Let’s dump out all the crayons and make a mess or How long would it take to get at all the cool digital stuff our libraries have?

This proposal is less a calculated intervention and more (in the spirit of THATCamp?) a loose whirlwind of things I’ve been thinking about. Also, I notice we have a number of good proposals for discussion sessions—I’m looking forward to Re-Skilling for Research and one on doing DH instruction—so I thought, in the interest of balance, I would try to come up with a session based around making something (or at least trying to).

There are two proximate inspirations for this proposal. The first is the brilliant and beautiful new Web site unveiled by the Rijks Museum (may we all be so good as to copy it): www.rijksmuseum.nl/en. One of the best things about the site is that everyone is encouraged to download hi-res versions of images and to re-use them—and it is dead simple to do. The second inspiration is the great work that Tim Sherratt (@wragge) has done and continues to do with digital collections at a variety of Australian institutions. (Seriously, someone give this man a job.) I particularly recommend looking carefully at the work Sherratt has done with digitized collections from the National Archives of Australia in projects like Invisible Australians.

As I’m sure is the case at everyone’s institutions, we have digitized some wonderful things at Maryland (childrens’ books printed during the American occupation of Japan after World War II, anyone?) but how hard does a prospective (prospecting?) digital humanist have to work to get access to these things? In many places (including MPOW), they have to work way too hard. Bravo to those who have APIs or download functions as easy as the Rijks Museum. For the most part, my hunch is that whether it’s Fedora, DSpace, ContentDM, etc., etc. — we’re often putting collections out there in ways that make them easy (or easier) to search and browse, but not to download, remix, re-make, re-present, and create with.

So, with all that said, what I propose is to devote a session and a small share of our insider knowledge (as the custodians of these access systems and discovery layers) to figuring out how to pull down some of this cool digital stuff and get it ready to use in ways that digital humanists might be apt to want to do. How long does it take? Are the terms and conditions clear? What might it be possible to make or at least concretely imagine making with the goods we can “liberate” from our collective digital collections?

Maybe that all sounds too messy or too hard to do in an unconference session but I’d at least like to try. I think we’ll find out some interesting things by dumping all the crayons on the table and making a mess.




Categories: Collaboration, Research Methods, Session Proposals |

About Trevor Munoz

I hold a joint position at the University of Maryland—specifically designed to bring DH and Libraries closer together. I'm an Assistant Dean for the University Libraries and also an Associate Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), the digital humanities center here. I develop and manage digital projects for both the Libraries and MITH and spend my time devising ways for these organizations to work more closely together. I came to my dual role via a dual background in both Library and Information Science (UIUC) and Digital Humanities (Kings College London).

1 Response to Let’s dump out all the crayons and make a mess or How long would it take to get at all the cool digital stuff our libraries have?

  1. I love this idea!

    Why not make all our hi-res images easily downloadable? I would have never heard of the Rijksmuseum has it not been for the work they’ve done to expose and share fabulous images of their holdings. And downloading them doesn’t kill the experience of viewing the physical art, it just makes me envious of visitors who actually get to go. Digitization drives patronage, it doesn’t drive it away.

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