With the debate over the digitization of our cultural heritage in full swing it's time to propose the "No Information Left Behind" Act.
With lack of funding being the biggest hurdle many institutions face we need to get creative in coming up with ways to fund these endeavors. Our government must get more involved. We simply cannot leave it to the private sector. There are too many variables and potential pitfalls with having the digital rights of so many cultural artifacts in the hands of private companies. They may mean well now but things can change in a hurry in the private sector. What if one day Google is bought by a Chinese company? Would all the digitized material on protest and freedom of expression be censored?
Katie Hafner's article that appeared in the NYT last week "History, Digitized (and Abridged)" is a little off the mark when addressing this issue. It is a bit of a stretch to say "important pieces of history...are at risk of disappearing...are in danger of disappearing from the collective cultural memory, potentially leaving our historical fabric riddled with holes"
Will there not be any scholars left in this new digitized world who still do research the old fashioned way by traveling to the archive of choice and digging in? They will still need to physically travel to get the information they desire or look to other sources. As James J. Hastings of the National Archive points out "If researchers conclude that the only valuable records they need are those that are online they will be missing major parts of the story"
We can never achieve total digitization. There will always be information and knowledge that exists outside your computer. It is starting to sound eerily like the current situation we are in where a majority of our population gets all their news from watching the 6 o'clock news or one particular cable channel. To truly be informed you will always need input from more than one source. Let's not forget the internet is a tool not the end all when it comes to acquiring information. This is why the "No Information Left Behind" Act will also including funding to cover the travel expenses of scholars.
Another issue needs to be addressed as well. Beside the challenges libraries and special collections face regarding digitizing their holdings they also face a monumental task given the current funding issues of actually processing all the material they have in the first place. As I said before there is much of our literary and cultural heritage that sits in boxes in libraries all over this country waiting to be processed let alone digitized.
And the last hurdle that will prevent us from reaching the goal are our copyright laws. The legal noose that is wrapped around so much of our cultural content must be cut or at least loosened. Why can't all copyrights expire when the creator (or last of the creators) of the work dies?
Unfortunately the big media companies that own so much of our content are not going to give up easily. The meltdown has started for sure but the there is plenty of fight in them.
How does one fund the "No Information Left Behind" Act?
A couple of possibilities are:
-Assess a 1% digital archive tax on all new computers
-A tax on universities that spend more money on their athletic programs than on their library programs.
(these options assume that none of the zillions of dollars that are being wasted in Iraq are available to use to preserve our cultural heritage here at home)
The Digital Battle for our Literary Heritage
More on The Digital Battle for our Literary Heritage
Dan Cohen, author of Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, post
CNet article from Oct 05 "Google's battle over library books."