When my two boys were small, well, smaller than they are now, they were both in love with Finding Nemo. For years, every time we visited a pet store, aquarium, or body of water – we had to go out of our way to try and find Dory or Nemo. The kids loved the characters, but they also loved quoting from the movie.
Me: “Dinners ready”
Son1: “TTHHANNNK UUUUU!”
Son2: I didn’t know you could speak whale.
laugher…followed by different whale dialects
Or a personal favorite – Fish are friends, not food. Lots of fun.
So what does Finding Nemo have to do with digital initiatives? To this day, one of my favorite parts of the movie is the song Dory sings when Marlin, the clown fish, feels ready to give up. She tells him to just keep swimming. I like that, because in a lot of ways, I think that it reflects the place where libraries and librarians are as we’ve transitioned into a digital world. I was thinking about it recently – at some point over the past decade, we transitioned to a point where most cultural heritage and research data is born digital. And while that transition brings with it lots of benefits…the expansion of interdisciplinary research, a democratization of information, a lowering of barriers to information access…it has come with a number of challenges unique to digital data as well. Libraries, for example, haven’t traditionally dealt with things like format obsolescence, because information written on stone thousands of years ago, or vellum hundreds of years ago, or paper in the last decade are just as accessible today as they were when they were produced (save for issues around things like condition and fragility). Grab yourself a 5 ½ in floppy disc from 25 years ago, a ZIP disc from 10, or an HD DVD from a few years ago and you are likely going to have trouble finding a device that can read the data, let alone an application that can open it. I sometimes get asked what keeps me up at night – it’s the thought that this might be the first generation that is just a hard drive crash away from losing large swaths of cultural heritage information simply because research data isn’t replicated and copied the same way anymore. And the sad reality is that most libraries simply aren’t in a position to provide long-term data security as well.
It can be daunting – but like Dory – the library community keeps on swimming. This week, I’ve been up in Cleveland attending Hydra Camp. It’s one of the dozens of research projects that libraries and librarians are leading to look at the long-term viability of our preservation systems. It’s exciting work, but one of dozens of projects like DSpace, Omeka, Zotero, LOCKS, the Digital Preservation Network, etc. that librarians are participating in, shaping, and leading to protect our digital future. It is exciting – the kind of work that reminds me why I’ve stayed in academia and at research libraries – it’s a view of libraries and librarians actively taking back their role as caretakers of the cultural records and flexing their muscles as researchers in their own right. As we talk about the digital initiatives program at The Ohio State Library, much of the discussion rightly falls around the nuts and bolts of providing an environment that supports the Libraries’ ability to support discovery, preservation, etc.; and by and large, this is how people will judge the success of the program. However, I think equally important will be The OSU Libraries’ ability to become an active partner not just in the larger library research community; but in how we support and encourage innovative research and development within The OSU Libraries.