After giving myself a bit of a headache thinking about how digitization works, or doesn’t really work as many of us would like to believe, I find myself struggling with less of whether digitization should be a goal to strive towards and more with how accessible digital information really is.
For digital archiving in general, I’m mainly struggling to think about how much there can be found within the world, relics of the past, that not everybody can obtain the fullest extent of information to. Besides various digital archives that are only accessible by pass codes and monetary subscriptions, there are so many barriers that are put in place to prevent people from readily viewing any kind of primary document. Although I think that placing documents and information online is extremely valuable to people who cannot physically access the information they are seeking out, I’m noticing that a lot can go wrong with digitizing information and lots of it can become lost on gigantic search engines and databases that are expected to hold “everything”. In some cases, even holding physical documents is superior, due to being able to glean extra information off of the physical copies.
Throughout our project, we’ve mostly been working with physical archives, and these sorts of archives are what I think I’ve had the most experience learning about. However, for a couple research papers in the past, I’ve utilized digital archives outside of the typical JSTOR, ProQuest, and Project Muse websites. Every digital archive varies in look and layout, with many archives differing on how they organize their contents – but, many are simple enough to simply search for a specific topic or just a couple folders and subsections can yield a related find to one’s inquiry.
Additionally, with the couple of digital archives that I examined for this blog post, the September 11th Digital Archive and the Archive of Famous Trials, are similar enough to digital archives I’ve viewed in the past. However, I’m finding that the more hands involved within an archive, the more convoluted it can become. For instance, it seems that the 9/11 digital archive has been worked on by many individuals, which shows in the long lists and the not quite uniformity of the website itself. The famous trials website seems to mainly be credited by one professor, which is shown in the simple but very interactive layout. The 9/11 archive seems to be more similar to the Agudas Israel collection that my group is looking at, but I still find there to be many, many differences.
If my group wanted to make a digital archive for our project on the Agudas Israel Congregation, I think the bulk of our resources would be oral histories, handwritten or typed meeting minutes of the meetings from the earliest years of the Congregation’s existence, and documents about obtainment of property, congregation rulings and the constitution, and other documents that display public decisions recognized by the members of the Agudas Israel Congregation or other parties. It’s difficult to say how it would be organized, because many of these documents have multiple uses within the history of the Synagogue, but it would be too simple to organize them by year. I suppose, ideally, meeting minutes would stay together and oral histories would stay together. After that, we would have to decide how to organize the other documents to fit into categories that would benefit our readers and users.
I’ve already received some similar experience working within an ephemera collection at the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s archive, but it seems much more challenging when thinking about a collection with a specific subject. With ephemera, you’re given some wiggle room due to the lack of uniformity and lack of cohesiveness between the objects and documents found in an ephemera collection, so the user expects a little bit of chaos going into one. But, for a topic with many documents and a lot of information, careful placements of categories is necessary to keep a collection user-friendly, regardless if it’s physical or digital.