Digital Futures Academy

Last week I attended the Digital Futures Academy, a course on digitisation run by King’s Digital Consultancy Service at the British Library in London. I had won a scholarship to attend this from the Digital Preservation Coalition, to whom many thanks. I thought I‘d jot down a few key thoughts that I took away, before they get swept away in the stream of everyday this-and-that, like when you go on holiday and the memory of sitting on the beach stays with you for about a day and a half and then your brain files the memories away in a box somewhere labelled ‘things that happened ages ago – possibly for deletion’.

A key thought that kept recurring in the week was the importance of thinking in terms of people, rather than data. Data is the trace of human activity and aspiration. Data fulfils human needs and provides opportunities. This came through particularly when we were discussing the planning and pitching of digitisation projects. The questions we need to ask are: who will benefit? what need does the project fulfil? what will be the outcomes, in terms of people using the data? what is your narrative?

William Kilbride of the Digital Preservation Coalition, one of the speakers, presented an interesting idea, that of the ‘attention economy’ rather than the much-vaunted ‘knowledge economy’. Knowledge and data are not what is scarce, but time. The most valuable thing in this economy is the time people take to engage with your content.

Alastair Dunning, of the European Library, another one of the speakers, presented a nifty analogy of the boutique versus the shopping mall. He presented a photograph of a quaint shop, stuffed with wares and full of character, and said that very often the services we create are like this: beautiful presentation of wares, but hidden away and nobody goes there. The next image was of a shopping mall: soulless and impersonal, but everybody goes there. This stands for the aggregators and mass audience sites (such as Flickr and Facebook). The boutique is fine, but it is important to get our content in the shopping mall, where it will be seen. The final image was a cautionary one: a boarded-up and derelict shop!

Overall, I found the course stimulating and thought-provoking. It raised as many questions as it answered – as it is intended to (there is often no universally correct answer with digitisation projects, but it helps to start by asking the right questions).

Matthew Herring

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