Saturday, April 14, 2007

ALA Draft Digitization Principles

The ALA Digitization Policy Task Force recently released a draft set of digitization principles for public comment. The comments on them that I've seen boil down, basically, to "duh" and "expand the scope even further." Regarding "duh," I agree that the general ideas here don't have a great deal that many would say should not be true, but that's OK. We need to state principles like this, even when they're not controversial, to help frame further discussion. The blog where these were introduced has some thoughtful comments on the details explaining the principles, which is where I think reaction is best focused.

One big-picture issue I don't think is clear, however, is the label "digitization." The principles are for the most part not about the digitization (conversion from analog to digital format) process, nor do I think they should be. They're more about the properties of "digital libraries" as a whole, which have content that was once analog, content that is born digital, and perhaps even metadata about objects that aren't digital at all. These principles seem to describe systems and organizations more than just objects.

The "expand the scope even further" commentary is also particularly apt. Coming from ALA, the focus on "libraries" could, as one comment on the blog mentions, to exclude other producers and maintainers of digital content, even others in the cultural heritage sector such as archives and museums. The direction I'd like to see these principles expand is related to (buzzword warning) interoperability. (Don't fall asleep--although that term that is often empty in its usage it really does describe some essential concepts.) My reading of the principles seems to focus inward, on developing maintaining digital collections within a single institution or close consortium. But we have an opportunity now to move away from the traditional (another buzzword warning!) "silo" approach to libraries, and create systems that operate in a much more open fashion, promoting re-use and exchange of content and metadata in new and unexpected ways. The digital libraries we maintain shouldn't just be accessible through our well-designed interfaces intended for a human to interact with - we need to supplement that access with additional methods. These methods are constantly expanding, and it will be difficult for us to keep up, but we can't ignore them.

1 comment:

Peter Murray said...

I was one that thought the principles were not uniquely relevant to a "digital" library and I also had problems with the inclusion of the word "digitized" in the title. I, too, wrote up a summary and posted it to my blog. The conclusion was:

So I come away from this document wholly unsatisfied. Except for two principles, I see nothing inherently “digital” about them. Not only that, but there is an odd mix of “Digitized” — as stated in the title of the policy draft — and “Digital” — which with the exception of principle #4 on collaboration is used throughout the document.

I guess I’m finding it hard to reconcile the proposal of new principles when it seems like the ones I already have suite the situation just fine.

The comments on the ALA-sponsored blog for the principles are decidedly mixed. I'm curious to see what comes of the process now. The deadline for commentary is May 1st, so we may not have long to wait.