A properly digitized collection broadens access, protects the safety of the original material and provides new options for research. One of humanity’s responsibilities is to ensure that we properly preserve our Cultural Heritage for future generations. Good digitization and dissemination of the resulting Preservation Digital Objects is essential to our role as stewards of our history and culture. Digitization is not a buzz-word or fad; it is a fundamental shift in the way collections are accessed and protected.
Democratization of Data
Digitization profoundly broadens access by lowering the barrier to entry for discovering and examining Cultural Heritage collections. In the past, only a narrow demographic of the population had the time and resources to travel for the sole purpose of viewing a collection at a particular institution. Now, anyone with Internet access at their home, school, work, or local library can access a digital collection.
“One of the prized pieces of our collection is the Guttenberg Bible. That completely changed the dissemination of knowledge in its time. Digitization allows a similar dissemination, so a similar revolution is going on now. It breaks down the walls of time and space and now it’s accessible to the entire world.”
– Graham Haber, Photographer, The Morgan Library & Museum
“There are very few books written in Haitian Creole, and many Haitian schoolchildren don’t have access to books because they are so hard to find in the country, and surprisingly expensive to ship. Our nonprofit organization has built a cloud-based digital library, which allows students in Haiti to access thousands of books on low-cost devices like Android tablets that are made in Haiti. Digitization allows us to fill our library with quality children’s books in Creole, helping to support education and literacy for thousands of students.”
– Nicole Comforto, Director of Educational Resources, Library for All
Moreover, the ability to access an entire collection of material culture that has not been curated for general audiences truly opens the possibility for new interpretations. Digitizing/Scanning entire collections allows new insights and discoveries from any viewer, not just the select few with physical access to the originals.
For researchers, having digital access to an object can save days of travel and thousands of dollars in expenses. This is especially true for collections which are spread out across multiple institutions. As a result researchers are more likely to cite the institution in their research [See 1.4 – Marketing, Branding, Reach & Politics].
“Some of [our] books are not widely available. They might be in one or two libraries in the entire world… so researchers, particularly those in the developing world wouldn’t have had access to this information, and suddenly here it is on the Internet to read, download for later, and they can do full text searching — it has transformed the way they do their research. It has given them access to material they didn’t even know they needed access to.”
– Keri Thompson, Digital Projects Librarian, Smithsonian Libraries