13 June 2013

Digitization vs Cataloguing -- Which is More Valuable?

Classic Rock'em Sock'em Robots -- remember, they can always battle since you can just push their heads back down.  Can the same be said for our modern debates over terms, technology, etc?

We recently debated genealogy vs family history.  This is not the only debate occurring within our sphere of research.

Chris Patton (British GENES) shared an article, Debate: “Although digitization is useful for accessibility, detailed online item-level cataloguing is even more so” (ArchivesNext) which mentions comments he had made and quite a debate ensued.

Who doesn’t love digital content?  I think we all love the ability to sit at our computers, in our jammies, and pull up digital copies of original documents.

On the other hand, it is critical to our research to know “who” or “what institution” holds the documents that interest us.  Without a readily accessible and detailed catalog, we don’t know what is out there that might help our research.

I have to say that though I applaud and appreciate digitization projects, I also appreciate detailed cataloguing.  So much content will probably not be digitized in my lifetime or possibly ever (based on copyright and other restrictions).  At least, with detailed cataloguing, if I know where there is content, I then have the option to try and access it either directly, via the facility or via a surrogate researcher.

This is why I am constantly visiting Worldcat and Linkpendium and Cyndi’s List.  Never mind checking out the FamilySearch catalog, individual state archive and local repository catalogs, Chronicling America and it’s U.S. Newspaper Directory, and any “catalog” I can access (hopefully online though I’m game to walk into a place to check it’s physical catalog (or have someone else do that for me)).

I am searching to find out what records are extant.  As I like to say “I don’t know what I don’t know” and so I need to do research to learn what might not be digitized and which might be important to what I am researching.  If I know the records exist, then I can figure out how to access them!

Will some digitization projects possibly make detailed item-level cataloguing possibly moot? Probably eventually ... and, how long are you willing to wait for an item of interest to be digitized?  How do you know that it will ever be digitized?

What do you think? Digitization or detailed online item-level cataloguing or ???

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  1. My first instinct is both, both cataloging and digitization are equally important. My logical mind then says is it possible to digitize every single piece of information everyone might need? Therefore, cataloging takes precedence to me. Like you said, if I can find that a record is available to me, then I can go to it. Great topic to make one think!

  2. I vote for detailed cataloging. Archives can't digitize everything, but they should be able to post a detailed catalog.

    Mary Clement Douglass
    Transcribing & publishing Kansas genealogical records