I have recently become chair of the Digital Learning Network for Museums, libraries and archives, which I am very excited and nervous about in equal measure. It is a great honour and I cannot thank enough the previous chair Martin Bazley and the rest of the committee for their continuing support and hard work. I hope I can do the role and the Network justice.
As part of DLNet we hold ThinkDrink’s which aim to get a few people together who are interested in talking about using digital technology for learning in museums, libraries and archives round a table with a few drinks and nibbles to help get the discussion going. A brilliant idea!
Last week (16th September) the Wiener Library hosted a very interesting ThinkDrink focusing on the issues and opportunities surrounding digital learning in relation to difficult or challenging subjects. The Wiener Library is one of the world’s leading and most extensive archives with over one million items on the Holocaust and Nazi era. I had not been to the Wiener before nor had I really considered the difficulties of creating digital resources which discuss such sensitive subjects. It was a fascinating evening, and it was really great to see a wide selection of museums, libraries and archives represented. We had a very engaging discussion which explored the specific responsibilities attached to providing sensitive online resources and information. We had a few key questions that guided the discussion. What is appropriate or inappropriate in relation to digital learning and difficult subjects? How do you protect the user and the subject of the material without becoming inaccessible? and how do you guard against the misuse of resources? I have certainly taken a lot away from it; however we seem to have created more questions than answers.
Here are some of the questions that really stuck in my mind:
- Is it our responsibility? Should we be protecting the user? Are we policing or supporting?
- Could anyone be harmed as a result of releasing the material?
- Audiences need to be able to trust us as information providers– trust to provide access to the material, but perhaps also trust to limit access where appropriate?
- Is viewing distressing and difficult material online any different from viewing the same material in the physical reading room?
Another thinking and drinking meet up I am a part of the Decoding Digital Humanities. An informal monthly gathering in the pub for those who are interested in all things digital, providing an opportunity to mingle, share ideas, discuss readings and raise questions surrounding the field of digital humanities.
This weeks (Tuesday 21st September) DDH we were discussing Alan Lui’s 2003 paper entitled The Humanities: A Technical Profession. Lui raises questions about the concept of Knowledge, of protocols, organisation and information behaviour and the institutional nature of the humanities.
It was a fascinating meet up with the discussions provoking more questions than reaching answers, but it is a brilliant opportunity to get us thinking about concepts and the work that we do more. What separates DDH and the DLNet ThinkDrink’s is not that one is attended by academics and one is attended by practitioners, the difference is that at DDH we also are able to hold some of the discussions online using twitter and the blog. This weeks DDH produced some really quite fascinating discussions on twitter when I frantically tweeted some of the questions the physical meet up was throwing up. You can see more about the content of the meet up and the tweets on the UCLDH blog. This is what I want to happen with the DLNet ThinkDrink’s. But it appears putting these things into practice are more complex than you would think. Previously I would have been rather quick to say “why there is no problem with putting these discussions online, what harm can it do?” but following on from the Weiner discussion perhaps it isn’t as simple as that.