Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Managing Born Digital Archives

NYTimes looks at the archiving challenges for librarians dealing with born digital archives and in doing so they also speak to the unique presentation opportunities that digital archives enable for scholars (NYTimes):

Some of the early files chronicle Mr. Rushdie’s self-conscious analysis of how computers affected his work. In an imaginary dialogue with himself that he composed in 1992 when he was writing “The Moor’s Last Sigh,” he wrote about choosing formatting, fonts and spacing: “I am doing this so that I can see how a whole page looks when it’s typed at this size and spacing.

“Oh, my God, suppose it looks terrible?”

“Oh, my God, yeah. And doesn’t this look wrong?”

“Where’s the paragraph indent thing?”

“I don’t know. I will look.”

“How about this? Is this good for you?”

“A lot better. How about fixing the part above?”

At the Emory exhibition, visitors can log onto a computer and see the screen that Mr. Rushdie saw, search his file folders as he did, and find out what applications he used. (Mac Stickies were a favorite.) They can call up an early draft of Mr. Rushdie’s 1999 novel, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” and edit a sentence or post an editorial comment.

“I know of no other place in the world that is providing access through emulation to a born-digital archive,” said Erika Farr, the director of born-digital initiatives at the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Emory. (The original draft is preserved.)

To the Emory team, simulating the author’s electronic universe is equivalent to making a reproduction of the desk, chair, fountain pen and paper that, say, Charles Dickens used, and then allowing visitors to sit and scribble notes on a copy of an early version of “Bleak House.”

“If you’re interested in primary materials, you’re interested in the context as well as the content, the authentic artifact,” Ms. Farr said. “Fifty years from now, people may be researching how the impact of word processing affected literary output,” she added, which would require seeing the original computer images.

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