Scott Trowell – Question 1
1Is digital representation of archival materials making print representation obsolete? Are there specific ways you see the two working in tandem?
Faculty of Arts and Humanities Librarian – University of Sheffield
Collections Manager for National Fairgrounds Archive, Western Bank Library – University of Sheffield
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In the National Fairground Archive the largest category of archival material is photographic. As information professionals working with a new archive that has not produced any edited print editions so far, our main concern is with digital re-presentation of original material. Thus we are not able to answer this question; however, we can compare digital re-presentation with the original documents. There are a series of common-sense arguments to be made around the digitization of resources. First, digitizing for access is clearly an established driver; not everybody is able to physically review the material even if it is available for consultation (distance and costs may be prohibitive). Furthermore, if a researcher is working on a comparative analysis of materials that are held in different locations, then obviously they cannot be in two archive places at the same time. Second, in the print world (we include here also photographic material) drivers for digitization are not just re-presenting material for access; they may be doing so for preservation (an unstable original) or for initial presentation in the first place, or for readability. (For instance a negative can be classed as a potential print but in itself is clearly not an easily accessible or readable object). Third, and in the opposite direction, digitization may not be possible for reasons of copyright or other legal issues (data protection, privacy), and so this has a direct bearing on the question in that copyright must be considered before anything physical can be digitized. This situation would also apply if the re-presentations were print publications as well as digital.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 With these basic tenets out of the way, we can move to a more widely scoped discussion around the precarious nature of the relationship between the physical and the digital. In essence, can we attribute the power of the printed resource in defense of its pending obsolescence via the digital re-presentation? This is more difficult to answer. It is evident that a printed resource has a tactile nature and possibly an associated aura, which can invigorate appreciation and inspire creative interpretation. In his seminal essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin introduces this idea of the aura of the original along with the concept of the flaneur, who travels from place to place to seek out the aura of originality.1 We can extend his idea by thinking about the archival flaneur as one who is constantly seeking the aura of the original document, a line of investigation briefly opened up by Boris Groys.2
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Furthermore, an object can have tangential histories embedded into its materiality: notes in the margins, evidence of the passage of time and circumstances, evidence of a custodial chain that brings the object from creation to the present day. This adds a diachronic (as opposed to synchronic) aspect to archival understanding. It is disputable whether digitization can carry forward these histories, and so in these instances we would argue that print is far from obsolete.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Where digital representations are prolific, they clearly can work in tandem with the printed material on an obvious level. They facilitate the discovery of the object and promote the existence of the archive. Whether digital techniques of capture and the online “experience” of the object can start to integrate some of the previously mentioned qualities of a printed resource is a difficult question to answer.