Posted by: Steven Harris | December 29, 2007

The Power of Digital

The ACRLog has a guest post by Valeda F. Dent entitled “Research Has The Power To Enhance The User Experience,” which reinforces a couple of points I make in the manifesto. One of these is that digital collections enable certain kinds of user behavior that are more difficult with analog collections. One example was about the ability to compare a multitude of manuscript items, something that would require a lot of preliminary work with analog items, but is easily accomplished with digital. But it’s not just about making things easier for the library user (although I think that should be one of our goals); it is also about providing greater analytical power to the user. With the computer doing the searching and comparison, the human is able cast a wider net of analysis.

The other point in the manifesto is that users should have choices. This is an idea that is more closely examined in David Weinberger’s Everything Is Miscellaneous: because digital collections relieve a lot of the physical burden the user might otherwise experience, we are free to develop (and tolerate) greater and greater complexity. A researcher, for example, might be overwhelmed to spread dozens, hundreds, even thousands of manuscripts before herself in the special collections reading room, but she can do that with digital collections while sitting in front of a single computer screen. She can also preserve a wide array of queries and return to them effortlessly, without a stack of note cards or logbooks to look at. The storage of search strategies and queries requires relatively little computer space. Our systems should allow a user to preserve as many as they need, and enable a variety of recombinations and reuses of those strategies. More on that later.


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