Wasn't Digitization Supposed to be Easy? And Good for Us?
Cultural institutions — like libraries, archives and museums — have remarkable collections of artifacts and records documenting our social, cultural, economic, political, and personal histories. These collections are treasures — for teaching and scholarly research, for cultural understanding, for the preservation and transmission of individual and family and community identity and history. With the dawn of dirt cheap digital information technology, the opportunity is obvious and glorious: set our treasures free. Digitize everything, and make it freely available to the world. All it takes is money … and not very much of that anymore.
But wait: Is it really that easy? And should we really do it?
With a couple of case studies, a few scattered anecdotes and maybe a dramatic reading from Dave Eggers’ The Circle, I’ll offer a few reflections on why “setting our treasures free” is a bit more fraught than it might seem at first glance.
Jeffrey MacKie-Mason recently joined UC Berkeley as University Librarian and Chief Digital Scholarship Officer and a professor in the Department of Economics and the School of Information. For the previous 29 years, Jeff was a faculty member at the University of Michigan, where he was the Arthur W. Burks Collegiate Professor of Information and Computer Science, and also a professor of economics and a professor of public policy. For the last five years he was the dean of Michigan’s School of Information.
Jeff has been a pioneering scholar of the economics of the Internet and online behavior and a frequent co-author with the Berkeley I School’s first dean, Hal Varian. He has also led the development of the incentive-centered design approach to online information services.