Library collections have become increasingly more digitally proficient in the current digital age that we live in and have forced to adapt to the changing times around us. For example, the British Library Labs, formed in 2013, was set up to harness the usage of the digital collections and data, providing insight into the emerging practice of digital research and how it shaped the library as a whole. According to the British Library, it was the “first national library in the world to set up a ‘Laboratory or lab to support and inspire the experimental use of its data and digital collections’, testing them in new and challenging ways. The lab itself was designed to provide “access to over 150 digital collections and datasets” to its users, allowing the British Library to feel truly accessible to a worldwide audience.
Such a feat is not unique to the British Library, as the National Library of Scotland has also taken onboard a new digital scholarship service that produces and collects data at an unprecedented rate, “with over 5pB of storage in the library’s data centres”, according to Ames, S. & Lewis, S. (2020). There are benefits to increased digitisation but also downsides too, as collectors of such a large set of knowledge have to be made aware of. “by assuming the role of both creators and collectors, libraries face broader questions about the concepts of collection and heritage, and the ethical implications of collecting practices.”
Who decides then, what is digitised and what isn’t? This is a commonplace issue that addresses narrative and bias, and the legacies of future heritage that any library embarking on the practice of digital scholarship has to be made aware of and prepare for. Ames, S & Lewis, S. (2020) argue that despite an increased amount of data being digitised, “From [an] entire ‘pool’ of a library’s collections (itself informed by, often problematic, historic collecting practices), only some items are digitised: a result of factors including copyright, conservation and internal selection processes. From this subset of the collection, only some are then presented as datasets: again, depending on resource, OCR quality or copyright. How to present these collections in context, and how these thinned-down collections could become representative of a broader, tacit understanding of ‘culture’, is problematic.”
It is argued by Hughes (2004), that it is not practical or possible to digitise all items in a collection and therefore “strategic approaches for selecting items” is needed, even if therefore obstacles occur as a result of this that are in turn that are heavily “influenced by a focus on the nature of intellectual content of their collections, their condition and usage.. and copyright status of the original materials” according to Nyhan, J. & Hauswedell, T. et al (2020). Perhaps the conclusion in this regard is that due to the sheer diversity of collections available at multiple libraries there is “no one model for… digitisation that is perfectly feasible and desirable across all audiences for all providers.” But Hauswedell, T. & Nyhan, J. et al (2020) argue that a solution presents itself if libraries are able to embrace not just openness but also honesty, suggesting that it can enrich “our understanding of our past” and empower users to embrace new projects that only increase “the market and commons values of these collections.”
Ames, S. & Lewis, S. (2020), ‘Disrupting the Library: Digital Scholarship and Big Data at the National Library of Scotland’ Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2053951720970576#articleShareContainer (Accessed 29/11/2020)
British Library (2020) ‘British Library Labs’ Available at: https://www.bl.uk/projects/british-library-labs (Accessed 29/11/2020)
British Library, ‘Experiment with British Library’s Digital Collections and Data’ Available at: https://data.bl.uk/?_ga=2.121283912.1183812188.1606730792-247902786.1602412140 (Accessed 29/11/2020)
Hughes, LM (2004) ‘Digitizing collections: strategic issues for the information manager.’ Facet: London.
Hauswedell, T., Nyhan, J., Beals, M.H. et al. ‘Of global reach yet of situated contexts: an examination of the implicit and explicit selection criteria that shape digital archives of historical newspapers.‘ Arch Sci 20, 139–165 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-020-09332-1