opportunity than the original in museums, archives, or special collections, even in
person, and extend that opportunity worldwide through the Internet.4
Technological mediation is fundamentally changing scholarship and
scholarly practice, from image processing and enhancement, to text mining and
information retrieval on large historical corpora. The Archimedes Palimpsest,
discussed later in this forum, provides a spectacular example of what image
processing and enhancement can offer.5 These materials can be re-examined and
re-integrated through the lenses of modern (digital) technology.
Obviously, we can make fragile materials fully accessible, worldwide,
through their digital representations. They can be made available to massive
numbers of students, including K–12 and undergraduates engaging in research,
as well as to the interested general public. Several talks at the forum will look at
the opportunities here. We can also make these materials not only accessible, but
re-usable. They can be annotated. Difficult to use, primary scholarly source
materials can be transcribed and translated through collective multi-year efforts,
perhaps structured to include cadres of students taking a specific course year
after year, ultimately producing new critical scholarly editions of these primary
sources.6 Indeed, providing key source materials through the World Wide Web—
particularly content that is complex and impossible to comprehensively describe,
such as large collections of historical images—has given rise to vitally important
but difficult new curatorial challenges for managers of special collections. These
materials evoke and attract a global stream of annotation and commentary, much
of it greatly enriching the primary special collections content (for example, by
identifying people, places, artifacts, or events depicted in photographs); the
volume of this commentary may be too large for
the stewards of the collection to effectively even
review, and assessing and adjudicating its
accuracy may be entirely beyond the capabilities of
the hosting institutions. Such widespread attention
may in fact give rise to offers of contributions of
related or supplementary materials currently in private hands, or identify
linkages to materials held by other cultural memory organizations.7
We can re-structure and re-create special collections along logical intellectual
lines, and indeed create new “virtual” special collections that facilitate new kinds
of scholarly investigation, such as the Romance of the Rose collection hosted at
Johns Hopkins, discussed later in the forum. This project is trying to image as
RLI 267
5
Special Collections at the Cusp of the Digital Age: A Credo
(
C O N T I N U E D
)
DECEMBER 2009 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
We can re-structure and re-create special
collections along logical intellectual lines, and
indeed create new “virtual” special collections that
facilitate new kinds of scholarly investigation.
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