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Travels into Several Remote Digital Realms of the World
PART I: A Voyage to Libraryland

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Location: Champaign, Illinois, United States

2006-03-21

IMLS Status of Technology and Digitization Report

IMLS Status of Technology and Digitization in the Nation's Museums and Libraries

IMLS has released the results of its 2004 survey that followed-up on an earlier report in 2001. The new report shows that museums and libraries continue to increase their use of computing technologies to achieve their missions. Just as in 2001, libraries continue to lead the way in adopting technologies to achieve their goals.

I miss the side-by-side comparison charts of key finds from the 2001 survey. IMLS may have good reasons for this, but I'm of the opinion that a graph is worth a thousand words. I'd also be interested in taking the data and slicing it in different ways, e.g. an across-the-board comparison of small museums and public libraries, since they are often serving the same communities.

One of the most surprising - yet not so surprising - key findings is that many of the institutions who are engaging in digitization have no policies in place to guide their work. Nor do many of these institutions conduct evaluations of the work that they do. This is un/surprising because a) staff time for digitization remains one of the biggest challenges b) a lack of staff time to do digitization suggests a lack of time to do planning c) a lack of planning means making ad-hoc decisions or decisions that are not strategic and do not reinforce each other, leading to a lack of staff time for digitization..planning...and the cycle starts all over again.

The lack of policies, best practices and quality guidelines will impact us when we reach the digital preservation hurdle. It will be interesting to see how much of a hindrance this becomes in the next decade. In some ways we've already seen it from the creation of automated museum catalogs - the difficulties and expense of migrating to new systems, the difficulty in preparing records for public access via the Internet, etc. can be traced back to a similar needs (lack of time, lack of staff, lack of money, lack of policies) over the last 10-15 years. The disconnect between goals and activities seems pretty striking. The primary goal listed among museums (survey says...48%) was to "preserve materials of importance or value," yet this goal appears to be undermined by the lack of policies governing digitization standards, quality control, plans for migration, etc.

As a former historian, I'm still intrigued about how we've arrived at these results. What are the choices we've made along the way that produce the numbers we see. Is there anything we can learn from those choices that will influence our future direction?

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