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Digitising for what? Life & Literature Conference November

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Presentation on theme: "Digitising for what? Life & Literature Conference November"— Presentation transcript:

1 Digitising for what? Life & Literature Conference November 2011 @elyw

2 Digitising for what? Theodore Roosevelt, 1910, African Game Trails: an account of the African wanderings of an American hunter-naturalist.

3 Access Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc, The Natural History of the Hippopotamus or River horse. 1775 (2), British Library Board. Releases/The-British-Library-and-Google-to- make-250-000-books-available-to-all-4fc.aspx Releases/The-British-Library-and-Google-to- make-250-000-books-available-to-all-4fc.aspx

4 Indeed, we all like a good picture

5 And there are some good ones... 72157627223287707/

6 The ‘simply curious’

7 Preservation

8 You can make art Alexander Korzer-Robinson: The Gardener korzer-robinson-altered- books/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campai gn=alexander-korzer-robinson-altered-books

9 Or you can keep paper copies Internet Archive founder turns to new information storage device – the book The Guardian, 1 August 2011 brewster-kahle

10 Physicality of the book

11 The souvenir of reading

12 Print a PDF

13 Digital scholarship tools

14 Butterflies on the wing AW Scott, 1864, Australian lepidoptera and their transformations, drawn from the life. de/1up de/1up See also: an exhibition of the artworks at the Australian Museum Beauty from Nature – art of the Scott Sisters from-Nature-art-of-the-Scott-Sisters from-Nature-art-of-the-Scott-Sisters

15 Dr Elycia Wallis Museum Victoria Melbourne, Australia @elyw

16 Text for the slides (1) Introduction – title slide Good morning. My role here today is to provoke you, indeed that’s what all 4 of us will try to do. We want to open up ideas and discussion and set the frame for this two days together. I will be trying to provoke you to think about what it is we’re doing this all for, and are we succeeding in our aim? I’ve chosen this image for the first slide as I find the concept interesting – the library as a museum. The picture shows the Bibliotheca Palafoxiana in Puebla Mexico. It boasts of being the oldest public library in America, and was founded in 1646. It’s collection dates between 1473-1821 and is all behind glass. You can’t even sit down at the library tables. (See heritage/registered-heritage-page-1/biblioteca-palafoxiana/ and for image) heritage/registered-heritage-page-1/biblioteca-palafoxiana/ But I don’t think we want that – we want literature that we can get to; that we can study and that we can work with. Are we achieving that with our current operations? Slide 2: Digitising for what? In order to start I’d like to post the question ‘what are we digitising for?’ And I should acknowledge Martin Kalfatovic here for giving me exactly the point I wanted to make. This image, taken from a book in BHL written by one Theodore Roosevelt called African Game Trails illustrates and describes the Western Black Rhinoceros, a subspecies of which (Diceros bicornis longipes) has just been declared extinct by the IUCN. It’s being shot at by someone who describes himself as a ‘naturalist’. So the fact that the ‘naturalists’ have made it extinct means that there won’t be any new publications with recent data in any scientific journals – open access or otherwise. All the information we have about this species is now held in the published literature, and in the specimens that might be kept away in museums around the place. And that makes this information scares and precious and worth keeping. Slide 3: Access The most common reason usually given about ‘why digitise’ is to make the literature accessible – to anyone, anywhere, anytime (well as long as you have a decent connection and can access the internet). Digitisation projects are everywhere now, and they all cite access as a key reason for their existence. This image shows a stuffed hippo that was owned by the Prince of Orange in 1775 and that is one of the flagship pieces of literature that will be digitised in a huge project announced earlier this year by Google books and the British Library. In the commentary that went on in the press about that announcement, one statement in the Guardian caught my eye. The users of this vast resource were described as “the specialised researcher and the simply curious”. Very different use cases, I would argue. Projects like this, and including BHL, often fall into what I see as a trap – that just because we’re making something available on the internet we assume the “simply curious” or the worse “general public” will somehow a) find the resource and b) make sense of it. So is there any evidence that they do? Text by: Dr Elycia Wallis, Museum Victoria The text for this talk is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0, Australia license,

17 Text for the slides (2) Slide 4: Indeed we all like a good picture Well, yes. BHL have been doing a great job in keeping its many social media followers entertained and interested in the extraordinary content within BHL by posting images from the books onto Flickr and letting users know about the content through Twitter, Facebook and the BHL Blog. And, yes, there are certainly some good images. Slide 5: And there are some good ones [This slide spoke for itself!] Slide 6: The ‘simply curious’ And there is some evidence that the simply curious really do exist. This blog called Scientific Illustrations also collects images, a lot of them from BHL. They are put up on the blog, and people can comment on them. Simple and effective. But the real question for today, and provocation number 1 is what are the compelling use cases for digital literature? And how can we support those use cases, and thus our real users? We can see that people are doing cool and unexpected things with our content, so what tools can we imagine to set the information even more free? Slide 7: Preservation The other common answer to the ‘why digitise’ question is for preservation. We’ll set aside the fact that, actually, many organisations can’t digitise for preservation because the files generated are just too large and storage is just too expensive, this is a common thing to want to do. But what’s the alternative to digitising for preservation? Slide 8: You can make art Well, you can make art out of old books. This artist carefully cuts all the words out of old books, leaving only the illustrations to create an extraordinarily beautiful three dimensional work. Text by: Dr Elycia Wallis, Museum Victoria The text for this talk is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0, Australia license,

18 Text for the slides (3) Slide 9: Or you can keep paper copies Or, you can keep books on, err, paper. Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive made headlines back in August when he announced that he was going to try to collect one copy of every book. He’s storing his collection in a climate controlled set of modified shipping containers to save the books. Another interesting approach. Slide 10: Physicality of the book But my more serious point is that the physicality of the book is still very compelling, and digitising them is often thought to take something away. James Gleick, writing in the New York Times in July of this year described the “exhilaration that comes from handling the venerable original”. A “contact high”. In this case he was describing handling the oldest known notebook of Sir Isaac Newton, which he was doing in the Reading Room of the Morgan Library in New York. These debates about physicality are much like the debates in the scientific community about the specimen and its value. How many people would describe a new species on the basis of a photograph alone? Slide 11: The souvenir of reading The extension to this notion of our attachment to ‘real’ books is our need to retain a souvenir of the act of reading. In this case, a design company has given us a tool where you can make a tangible, touchable, book case-able souvenir of a book you’re just read in the form of a cube you can print out and put ‘away’. E-books are described as too ephemeral, too flighty and that we need something tangible to hold on to. Slide 12: Print a PDF But there is a serious point here– aren’t the PDF’s we are encouraged to generate, store and print out to put in reprint boxes just the same thing? A ‘rememberall’, a keepsake, a souvenir. So the challenge again for this group is to think of other ways – and I do know there are certainly people and organisations here offering aides and tools for our frail human memoires to give us other ways to trace our reading history rather than resorting to the clumsy tool of a printout of a small part of a previously scanned book. Text by: Dr Elycia Wallis, Museum Victoria The text for this talk is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0, Australia license,

19 Text for the slides (4) Slide 13: Digital scholarship tools My final point about the seismic shift in how we work generated by digital content is to do with the nature of the book, and its utility in digital form. Tim Hitchcock, Professor of 18th C history in London and author of the blog ‘Historyonics’ writes that the configuration that we know as the ‘book’ is dead once it goes online. Online, it becomes all just text – and it’s either text that matches what we’ve searched for, and text that doesn’t. We are impatient and time poor (returning to Sandy’s point about only reading abstracts) and we only want to see what fits our search. But are our digital literature tools helping? Tim argues, no, and cites that only 48% of significant words in an 18th C manuscript collection he works on are correctly interpreted by OCR. That’s 52% of words that aren’t. In BHL we are familiar with the false positives of scientific names ‘found’ in the text that can’t be matched to any names lists, and that no-one has the time to go back and make a personal check of. So in not fully investigating the product of the digital projects, are we selling scholarship short? And I won’t even go into the vagaries of what we can legally put online due to restrictive copyright laws. So my 3rd provocation is for you to consider what scholarship in the digital age means? And what are the real tools we need to do it? Slide 14: Butterflies on the wing So in conclusion, I’ve raised 3 questions – which you don’t have to answer straight away. By the end of tomorrow would be fine! 1) What are the real use cases for access to literature and how do we support those needs? 2) What are the best tools we can provide to allow us to remember the drops we want to catch from the digital deluge? 3) What does scholarship mean in the digital age and how do we go about supporting it? Text by: Dr Elycia Wallis, Museum Victoria The text for this talk is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0, Australia license,

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