I find the pairing of these two projects useful in that they represent both ends of the spectrum of digital archives; “What’s on the Menu” is a digitized collection, and the September 11 Digital Archive is comprised primarily of born digital materials. It’s interesting to consider that the NYPL project extracts data from what we can visually interpret, while the September 11 Digital Archive makes visual what is essentially data. Both engage with the public, drawing on a community’s involvement for some aspect of their development. And together they highlight two of the core roles of cultural heritage institutions: access and preservation.
A few years ago Marvin Taylor (Fales Library, NYU) came to speak to my class and he was passionate, arguing that libraries needed to stop digitizing paper and instead focus on the mountains of magnetic media and other more endangered formats. Paper’s not going anywhere. It can sit for 10 more years while we tackle the digital problem, right? Obviously he knew this wasn’t going to happen, but he made his point.
While we’ve made some progress in dealing with born digital materials, I think we’re still missing a key component–educating the public about archiving their personal digital materials. In the meantime, we are fortunate that crowdsourced digital archives such as the September 11 Digital Archive (and the recent RRCHNM project, #OccupyArchive) are proactive in simultaneously collecting, preserving, and providing access to these materials. As we imagine how the materials will be interpreted in 50 years, it is also interesting to think how these collections themselves will be viewed in the future as part of a larger effort to grapple with born digital materials.