BLOG Gwen Davies

NWR Issue 100

Digital Content for Businesses at the National Library

Just back from Digido/Digital Content for Business event at National Library. Not found out (yet) what the plans are for digitising back-copies of NWR back to 1988, but did find a lot about free historical content available for use from their digitised collections, including archives on political campaigning, sporting legends, early photography in Swansea, a register of criminals (my favourite), Welsh portraits & ballads, historical newspapers, framed paintings & key photographic collections, the latest of which to be digitised will be PB Abery's of the Borders & Martin Ridley's of the Valleys. Food for thought for developing archive-writer projects for magazine content.

The Library shop itself uses images from these archives in a creative way, including lovely scrapbook dictionary pictures (below) by deaf artist Eliza Pugh (mugs forthcoming in the Library shop), but this type of material is available to cultural businesses as well, and there are no bars on how those images are used, as Penny Richards' quirky up-cycled handbags (pictured above) and shoes, featuring historical characters such as Welsh soprano Eos Cymru (Sarah Edith Wynne), show.

Despite being currently without their head Librarian (new boss Aled Jones starts in August), and despite continuing evidence of fire damage (the atrium scattered with scorched belongings), the Library's a buzzing place. Tomorrow Derec Llwyd Morgan will talk about his book on Thomas Parry, celebrating 50 years of the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse (Y Brenhinbren, Bywyd a Gwaith Thomas Parry, Gomer, pub 17 July). That's at 1.15pm in the Library's Drwm, followed by the book launch.

Talk & Book Launch Derec Llwyd Morgan on Thomas Parry

Now to track down the answer to my question about the NWR digital archive...
Eliza Pugh scrapbook dictionary, courtesy Digido, National Library of Wales


Thomas Williams: Did they cover [at the Digido event NLW's] new policy of refusing access to original objects if they have been digitised & are available online? Peter Lord gave a talk on this at Chapter recently, organised by the IWA and it might be worth checking the issue out.

New Welsh Review Do you mean refusing physical access? NLW didn't mention that, no, but to be honest it is such a fantastic resource no one was complaining. ED

Thomas Williams Yes, apparently the new policy is that access to the actual object WILL NOT be given if it is available online. While there is huge benefit in online resources for research purposes, the denial of the authentic experience is worrying.

New Welsh Review See what you mean, but in terms of numbers, more gain than lose in this case I think. If the library can gain a higher profile (or funding) through proving they're reaching more people, then perhaps they can afford to run more specialist, physical exhibitions where the actual pieces, including those currently excluded from viewing, get to be seen, and are more revered, perhaps because of their having been kept under wraps. Additionally, the detail & quality of their digitisation process is now such that you can see more detail than the naked eye could manage. ED

Thomas Williams I think that slightly misses the point. The argument is not about digitisation or increased access, both of which are clearly good things and to be applauded. The point is that the experience of the original object is irreplaceable and for a public institution to deny it (to the people who actually own the objects in question) is, at least, questionable. For a researcher to be able to see more than they could with the naked eye may or may not be valuable. What about looking at the back, seeing the edge, foxing, creases, the feel or the smell of the thing? What about the experience of simply being in the presence of an object. It has weight. You seem to be suggesting that looking at an electronic image is, in some ways, BETTER than looking at the original. Apply this to any other setting: let's digitise the paintings in the National Museum and put the original into safe storage. I'm sure we'd get a clearer, sharper, more detailed image. I'm sure it woild be a lot cheaper for the insitiution - think of all the security staff they could get rid of - and with direct links to schools, colleges and into people's homes there would be no more inconvenient trips to the museum itself. In addition, the paintings would be safer. Doesn't quite work, does it? So why does it work at the National Library? This shouldn't be an either or and people, I believe, need access to the authentic experience (as well as to the digitised one).

New Welsh Review Thomas, with your permission, I'll put up this exchange on our website so that, even though this continues to be a digital debate, it will be a tad more permanent than Facebook. ED

The debate following from this blog appeared on Facebook during July 2013


previous blog: Audio file Gwen Davies talks to Prof Julian Preece and Chris Keil, Hay Festival, 2 June 2013
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