Born Again: The New Life of Digitized Collections

Taking digitization projects as a starting point, libraries can bring new life to collections and foster a synergy with the community.  These projects can integrate digital humanities and instructional services, involve the community via crowdsourcing, teach digital literacy skills to users and suggest new levels of interpretation, both giving new meaning to the collections and enriching the users with new knowledge.

Many major institutions have been digitizing their collections (Shaw, 2016), but once a collection has been translated into digital format, what’s next? NYPL Labs, a division of the New York Public Library, is trying to offer some innovative ways to access, re-use and learn from the “goldmine” of data that is the NYPL digital collection. Ben Vershbow, director of the Labs, wants to convey the ideas that “digitization is the beginning of a whole new life cycle” (Enis, 2015) and that the library can become a “data clearinghouse” (Schwartz, 2012).

NYPL Labs has been offering a variety of tools and projects through its website in order to develop the online collection and create public value (Enis, 2015). The range of topics is very diverse: from menus (“What’s on the Menu?”), to maps (“Map Warper”), from phone directories (“Direct Me NYC: 1940”) to old real estate records (“Emigrant City”)…

In this effort, crowdsourcing has been one of the key means (Enis, 2015; Schwartz, 2012). Volunteering is not a new concept for libraries, but here users are engaged on a whole different level (Enis, 2015; Schwartz, 2012). Through dedicated websites and tools (some open source), users are asked not only to merely help transcribing and tagging the digitized materials, but they are also made aware of purposes and potentials of the projects and they are kept involved, share information, create new content and develop new skills thanks to the interactivity of the websites. As Shaw (2016) points out: information consumers become in these cases information producers as well.

Some of these projects have also been used for instructional services, as documented by Pun (2015): as examples of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary studies, as teachable moments for source checking, and to gain data analysis and data visualization skills.

Data visualization is also a key aspect of one of the “remix” projects promoted by the Labs, created to access the public domain portion of the collections. The “raw material” is out there – what we are going to do with it is entirely up to us.



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