February 1, 2015 by kdaly3
I find that Rosenzweig’s Clio Wired asked more questions about the future of scholarship and libraries as a result of the possibilities of the digital age than did Cohen and Rosenzweig’s Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. It also discusses ways in which students and historians/teachers interact with web-based materials that expands upon our previous reading of History in the Digital Age, by Toni Weller. I particularly appreciated the discussion of how, as historians and archivists, we face a constant battle of a proliferation of information and the possibility of a future of scarcity of information. At one point, the text discusses potential solutions of how libraries can reduce costs of journal access; one of these methods was through the production of electronic-only copies of these journals by publishers to save on costs of postage and paper. While this can be a good solution for libraries, I think that publishers still need to produce at least some hard copies of these materials in case someday the technology they used to produce or read these materials becomes obsolete. This is important to consider for all web-based materials; we should consider what websites might be historically significant enough to keep for future perusal before they disappear from the web altogether. Also, what format do you put these on so that they will be readable fifty years from now? At what point are we keeping too much or too little? How do the global social and legal rules interact with each other in such a diverse international platform? And who has the authority to make these decisions?
One must also consider the sustainability of these sites from a historical perspective. Most website producers do not realize that their sites may be needed for both posterity and research purposes, so, of course, they do not take this into consideration if the site needs to be shut down. Why would they? Their main concern is visibility of their information at the present moment to gain more viewership, not preservation for historians. However, who then does the responsibility fall to? Archives would perhaps be the most obvious answer, but there is also a question of the availability to technologies that can hold this data and training within a repository to take on digital information and web pages. If they do have these technologies, how do they choose to save and store them for preservation? Put the site into hard copies or PDF documents? There is then the question of taking information and sources out of their context and onto a platform that will provide differences in interpretation. Even with scholarly journals, historians are traditionally trained to write and publish for journals even though they could put their articles online (though this has its own array of potential legal issues) and open themselves up to a much wider audience. However, as we have previously discussed, there is a question of the credibility of information put onto the internet, and scholars are often uncomfortable with the web as a scholarly platform and how to use it without writing as if they would for a journal. Also, historians may be faced with a learning curve of historical method in their writing; they may not necessarily know how to write to accommodate a broader audience. Instead, stick with the traditional print versions of their scholarly, peer-reviewed journals because it is what they know to be reliable and they are keenly aware of the audience they are reaching out to.