- Is Digital Different? How Information Creation, Capture, Preservation and Discovery Are Being Transformed ed. by Michael Moss, Barbara Endicott-Popovsky
Is Digital Different? How Information Creation, Capture, Preservation and Discovery Are Being Transformed is a well-written, insightful overview of the role of information professionals in the transition from an analog to a digital environment. The volume is edited by Michael Moss, professor of archival science at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom; Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, director of the Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity at the University of Washington in Tacoma; and Marc Dupuis, assistant professor of cybersecurity at the University of Washington. The 13 contributors to Is Digital Different? explore the impact of advanced and emerging technologies on the information sciences in such areas as access, publication, and ownership. The volume addresses the challenges of research libraries in managing a shifting world of published, self-published, and unpublished materials, in both analog and digital formats. One weakness of Is Digital Different? may be its assumption that the digital environment will break down barriers between the academy and the general public. [End Page 651]
Each chapter reports on how particular institutions are grappling with a rapidly changing and unpredictable information environment, offering practical ideas for reconceptualizing and reorganizing libraries. Libraries, archives, and museums hoping to develop or improve discovery services will appreciate the descriptions of evolving technologies for the capture, preservation, and crowdsourcing of data. Michael Moss accurately observes, “The speed of the digital depends in part on the ease with which content can be rendered on the screen, but critically on the tractability of the World Wide Web and associated communication systems.” (p. 2) As social practices are shaped and reshaped by ever more sophisticated digital systems, librarians are repeatedly presented with new opportunities and challenges, which may cause tension between the old and the new. Moss contends that practices developed over centuries are being lost and opposition is opening up between the technologists, open source advocates, and the curatorial professions.
Crowdsourcing, which relies on volunteers to populate and build out information sources, is one illustration of this phenomenon and is emerging as a viable approach in a number of areas. The best-known current example is Wikipedia, which deserves the careful attention of information professionals. Likewise, new literacy studies teach us that when literacy, digital environments, and pedagogical knowledge come together in the form of Wikipedia, this new creation cannot be interpreted solely in operational terms. The information produced is fluid and empowers individuals in culturally and context-sensitive ways.
David Nicholas and David Clark offer a wealth of evidence that challenges the common assumption that “digital natives” are the most Web-literate. They describe a focus group in which PhD students “could not understand why they had to do all the work in getting something from the library and publishers’ websites,” which suggests that retrieval is just as important as content in today’s information services. (p. 32) Norman Gray posits that the Semantic Web, a group of standards that promote common data formats and exchange protocols on the Web, is a notably simple structure sitting atop the Internet, distributed so that there is no center to the Web. Continually evolving, digital technologies developed for one purpose find surprising new applications in other areas. An example is portable digital technologies, which have become a defining feature of postindustrial work. Understanding the diffusion and utilization of networked information management is necessary to avoid interpreting technological systems as social systems. Scott David and Barbara Endicott-Popovsky suggest that the networked information management challenges of security, privacy, and liability are symptoms of a single condition. (p. 95) Making these systems inherently more resilient and reliable will require more than technology.
While Is Digital Different? emphasizes that all of us have changed the way we seek information, it also reminds us that the pervasive presence of digital technologies has not necessarily resulted in improved information seeking, retrieval, and evaluation...