12 March 2007

History digitized, abridged - and accessible

Read about the efforts of various archives to preserve and make accessible important collections in this New York Times story.

"There's an illusion being created that all the world's knowledge is on the Web, but we haven't begun to glimpse what is out there in local archives and libraries," said Edward L. Ayers, a historian and dean of the college and graduate school of arts and sciences at the University of Virginia. "Material that is not digitized risks being neglected as it would not have been in the past, virtually lost to the great majority of potential users."

The story explains how cost is impacting projects, and offers this statistic: only 10% of 132 million Library of Congress objects will be digitized. The National Archives is in a similar position, and many local collections are on nondigital media.

LOC director of collections and services Jeremy E. Adamson is quoted:
"It's a crying shame," Mr. Adamson said, "as today's public is acutely visually literate and comfortable with pictures as a means to understand the past and experience for themselves the direct look and feel of history."
The reason for not digitizing these collections? "Not enough money," Mr. Adamson said.

Genealogists know that some resources are not yet online; this is stressed in the article by James J. Hastings, National Archives director of access programs who says that researchers who assume that the only valuable records are the online ones will miss major parts of the story or possibly the entire story.

Copyright law also is an important consideration. The story cites a study which indicates that about 84% of historical sound recordings made in the US from 1890-1964, have become "virtually inaccessible."

Read the story here.

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