Like many other folk working in IT, I'm occasionally inclined to throw around the occasional metaphor to clarify a dense point when needed. Comparison and analogy are the hammers that force the square peg of understanding into the round hole of blissful ignorance.
I wonder, in the thinking out loud way I like to do, how many people involved in critical decision-making in libraries use the comparative process to relate their own personal day-to-day usage of computers and digital resources back to their profession, to determine the relevance of what the library does, to the average individual. Consider these questions:
Q - How many librarians have found themselves looking aghast at their home computer as it suffered some digital fatality, taking documents, photos, and media with it?
A - Over time, a fair few.
Q - Next, how many of those librarians had the posthumous realization: "Gosh, these things really are quite fragile...if only there was some sort of central institution or resource that could professionally handle and keep accessible large volumes of information as needed!"
A - Based on the services currently available thru libraries, I'd guess either none, or few - made distinct by the looks of frustration on their faces.
[There would be many, many other questions that could be asked to explore the nature of the considerations of librarians about computers, but I'm going to leave it at these two particularly, because they are -
- common usage scenarios
- illustrative of need, a great and stubborn justification for pretty much anything.
Consider the librarian in the second question - the situation could be easily addressed in several ways: Firstly, by that librarian having a robust personal backup process for stuff on their computer, which obviously isn't always the case. Secondly, by that librarian having uploaded copies of valued data to a remote filestore via the internet - which makes a good case for the irrelevance of libraries in storing digital information. At present, libraries present a sort of rarified menu of digital services and objects - we store digitised items of cultural relevance based on a contemporary evaluation of the items. The stuff that doesn't pass our muster either finds a home on the interweb, or the deep net, or dies on the resource it was born on.
Digital storage is rendering quaint the concept of ingestion under a curatorial eye, not because the practice of the curator is obsolete, but because the amount of available storage for use is increasing dramatically faster than our ability to produce information. We no longer have a finite resource ("shelf space") that dictates selective ingest as far as digital objects go. Therefore, we are in a position to be able to ingest indiscriminately, and curate after the fact to present collections. No-one is in a position to authoritatively judge the relevance of contemporary information to future generations, and by making digital ingestion a much less discriminating process, we leave more information for future generations to interpret.
The natural fit of the curator in a digital age comes when the urge to subsequently access that information arises, and response can then come in the form of a selective collection.
There's been a question I've heard expressed mainly in rhetorical terms around libraries, and that is the question of "When does a digital thing become considered published?"
I don't know if this question has been given a definitive answer, but I'm going to assume that someone clever has responded with something along the lines of "When a digital content creator has put something unique in the public domain." The thing to keep in mind about this digital content creator is that they are overwhelmingly likely to be an individual, working anonymously from their home or place of web, as opposed to a more traditional publishing company.
I'm not even remotely librarian-y, but I have to ask: When we collect and make accessible every serial publication and relevant book to come out of this country, why are we even thinking about the whys and shoulds of digital ingestion when we potentially have no shortage of storage space for it for the foreseeable future, and no need (other than an instinctual one) to invoke any form of conscious appraisal of the material during ingestion? Why are we not just running an automated ingestion process via a web form to connect with those teeming multitudes of individuals creating digital content?
We live in the era of the digital incunabula, and it seems to me that we spend a lot of time with the questions Why? What? Who? around digital ingestion - when instead we could just have a user-directed upload facility on a website, guided by a library-developed submission form, to inform the librarian of the characteristics of the information needed to make it accessible; and curate it after the fact, before it ends up another digital fatality. This provides the library with a much more relevant role in the act of record-keeping in the eyes of the average person. Surely this is low-hanging fruit if ever there was in the library world!