I was going to give this post a much more serious and important name (I also wasn’t going to illustrate it with only homestarrunner images, but oh well), but I was thinking about the things that got me riled up this semester and I came back to Dappert and Farquhar bagging on significant properties with a vengeance. While I have made my peace with their point of view and the context in which they wrote their article – the phrase and its connotations were becoming cumbersome and antiquated – I still see a value in preserving the idea of stating clearly why something is important and what about that object must be maintained in order to show that it is rendering successfully. For my field study at the Smithsonian Libraries, I’ve been curating digital images and one of the new metadata fields is the “Short Description.” Having the Short Description ensures that no matter how many times the image is migrated, through how many file types, the most significant property is that it displays this particular image. What makes the digital object valuable is that it performs it’s functions; so without proof that it is in fact doing that thing, what good is it? A dead file is for most people less useful that the description of what it was when it was working.
What’s been really engaging has been the swirling vortex of how things grow from here. While the images I worked with at the SIL were very simple digital objects, more complex digital objects respond to unique preservation needs in a sort of three dimensional space where their needs are relationally defined as sometimes being very similar to simple objects and easy to meet and sometimes extraordinarily complicated and as the preservation expert you’re kind of left guessing and going “let’s screen-cap it and make a hard copy.” And while I could definitely see this as being an argument against the original model of the significant property, I see it as making the process of writing out those properties even more important. Complexity isn’t a bad thing, but as conservation moves out of the super-specialized labs and into the everyday service centers, being able to talk about what it is that makes a work unique and what it was supposed to do when the platform that ran it has been surpassed is important.
What I didn’t know at the start of the course was how expansive the definition of digital art could be. The myriad topics we’ve covered have been eye-opening and have illuminated to me just how narrow my experience of the digital world has been so far. But it makes me wonder if everyone has the same experience of digital culture: we all have our little slice of the internet and it undulates as it is acted upon by recommendations and as time allows, but with a finite amount of time and a potentially infinite amount of digital content, there is no way anyone can know the whole internet – hence sites like Know Your Meme.
One of the big questions still remaining to me is, when the large institutions – aside from Library of Congress which is having massive digital collections thrust on it because it is the last resort for many things no one else can handle – are only just beginning to deal with digital art and only in very small quantities, how can we encourage small institutions to engage? Not colleges, which are more likely to push boundaries and not digitize current collections, but how do we encourage small, single-staff services toward these endeavors and how do we best support them? I feel like if my Homestar Runner project proved anything it’s that if you love a thing, there are going to be other people on the internet who love it too and surely, if we’re curating digital content, we should be able to better leverage the amazing resources of the internet, the NYPL menu and the Old Weather transcription projects and Citizen Science.
2 Replies to “#TeamSignificantProperties”
No one can know the whole internet, its a big and scary place. We can only hope to push out from our little corners and see more of what is there. But, to preserve the wonders that are out there with the help of the ‘smaller institutions’ that you mention, sharing the knowledge of how to archive something and showing them that it really isn’t that hard or time consuming of a thing to do will be key.
Exactly. I think of SAA’s MayDay initiative as a great example. They have a growing network of large and small scale programming opportunities around their branded idea of vital protection and their reach is growing; MayDay is focused on emergency preparedness, but fundamentally, that’s the idea.