Thursday, October 12, 2006

Digital curtain

I spent more than half the day this morning at what seemed like a rather long workshop on the advanced features of the software we here at OHSU use to display digital items in the Digital Resources Library, a software called ContentDM.

The software is great; the Digital Resources Library (or DRL as we call it) is great. We've been able to put quite a few things "out there" for patrons who cannot make it up onto the Hill to see the materials in person. In the subcollection for items from Historical Collections & Archives alone, there are over 1100 images and files to browse.

Recently, I heard a colleague refer to this sort of online presentation of scanned objects and digital pictures as "the digital curtain"--a curtain drawn over the complete range of physical collections, obscuring the true richness of the holdings, preventing researchers and other users from seeing the full panoply of materials.

For example, there are 192 digital images from the Historical Image Collection in the DRL at present, but there are approximately 9,000 images contained in the physical collection. There are 39 digital pictures of books or scanned illustrations from the History of Medicine and History of Dentistry Collections in the DRL, but there are about 3,000 books in the collections.

What does this mean? That we need to scan more? Almost certainly. But most importantly, it means that researchers need to talk to us about what we have before assuming that what they see online is the extent of our information on the subject. As more and more content is digitized, our role as guides to (the rest of) the physical collections becomes ever more critical.