Digitising Archives

Archives were made so that we could have references to aid us in the future. For example, things we learn are written down and stored. It is important things we decide to keep for future use. But as we are guided through the digital transition, physical archives are visited less and less: why do we even question why our libraries are closing down?

Naturally this means that companies and organisation want to digitise their archives so that they can be accessed globally from the comfort of your own arm chair. With the whole world at our fingertips, do we ignore just HOW we got to where we are now? Is there even a desire to physically explore what you want? Or if we can’t find something in 0.33312 seconds, then it’s not worth looking for. How often have we looked through our spaces online and on our hard drives to find that one image or document? Why don’t we archive like we used to? Why are we letting ourselves be consumers of technology and not using it to our advantage. Metadata and tagging is there for us to catagorise, but we choose not to? Tagging now, with the likes of Instagram and Twitter, is so that we can get more readership or ‘likes’, not for us to use the tag and revisit previous posts. Because, if you forgot your account details in 20 years (if it all exists then) and can’t log in, so if you search ‘love’ into Instagram, will you ever find your pictures? No.

The point is, what is the point of digitising everything? We need to make sure that what our predecessors deemed as ‘important’ is just that and not lost in the cloud. It needs to be mediated, tagged appropriately, and distributed appropriately to the consumer. Aaron Guy is currently digitising parts of the British Mining Institute’s archive so that it raises conversation with the hope that more people will tap into the available physical information to visit. He highlights that before there was “consideration of what’s important at shutter release” indicating that the archives were always destined to be useful and educational and not to be thrown into a huge mass of essentially nothing (which is the chasm the internet provides). He wants to make sure that what is digitised is appropriate and is going to trigger response. The Associated Press are coordinating with Prime Focus Technologies to digitise all of their film (70,000 hours) archives for online viewing. Their goals for the ‘upgrade’ are:

  1. how we gather news
  2. how we produce news
  3. how we distribute news

They suggest that they have multi formats of information and that they must choose the right means of delivery to reach their customers effectively. Essentially, we can’t just scan loads of books and expect them to have the same satisfaction/worth/value as the physical original. Or is it really just the raw contents over the medium that dictates its value?

Considering that there are multimedium archives for Associated Press, they arguably should focus on creating a multimedia platform to engage the viewer, providing them with a rich understanding of what they want to view/learn. Aaron Guy speaks of the ledgers, maps, minutes which connect together to form a whole new narrative. For example you could find how much one man earns, then discover what his role was- find the geological map of where that was. You can create a whole profile using different mediums. It is important to make a digital artefact and not simply a digital ‘copy’ of a physical artefact. Otherwise we make the physical redundant, we might as well just burn them.

Questions come up though of what should be prioritised to be digitsed? Aaron Guy’s key interest is to make an online space where people can fel educated from the archive material. He doesn’t choose it from a scientific view, but what he has discovered to be interested, which happens to link to other pieces (creating a selfcurating narrative). He does ask that any geologists interested can collaborate, digitise more and to explore the original archives for themselves. Archives should not be used just for storage, but as a tool, like Google. When in its essence, an archive is what Google is based on, just on a smaller scale and arguably more reliable (online users must filter out a lot of spam).

But what about digitising archives which might not necessarily have a education led reason to be online? Is there any space for us to upload digitised copies of family photo albums? Other than having that digitised backup? Any one person would need all the metadata to tag the people in them so that pictures of people/stories don’t convert to the transient image. This is basically how appropriation begins: lost, uncatagorised prints can be given a new narrative…?

Point to consider:

How do we decide what to add to the Internet’s information?

How best can we do it so that information is read by the people who want to read it?

Can we use archives in a new way to create multilayered rich informative tools?

And, does this mean the end of physical archives?

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