Monday, August 14, 2006

Treehugger v. Propellor Head

The age-old debate, right? In case you're wondering, this is a difference made by one of my professors in my graduate program. He himself was a propellor head, I think, which means he was a technology-lover. I tend to think of myself as a natural treehugger, which means that I would rather be handling old and fragile paper and books than learning SQL or building webpages.
Which is weird, right? My entire job is focused on computers, databases, and programming languages, yet in my heart of hearts, I do wish I ran a rare bookshop, telling customers all about the new first edition Wealth of Nations that just came last week and no, please, don't touch the pages, they are in good condition but I'd rather not have your finger oils all over them if you're not prepared to buy .
At any rate, the dichotomy between these two camps used to be much more prevalant than it is today, I think. Go to the Society of American Archivists conference, and you'll find nothing BUT tech seminars and digital records and EAD and whatever else is coming down the pike. Very little left on the paper that they are preserving. More and more, preservationists and archivists are moving away from their roots. I know that most of the people I graduated with, have gone into or are more interested in, digital matters.
But the thing is, most small-organization archivists don't have the time to mess around with fancy digital anything, and would rather have more information on the nuts and bolts of preservation than the newest open source software out there, or how to put all of their things online. Unfortunately, many archivists get sucked into the digital wave--our archivist is thinking of digitizing old newspapers, but without thinking that maybe the cost of digitization would outweigh the gain of having them online. Without heavy use, what's the point of putting them up on the web? Does it increase use? Maybe, maybe not. It's not like he's thinking of putting ancient Roman texts online, or the Gutenberg bible. It's just some student newspapers, and if they don't get accessed anyway, what's the benefit of making them digital now? His thought process seems to be (and I think it's this way a lot in the archives community) that any digitization is good digitization. I don't think that such thinking is productive, but it's very prevalent everywhere.
Don't get me wrong, the digital revolution is full upon us, and it's not a bad thing. It gave me a job that is interesting and fun and challenging, so who am I to complain? But I hope that the treehuggers stand firm and don't give too much ground. We need our lovely old books, too.

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"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.