Technology can undoubtedly aid in the preservation and dissemination of texts and materials in libraries and archives; emphasis on “can.” Though technology such as microfilm and online archives has made great strides in preservation, it has sometimes been at the cost of the actual texts they are attempting to preserve. This conundrum is the crux of this week’s readings.
Various corporations such as Google and Microsoft have undertaken the Herculean task of creating massive online libraries of books. This has progressed the ease of access of information far beyond the doors of libraries, tough not without its shortcomings. To begin with, most of these online libraries are of more modern books, due to older texts requiring expensive, specialized techniques for digitizing. There are also issues presented by the word analysis programs Google in particular utilizes to digitize these texts. Just as a person might have trouble reading handwritten information, so too do these programs. However, my biggest concern is these online libraries are created by for-profit corporations. If they truly wanted these to be “online libraries,” shouldn’t they be free, like an actual library? My concern is that in the future these texts could be ransomed for subscriptions and pay-per-view access only; precisely the opposite of a true library. Shouldn’t this be the realm of a nonprofit?
The process of digitizing or otherwise converting these texts from their original format is also at times a cause for concern. While microfilm can be incredibly useful for preserving at-risk texts, the visual quality of the film varies wildly. It also completely removes the physical aspect of these texts, which can be detrimental to research (such as taking dirt samples from text). Similarly, depending on who is putting the texts on microfilm, they could inadvertently damage the texts themselves, such as altering the color of the page, therefore altering the very nature of the text itself. Similarly, in some cases (horrifically) libraries and archives have intentionally destroyed original texts after it is digitized. Newspapers have seen the most destruction at the hands of would-be preservers. So while technology can and does save texts for future generations to use, the overzealousness of preservationists could call for the destruction of the very thing they are working to protect. I understand space is often an issue for libraries and archives, but it seems counterintuitive to destroy a text if it isn’t in a serious state of degradation.
Technology poses great boons in the realms of preservation in libraries and archives, but it must be done so with careful consideration.