One of the ironies of the Internet age is that traditional standards for accessibility have changed radically. Intelligent members of the public refer to undigitized manuscripts held in a research library as “locked away”, even though anyone may study the well-cataloged, well-preserved material in the library’s reading room. By the standard of 1992, institutionally-held manuscripts are far more accessible to researchers than uncatalogued materials in private collections — especially when the term “private collections” includes over-stuffed suburban filing cabinets or unopened boxes inherited from the family archivist. In 2012, the democratization of digitization technology may favor informal collections over institutional ones, privileging online access over quality, completeness, preservation and professionalism.
Will the “cult of the amateur” destroy scholarly and archival standards? Will crowdsourcing unlock a vast, previously invisible archive of material scattered among the public for analysis by scholars? How can we influence the headlong rush to digitize through education and software design? This presentation will discuss the possibilities and challenges of mass digitization for amateurs, traditional scholars, libraries and archives, with a focus on handwritten documents.