Giving us the tools… but does everybody need them?

Create a website? Hah.

Design a concept model? Hmm.

Map a wireframe? Well, lets see…


Personally, picturing my ideas digitally, on the Internet, or visually technical is a daunting thing. It speaks to our class’ questions of “do historians need to learn this?” Or “should I master this skill or will someone else do it?” Meaning, will the historian responsible for curating the content be the same team member to design the digital aspects? Will creating a spatial history map and analyzing one be part of the same process?

As a journalist, I’ve always thought that streamlining the project would make me a more marketable candidate and ultimately more successful. For example, the ability to pitch a story, write the article, shoot and edit the video, and upload it to a digital platform comes from a set of dynamic skills that are all needed to produce a journalistic project…. especially with today’s push for immediacy, ongoing budget cuts, and a much more accessible publishing process.

In Dan M. Brown’s “Communicating Design“, he gives audiences the tools to build the skills necessary for creating a work of digital scholarship for the masses. In his very jargon-y discussions of deliverables, competitive analyses, wireframing, and user-needs documentation, Brown enhances the technical skills of all those reading his book. In a practical sense those doing digital research can find the tools needed for contemplative and successful web presentation in the pages. However, the important lessons I found weren’t very technical at all…

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Brown writes, “Innovation moves fast online. Regardless of how the design process evolves, information about how other sites address the problems you face will always be valuable, because it keeps you abreast of the latest trends in technological change. With innovation comes a change in landscape,” reminding readers to acknowledge they are not creating in a vaccuum–everyone else is learning and changing at the same time and that important information can be learned from all.

Similarly, “Methods come and go, but documents appear to remain more or less consistent… Different people prefer different tools, but the choice of tool should have little impact on the message and purpose of your documentation,” cautioning that at the end of the day, you can’t get too caught up in the minute details of the presentation tool, but rather stay grounded in the importance of the actual research and information.

After reading Brown’s book and considering it’s implications on my own future career, I wonder if the pros of a much more individualized job outweigh the benefits of the collaborations that stand as hallmarks in many digitized historical projects. Meaning, is conforming to new societal standards and financial pressures worth more than the costly process of group work? Or does the nature of the web eliminate both the tangible and theoretic price tags in a much faster way than before?

Digital Public Library of America defines new digital scholarship

In 2006, Roy Rosenzweig asked if History could be open source and in 2013 the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study answers: “Yes, absolutely.”

On Thursday, April 18th, 2013, the world’s first “large-scale digital public library” will open to the public. Instead of swinging its doors wide and hosting a party, the Digital Public Library of America will go live on Thursday– inviting the Internet community to scan, scroll, and click through thousands of digitized and digitally born materials for free.

"The time is right to launch an ambitious project to realize the great promise of the Internet for the advancement of sharing information and of using technology to enable new knowledge and discoveries in the United States"

“The time is right to launch an ambitious project to realize the great promise of the Internet for the advancement of sharing information and of using technology to enable new knowledge and discoveries in the United States”

The DPLA will not be a Wikipedia-type resource. The library will feature collections of materials already published without inviting users to create, comment, or control the content. However, as Rosenzweig explained that Wikipedia was important not only as a product, but also as a process, I think the same could be said for the DPLA. On it’s own, it will be a great resource for historians, students, and digivisitors alike. However, as a process, the DPLA highlights the ongoing conversations on defining “digital scholarship” and creations of Chuck Tryon’s “networked public spheres”. 

The organization created six workstreams as committees working to build the DPLA and answer questions collaboratively. The most important of which included “Audience & Participation” and “Content & Scope”.

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“The Content & Scope workstream will identify content and articulate a collection development policy for the DPLA by confronting questions regarding management of and access to distributed materials, research, and data curation. It will undertake research that is relevant to core objectives, collect data concerning how many books and other materials exist in US libraries and their copyright status, and conduct analyses of already-digitized collections in the US and abroad.”

Within the Content & Scope workstream, members designed the “collection development policy” featuring a list of Potential Content. Some of this content are primary sources that have been digitized and some are works that have always been digital. As blogs begin to find a home in the DPLA, the lines between traditional forms of scholarship and blogging begin to blur even more (Tryon). By placing these blogs in a “networked public sphere” (the DPLA), these digital blogs and writing “can combine with the practices associated with scholarly production with the benefits associated with public engagement” (Tyron).

Additionally, the creation of this library can only encourage the process of “crafting scholarship designed specifically for the electronic environment” (Thomas) and taking advantage of these new platforms and audiences. I think the Library will only reenforce Thomas’ ideas of “casting aside the comfortable” to “discover the that the openness of the digital medium is what allows us both to create vibrant new scholarship and speak to a rising generation of students”.

So I wonder, will becoming included in the DPLA add an air of legitimacy to these online blogs, personal or otherwise? Will this affect traditional “professional culture” (Rosenzweig) or redefine the “practices for scholarly communication” (Tryon)? Will online publications, by invitation or not (or I guess by virtue of the Internet, generally not), be considered under the temperamental tenure process if housed in the Digital Public Library of America?