5 Replies to “Copies, Composites, and Collecting”

  1. I really appreciated you bringing up Shakespeare’s first folios. When I started reading your post, I started thinking about the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. There are several copies of the Chronicle, and there is believed to be an original version but that has been lost. What is left are several copies, each with a different provenance, and because it is a chronicle recording local events, they all are, essentially different documents. The copies share similarities from their original, but each copy is still unique as new events in different locations were recorded.

    I like your idea of storing versions of a digital object. This idea isn’t completely unheard of when producing an edition of a text based on analog texts. Adherents to a particular theory in Biblical scholarship produce editions of the Bible juxtaposing the Gospels to demonstrate how they contain copies of similar texts. Like wise, some editions of literary works will contain several different versions of the same text.

    So, like we talked in about in our class on the divergent lineages of preservation, I don’t think there is necessarily a huge divide here between analog and digital materials; it is largely that there just is a lot more digital material. I think, as you suggested, managing the digital copies should be a curated process. Because digital objects can be copied so easily, not every copy might be significant and useful, and some sort of archivist or professional should select copies that should be preserved.

    1. Both you and Margot raise excellent points. I think that when it comes to digital objects, provenance is one of the most important factors. Knowing the provenance, much like in an analogue counterpart, is essential in determining other qualifying traits, such as authenticity or authority. However, with digital objects, I think that there should be less emphasis on authority in cases where authenticity is more informative.

      I agree with you, Ben, that juxtaposed versions are useful for study and analysis, and that there isn’t that much of a difference between digital and analogue counterparts. With digital objects it is often more difficult to maintain version control without some sort of system–and speaking from personal experience, syncing documents in the cloud can produce some confusing alternate versions that are difficult to sort through.

      Because terminology in this field is so often unclear, similar but different, or multi-defined, how does “managing the digital copies… [as] a curated process” differ from the concept of digital arrangement and description? Or is digital curation the equivalent of traditional archival arrangement and appraisal?

      1. Dave,

        Syncing is, in my humble opinion, awful. Alright, I let my phone sync music from my cloud library, but that’s it. I can’t imagine having documents or photos sync automatically without some say in where they go or what replaces what, etc. It’s a subject that Marshall touches on, that people like to have manual control over their digital collections, especially when they want to keep them long term. I think this comes from an idea I’ve been trying to communicate here: just because we can doesn’t mean we should. We could combine copies of a file into a single master version, but that doesn’t mean we should. We could decide that one copy is more important than another, but that doesn’t mean we always should.

        I think digital curation is closer to arrangement and description, but there is an intensified element of could/should as well as the sheer amounts of metadata to sort through. With digital objects, the metadata itself might as well be its own digital object, so copies of one object are valued not always just for their content, but for all the other things attached to them. As we’ve said, this has parallels in the analog world, but in the analog world we’re usually not as tempted to cut up a book and keep the fascinating marginalia and toss the other pages, and then stuff the bits we kept it in a hollinger box alongside the ‘reference’ copy. We just keep all of them. But I think there is more of a temptation in the digital realm to divorce the interesting bits from the content (which we probably have many copies of) and while this may be an amenable strategy for some objects with vast numbers of copies, it’s possible that some copies should be kept in their entirety simply because they are, repeated content, unique metadata and all, valuable in their own context.

    2. Ben, the analogy with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is spot on! It is so common in historical documents, especially documents like the ASC that illuminate such foggy areas of history, that are valued in whatever form they take, so of course we have to keep all of them.

      I suppose one of the points I’ve been wrestling with here is the fact that with digital objects, they aren’t often considered ‘rare’ or ‘inaccessible’, at least not right now, so we don’t see as much harm in destroying extraneous copies or combining the metadata of copies. To some extent, this practice is necessary because we do not need 1000 copies of a single instagram picture taking up bitspace on our servers just because each has a different comment or like attached to it, but at the same time, the ease with which we can delete, sync, and merge digital objects presents a false dichotomy of provenance and authenticity in analog vs digital. Syncing may be a nice technology for the convenient storage of information together – but does that convenience come at the cost of meaning and helpfulness?

      I think a model similar to a parallel gospel Bible, as you said, is an apt example of the sort of arrangement that I think would be a happy medium between management and respect des fonds – however we argue the latter may exist in the digital realm.

  2. Margot,
    I also thought that Marshall’s story of the video was useful. We have been touching on the whole problem of versions throughout the course, including the library-centered conceptual model of FRBR (a four-level tier, work — expression — manifestation — item). Shakespeare’s works are a great example for FRBR, actually, but I don’t know if you can apply that kind of reasoning to online videos being used by musicians. The variant forms and derivatives of digital objects are not always hierarchical. Figuring out “authentic” versions of Youtube vids sounds truly nightmarish.

    All the readings this week suggested that it was time to rethink archival rules for digital objects, and it seems relatively easy to add some options in archival description for listing related objects, external metadata, and other add-on functionality. The hard part would be making such features useful, along with the technical challenge of acquiring things like comments. Again, just compiling Youtube comments for multiple versions of the same video just sounds… unfun.

    In the long run, I think there can be a technological solution to some, but not all, of this. The rest will be a lot of work and compromise, as always.

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