Monday, October 15, 2007

Access 2007 Wrap Up - The Context of Objects

I can't remember whether it was Martin Holmes or Chris Petter but one of the speakers of the presentation, "Image markup and Web applications" at Access 2007 made a statement that resonated with me: "Archivists care as much about context as they do about content." For example, a photograph of a soldier is an object and the scrapbook that contains it provides a context. A scrapbook of a major is an object and other pieces of other veteran's collections provides a context. And so on.

Ray Siemens spoke about creating an "Professional Reading Environment" with tools that allow scholars to annotate, link and otherwise provide context to a collection of digital objects. Such work currently requires considerable efforts and Shawn Martin in the David Binkley Memorial Lecture, wondered out loud whether such specialized, single topic, grant-funded projects are sustainable in the long term.

One alternative model to these separated digital projects is UPEI's Virtual Research Environment as introduced by Mark Leggott. Using a common environment created with Drupal and Fedora, the VRE hosts a number of different research communities where scholars share data, use tools for analysis, and of particular note, can seamlessly upload their material into a institutional repository. (reminder to self: suggest an Access Conference digital repository for next year's hackfest)

I was thinking about the context of digital objects and collections while I was listening to John Durno and Martha Whitehead debate the importance of place in the definition of the library. One point that I think was missed by both speakers was this: what makes a library different from a collection of objects, digital or otherwise, is that a library is a *commitment* to a collection. My personal collection of books is not a library unless I make efforts that it will exist over generations. More than being a collection of objects or contexts, a library is essentially a promise to the future and librarians are a profession of eternal hope.

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