How We Digitize Now: U.Va.’s Release of Civil Rights Era Local News Archive
I don’t know the behind-the-scenes details (although my wife, Holly Robertson, was involved in the early days of this project when she worked at UVA), but I think there’s enough information in this press release to say that UVA’s efforts here are emblematic of the new era in special collections digitization and access.
Here are some things that strike me about this project:
They are digitizing everything, period. This is the new normal: collection-level decisions are the only ones that make sense in terms of efficiency, these days.
Everything will be available online to the public, and searchable. Hiding collections and limiting access is always an option, but the broadest possible public access is always the goal. The search function is also important, as libraries realize that access alone is not worth much without robust tools to parse the collection.
The WSLS collection is A/V material, which we found in our conversations with librarians two years ago is perceived as more “risky” than text, even though the copyright law doesn’t distinguish between different media. Libraries are getting over that fear, as reflected in the Librarians’ Code, which makes no distinctions among media.
Ownership issues are likely at least to be a bit cloudy. The television station is defunct, the people depicted on-camera and the production crew behind it are long gone or difficult to find, etc. To wait for an unimpeachable grant of permission could likely have derailed this project completely, but UVA was undeterred. This is the growing consensus in the library and archive world: orphans are everywhere and there will almost never be any such thing as a “perfectly cleared” special collection. Know your rights, manage your risk, be open and accommodating to any concerns or complaints, and go forward.
Congratulations to UVA on this exciting achievement!