A confidence in our professional priorities?

Due to resource constraints, no library is able to digitize everything. Please propose a scheme to determine the digitization priorities based on past retrieval patterns specific to your library’s user community. Or describe the inadequacy and deficiency found in common practice.

yiwenw’s “User Community” post helped me recall some of the issues discussed in my recent collection management course related to preservation.  There are numerous rationales for libraries and specifically digital libraries to prioritize certain materials for preservation.  Is it a rare, one of a kind item that is unavailable elsewhere?  Is its condition deteriorating and therefore in immediate need of digitizing to insure some form of it will always remain available?  And perhaps does the library have anything to gain by promoting and marketing these items as a resource that only they can offer?

I’m hesitant to leave these decisions solely based on data derived from past retrieval patterns though.  I think their are some deficiencies in this practice, the foremost being the public can not be counted on to make the best decisions regarding prioritizing what a digital library should make available.  They might make their decisions without a far-sighted, preservationist agenda in mind or perhaps they will not have any insight into what’s unique about a libraries available materials and make poor decisions as to what should be digitized first.  I’ve heard about the glacial rate, limited funds, and bureaucracy surrounding these processes.  Perhaps limiting the user’s input to a degree is something worth consideration?  Shouldn’t we grant ourselves a professional practitioners who will devote years and months to these decisions a necessary authority to make appropriate decisions regarding priorities?  It’s not necessarily a diss to the “user community” but rather a confidence in our insights and investment.

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One response to “A confidence in our professional priorities?

  1. Great post, rudrud879. You bring up some very complex issues in your analysis. One of the core issues at play is the need for librarians/info professionals to acknowledge their own role in selection. It troubles the problematic notion of neutrality that is often upheld as a tenet of the field and yet, in practice, is not only impossible to achieve but perhaps not even ideal, for some of the reasons you mention. At the same time, we need to hold our gaze on the historical trends and tendencies of the field – toward “moral uplift,” high vs. low culture, and other propensities that used the library as (yet another) institution of assimilation and acculturation in a citizenship project designed to erase ethnic and cultural differences. So there is always this difficult and complex balance to strike.

    Of course, as the readings and our visit to the DCC made clear, the digital nature of digital libraries hardly means that everything can be digitized and made available – due to labor, budgetary and other very tangible and practical constraints. So this will necessitate significant choices. Predicating them on your expertise and training in the field is not a bad place to start.

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