More information on digitized works

Cathleen Nalezyty
December 17, 2015

Recently there’s been a lot of talk about digitizing media to make it more accessible and to preserve it. Both those goals are commendable and have the added benefit of freeing up library space, such as the MIT Library’s recent move to digitizing most of its journal collection. However, with this sort of digital access and textual reproduction, we lose a number of valuable information on the texts and their materiality themselves:

1) The ability to browse and skim through related content on the bookshelves.
2) Digitization does not - and currently cannot - reproduce all aspects of a book. In particular, we often lose information such as watermarks, binding structures, and often in the case of journal articles, surrounding context of how other works may be arranged with it.

Certainly it wouldn’t make sense to get rid of digitization altogether; in many ways, digital copies are much more convenient and accessible to students. However, I’ve noticed a lot of time that when you find a digital edition of a work, or even a catalogue description, there isn’t a lot of information about the digitization process or if it is possible to access the physical copy owned by the libraries. More information about how the digital copy became accessible, easier options to tell students how they can access the material in other ways, and possibly information on what the digitization doesn’t show could be very useful.

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As a student at MIT, the Libraries are invaluable as a research tool to do my work and learn. It's also an extremely valuable space for me to study and work in.