Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Books and Libraries in the Digital Age

A video lecture by Harvey Darnton, director of Harvard Libraries:

In conversation with David Thorburn and audience members, Darnton lays out why he finds more promise than peril in rapidly expanding digital collections. He first owns up to the tactile pleasures of archival history: the sensation of opening a box full of manuscripts, dirty hands, the smell of old paper, and literally coming “into contact with vanished humanity.”

He cherishes the drama of such research, as well as the finished, weighty products of this kind of work: the book. While the “tactile quality of books” is very important -- and Darnton describes holding up leaves of 18th century books to see bits of ground-down petticoat thread -- there are also positive dimensions to digital versions. For instance, when the British Library digitized Beowulf, it discovered several new words. But “one medium of communication doesn’t displace another,” he reassures. “They coexist.” Darnton himself is hard at work on a large-scale electronic book about books in the 18th century, comprised of layers a user can navigate, from essays on various subjects, to selections of documents in English, to the original documents in French. There might even be songs performed as they were sung in the streets of Paris 250 years ago. “We are in an era of creating new kinds of books, new kinds of reading and authorship.”

MIT Communications Forum website which hosts the lecture has also made other lectures available including "Folk Cultures and Digital Cultures" and "Copyright, Fair Use , and the Cultural Commons"