaranteed? With a simple click of the mouse, someone can enhance, manipulate, or doctor an image, most often leaving no apparent trace (Craig-McFeely, 2008). Unless the user is specifically informed of this change or consults the metadata, it is very difficult to discern when an image has been altered. Though forgery and manipulation are not new concepts, digital technologies increase the pool of opportunities because of the broader access it supplies (Deegan, 2006). It is easier to sit at your home computer and manipulate an image rather than smuggle in tools to forge or compromise a manuscript under surveillance. With this consideration, how can institutions conclusively state that the image they provide is an honest replica of the original? And if is not a faithful replication, are they no longer providing access to the original manuscript?
In some cases, this kind of digital enhancement can provide the user with information neglected by visual inspection. The Archimedes Palimpsest Project has uncovered three unique treatises of Archimedes that were indiscernible under the overhead text, and only through spectral imaging and manipulation is the earliest known rendering of a circle able to be seen (W. Noel, personal communication, March 3, 2009). This vital information would have been lost without data manipulation. While the Palimpsest Project specifically informs its audience of the enhancements, other initiatives are not as forthcoming. How will the user know if the image projected on the screen is a faithful replica of the original? There are many occurrences of this in the field, but one such example is the Turning the Pages™ proprietary software promoted by the British Library and supported by Microsoft. It boasts that it uses "exact dimensions" of the original manuscript to create a "true digital facsimile", but what is not focused upon are the enhancements and alterations done in order to create this refined product (Porter, 2009). For example, the computer model used to create these facsimiles is actually based off the pages of a generic paperback, not the original manuscript. Furthermore, individual traits of each manuscript leaf, such as cockling, gutter dimensions, and imperfections, are obliterated by the flattening, retouching, and color-correcting of each surrogate. The digitizer therefore misleads its audience by giving the impression that it preserves the original content of the manuscript, when, in fact, it is projecting its own desired perception.
Another quandary with digitization is the representation of the original. There are many medieval initiatives, such as the Roman de la Rose Project, that aim to digitize many, if not all, copies of an original text. The Roman de la Rose Project, a joint project of Johns Hopkins University and the Bibliothéque Nationale de France, seeks to digitize each extant manuscript featuring the medieval text la Roman de la Rose, in order to promote access to and further scholarship on each manuscript's content. Yes, through digitization and clever initiatives like this, a user is able to see minute details of a manuscript that are not visible without extreme magnification. Yes, through careful metadata, rulers, and color bars, the user is informed of the manuscript's history, dimensions, and color quality. But what of the texture? The odor? The juxtaposition of other manuscripts? For all its strengths, a computer cannot accurately delineate the feel or smell of a manuscript leaf. This may sound trivial to the average researcher, but texture denotes what kind of medium the text was written on, and what inks could be used. The smell of urine could indicate the presence of a palimpsest. Even a digital copy with accurate representation of size and color cannot replace the visceral experience of inspecting a manuscript firsthand.
The papers of William Morris exemplify how contextual information can be lost in translation, as well as the visceral experience of actually reading a manuscript.In 1891, William Morris founded the Kelmscott Press, a printing house dedicated to recreating classic works of literature in beautiful and painstaking detail. But Morris was also a socialist activist who printed propagandist ephemera. When viewing samples of these two materials digitally, the user cannot infer the difference between the two mediums. They are radically different in size and texture; the first text was printed as a small handout on cheap paper, meant to disseminate information rapidly. The second was printed as a large facsimile on lush, durable paper which was meant to last and to be enjoyed.
But these differences are not apparent in digital format, and are not explicated in the online exhibition. As Abby Smith points out, the experience of these manuscripts is mediated by a computer screen, which by nature decontextualizes the information; it becomes flat and stagnant. Since most existing computer interfaces only allow serial viewing, the spatial limitations hinder the contextual experience of juxtaposing two manuscripts side by side (Smith, 1999). This exploration and spontaneous illumination is akin to the phrase "serendipity of the stacks." What is lost with digital surrogates (even if heavily annotated) are the coincidental discoveries through physical examination. Though general browsing does not directly apply to special collections departments, the notion of serendipity does underline the firsthand sensory experiences that cannot truly be replicated online (Hughes, 2004).
The intrinsic value of a medieval manuscript cannot be comprehensively represented via a digital surrogate, but the surrogate can threaten the intellectual value of the original. As Bernardo Huberman states, "instant and free access to information across geographical and institutional boundaries has made its value plummet in an economic sense" (Huberman, 2009). Huberman's hyperbolic talk of plummeting value seems extreme, but the idea that the value of unique information shifts when it is made more readily available is valid. As medievalists who revere the manuscript, this sounds blasphemous. It is blasphemous! But from a librarian's point of view, this is a valid perspective. Many users that come into a library are primarily concerned with access; as long as they have access to the information, the vehicle with which it is delivered is secondary (Fraistat, 2005). By granting digital access to a manuscript's content, the average researcher of the new generation acquires information without the physical experience of the manuscript. Without this experience, the only contextual information the user is exposed to is the information chosen to be coupled with the surrogate by the person who digitized it.
This duplication of content and lack of contextual awareness will ultimately hurt medieval collections unless surrogates are coupled with the education of the user. This can be done by introducing users to the originals as well as the digital surrogates. Meredith Torre (2007) calls for a rethinking of special collections departments at academic libraries; by training undergraduates to use manuscripts and rare material regularly, proper rare book research methods are instilled as well as "an intimacy [gained] with people from a different time" (Torre, 2007, p. 40). This physical accessing of the manuscripts also affords the user the opportunity to interact with the special collections librarian, who can provide contextual information not necessarily included with the digital surrogate. Torre also posits that by interacting with the manuscripts, users are sometimes able to find conservation issues that would not have been addressed had the original manuscript not been accessed. The user can then learn from these contextual experiences. This training can be extended to any rare books room or archive, and will ultimately give the user a greater knowledge of the manuscripts, alongside an appreciation for our cultural heritage.
The exponential growth of the Internet can also be harmful to research. For young researchers who have never conducted research without using the Internet, there is a sense that all existing information is on the Web. If it has not been uploaded to a website or cited in a journal, then it is not worth researching. But what of the rich material housed in libraries not able to be digitized? Or out-of-print texts that are protected by copyright and are only located in the library, and not on GoogleBooks? A survey conducted in January 2010 of academic and special libraries found that 64.7% of respondents had less than 25% of their medieval manuscripts digitized and available online (Ball, 2010). Will these sources be neglected due to their online invisibility? This dependence on the Internet, without proper instruction, can lead to a deterioration of a user's own research skills. If a user is doing research at a library and the server crashes or access to a database is denied, would they be able to step away from the computer and find their needed information in the stacks? While the Internet can hinder an experienced professional's capabilities, it endangers the new generation's research skills, which are not fully developed due to their reliance on the Internet.
Digital awareness is an imperative concern for both the information field and the medieval profession, but it is not often promoted equally by the two disciplines. This must be remedied. Manuscript digitization teams include information professionals, but the prominent members most often have backgrounds in humanities rather than information studies. Access is important to medievalists and information professionals, but preservation is paramount to a special collections librarian or archivist. Though medieval scholars acknowledge preservation as an issue, the heart of their digital initiatives is ultimately marketed as access. An example is the Roman de la Rose Project. This initiative engages and entertains the user, making access to fully digitized medieval manuscripts interactive as well as informative (The Roman de la Rose Project, 2009). The project members, its history, and participating institutions are listed in detail, but what is not found on the website is the technical information behind scanning the manuscripts and the imaging standards used. When project members were contacted directly, they were able to provide technical specifications regarding dpi, bit depth, and file format. But this information was several steps removed from the website (personal communication, March 24, 2009; April 6, 2009; April 8, 2009). Although this initiative is wonderfully rich in information, the lack of information on the capture methods, file formats, or preservation issues of each institution affirms that this site is primarily focused on access. The same is true for UCLA's new Catalogue for Digitized Medieval Manuscripts (Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts, 2008). Though it innovatively serves as a focal point for finding medieval manuscripts on the web, it is not meant to provide technical or preservation information. It acts as a directory for fully digitized medieval manuscripts online, with each link externally connected to the manuscript's home institution. In a similar and equally representative example, the World Digital Library that premiered last summer also provides access to manuscripts from around the world, but the technical information and the preservation issues are not addressed (World Digital Library, 2009).
In contrast, the British Library is highly focused on preservation, and how future access can be guaranteed through such preservation. But interestingly enough, the online Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts scans the majority of its images from 35mm slides, captured in uncompressed TIFF format, and scanned at 2700 dpi and 8 bits (S. Biggs, personal communication, April 22, 2009). The TIFF format is most practical, but scanning from slides captures a limited amount of information. Instead of scanning from the original at a high resolution to capture the maximum amount of information, the Catalogue uses slides in order to preserve the original. While preservation of the original is important, the digital surrogates created from the slides do not provide the high resolution needed to examine minute details of a manuscript clearly. As can be seen from the sample images below, a scan of a secondary image versus the original assures inevitable information loss. 8 bits is also an inadequate color depth for illuminated manuscripts, which, if afforded, should be scanned at 24–36 bits. The fact that that an institution that promotes digital preservation and is a world leader in the field's research chooses such an inadequate method demonstrates the challenges that even the most scrupulous digitizers face in balancing the imperatives of access and preservation.
I do not contend that these projects and initiatives are wrong: simply, they are not sufficient. Initiative leaders need to marry access and digital preservation for each project. Pursuing access as a way to increase popularity is fine, but that should be coupled with the advocacy for more research into digital preservation. Without sustainable digital formats, the information and images that have taken so much time and effort to record will become obsolete.
Unfortunately, there are only a few organizations or institutions that actively attempt to educate the public on digital preservation alongside digital access. The Digital Library Federation (DLF), which merged with the Council of Library and Information Resources as a council program in July 2009, is a powerful advocate for digital preservation (Council of Library and Information Resources, 2009). Both DLF and CLIR strive to inform their users on how to build a digital library, but more importantly, how to sustain them. This information is what is missing from most medieval digital initiatives, and what must be incorporated into their current descriptions.
Even sites with strong digital preservation information sometimes bury it several pages down from their homepage. Information about the British Library's digitization process or technical specifications are buried several layers down from their homepage, in spite of touting digitization as an important process to the Library. There is even a national initiative called Digital Britain that aims to digitize Britain's cultural content and grant access freely to the public (Brindley, 2009). The British Library is a partner in this program, but the information is again buried several pages down, and not advertised on the homepage at all. In fact, to access the British Library's digital preservation information mechanically, one must go to About Us, Strategies, Policies and Programmes, Collection Care, Introduction, and finally, onto Digital Preservation (British Library, n.d.). This belies digital preservation's importance in relation to the Library's priorities, despite partnering in a groundbreaking governmental initiative. This is disheartening, considering their digital preservation section seems abreast of current practices. Other sites, such as DLF and CLIR, actively promote digital preservation issues and digital library expansion equally on their homepages.
Just as university medieval studies programs are interdisciplinary, digitization projects should be interdisciplinary as well. What makes a collaborative effort between medievalists and information professionals unique is that the information housed in medieval manuscripts can be passed on as well as a medievalist's love and appreciation for them. Every medievalist remembers his or her first encounter with a manuscript; it is a treasured experience, and one not likely to be forgotten. Most students of the new generation and the general public, however, do not have the same veneration. This is simply because they are not exposed to it. Their first encounters of medieval manuscripts are most often through an institutional website or database of digitized images. This disconnect from the original suspends their true appreciation. Handling a manuscript is handling a piece of the past, and through this experience, the user forges an inherent bond with the creator of their textual artifact.
Permission to access medieval manuscripts and handling guidelines differ by institution. After conducting an interview at one institution, I was allowed to view two of their prized pieces when the librarian recognized my zeal for manuscripts. Though I was intently watched, gloves were not required, and I was allowed to browse the entire manuscript (as opposed to pre-selected pages). However, when I visited another institution, with an affluent reputation and estimable medieval collection, I had a different experience. During the interview I was reassured that the institution's manuscripts would be well-preserved as a result of digitization. The curator explicitly stated that since their collections were now online, there is no longer a need for researchers to see the original manuscript. When pressed further, he added that when the institution receives a call about their collections, he immediately directs the caller to the online catalog and metadata instead of personally answering the query. (personal communication, Nov. 12, 2008).
This detachment from the user is extreme, especially for a learning institution, but it illustrates the disparity between institutions. Regardless of reputation or collections, some institutions truly feel that medieval manuscripts are meant to be hoarded, and not shared. Access to information and collections is an integral part of a library's function, as stated in most libraries' mission statements. This means physical access. And what better way to prepare our successors in the field? As Meredith Torre (2007) rightly points out, "today's undergraduate may one day be the professional scholar, the academic, or the donor that will play a part in vitalization of our collections." She also affirms that "a rare book, no matter how intrinsically valuable or monetarily priceless, signifies little until a human being engages with it" (p. 39). There is always a risk of damage, but with proper instruction and supervision, the user can be taught how to correctly handle a manuscript. This concerted edification will only add to their appreciation of the material.
Reports such as the one put forth by the Blue Ribbon Task Force for the Future of Digital Preservation are important to all academic disciplines, not just the fields that conduct them. Their reports should be integral parts of any digitization project, especially those concerning medieval manuscripts, which are cultural objects important to public interest. Recognition of digital preservation on a national or international platform would also raise awareness of the problem. The World Digital Library (WDL) facilitates the expression and expansion of cultures by collectively housing materials from around the world. This effort promotes many medieval manuscripts, and the exposure can only bring more attention and popularity to sharing culture. The Library of Congress, International Federation of Library Associations, and other partners manage the technical requirements, but digital preservation issues are not referenced on their site. WDL focuses on promoting international and intercultural understanding, expanding cultural content online, and narrowing the digital divide between countries (World Digital Library, 2009). All of these are noble causes, but how will they be preserved? This ambitious site seeks to raise cultural awareness and international understanding, but by also raising awareness on the precarious nature of digital materials and the need for more research, this site could become a forerunner in both digital access and digital preservation.
Currently, digitization is strongest when facilitating access to information and weakest when assigned to preservation (Smith, 1999). Therefore, due to the preservation issues behind digital surrogates, they cannot be considered the only source for information. As Michael Lesk states, the real asset is "the people who know how to find information and how to evaluate it" (Lesk, 2001). This is the message that must be instilled in students and users (Cybulski, 2005). By promoting united digital preservation practices, medievalists and information professionals can ensure users' proper education.
Even digital organizations and experts emphasize this point. On their website homepage, DLF asserts that it is "a consortium of libraries and related agencies that are pioneering the use of electronic-information technologies to extend collections and services" (Digital Library Federation, 2009). Marilyn Deegan and Simon Tanner, the founders of the Digital Futures series, state in their introduction to Digital Preservation that they chose to relay their digital preservation knowledge in the most stable and widespread medium: paper. Though their series expounds digital technologies, they acknowledge that the book is a stronger medium than digital dissemination (Deegan & Tanner, 2006). With the book, information is not threatened by virtual obsolescence.
The upcoming generation of computer users, as well as the current generation, must be conscious that there is still a discrepancy between the amount of material and information that exists and the amount that is available on the Internet. Ignorance of this gap makes it even more imperative that medievalists and librarians collaborate on educating professionals and the general public about digitization. While exhibiting their collections in this collaborative effort, medievalists can infuse digitization education with their love and appreciation for manuscripts, and information professionals can inculcate proper preservation knowledge and techniques.
Bringing these two perspectives together will ultimately and most effectively enrich the general user's knowledge, thus maintaining interest in the digital surrogate as well as the original. One institution that does an exemplary job of outreach and education is the Library of Congress. While working in the Manuscripts Division for three months, I saw several archives institutions or neighboring universities hosted for a day at the Library's archives. On guided tours, patrons viewed archival materials selected specifically for their group. They were able to interact with several archivists and subject specialists that worked on differing stages of the archival process. Each group learned a great deal about what the Library held, and how to access the materials upon their return visits (which many of them took). This taste of the archives engaged patrons with the original material, but also informed them of the collection highlights that can be found online, jointly mounted by information professionals and the related subject specialists. In this way, the Library of Congress is very actively and optimally promoting both its analog and digital collections.
It is essential in such instruction to impart an understanding that digital tools are but some of many in a well-stocked research tool kit. Though digitization enhances many research applications, it in no way replaces previous technologies in a stable or universal manner. In order for research and digitization to progress, we must avoid simply choosing between mutually exclusive visions of how digital tools should be used in research and instead marry the best elements of various approaches. It is in this way that medievalists and information professionals can collectively build a field of medieval manuscript scholarship that thrives upon material and intellectual integrity as well as increased access amid the expansion of its digital horizons.
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Heather F. Ball recently earned an MLS degree from Queens College, CUNY, with a dual certificate in Archives and Preservation. She has spoken at four conferences regarding digitization of medieval manuscripts in the past year, has worked in the Manuscripts Division at the Library of Congress as a Junior Fellow, and currently teaches information literacy at ASA in New York while serving as an archival consultant to a business in upstate New York.
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