After the successful launch of my project Think Tank: The Flash Journal, and after a few engaging conversations with several different people, I’ve been thinking a lot about digitisation of archives and the digitisation of research in general. These thoughts were stirred to a greater degree yesterday when I read Researchers Confused by Copyright and Open Access – Report (tweeted by @copyrightgirl and retweeted by @GabrieleNeher) and Research Students of Tomorrow: The Research Behaviour of Generation Y Doctoral Students (tweeted by @mattlodder and retweeted by @GabrieleNeher). Consequently, I wrote the following ramble:
Creating digital archives of significant artworks, documentation and objects seems to be essential in our increasingly media-over-medium orientated world. Programs such as the Google Art Project and the Tate’s Gallery of Lost Art, or the digitisation of important collections favoured by many top-ranking creative and educational institutions, attest to the importance placed on preserving perishable information. Providing increased access to such information is also incredibly important in a world where many people ask questions of Wikipedia; expecting reliable and informed answers in reply. Such a movement is highly significant to the accessibility and dissemination of knowledge as well as art, and although internet experience is never a sole substitute for experience itself, it is an alternative means of interpreting the world around us. It seems fairly logical to suggest that artworks, documentation and objects should therefore be recorded and available for access online: to extend the reach of such information beyond the individual and into a wider, digitally connected community.
It is fairly straightforward in my opinion: digitisation is a very good thing. Access means new knowledge will eventually be formed.
On the other hand, from an academic perspective, how does the move towards digitised knowledge affect me, as a researcher? I am wholly supportive of Open Access journals and social media for disseminating and obtaining information – evidently points of concern for many British Generation Y academics, as the British universities Film and Video Council noted (Researchers Confused by Copyright and Open Access – Report). I would rather submit my thesis to an Open Access journal so people can easily and quickly find the information they are looking for (should they happen to be looking for it) than submit it solely to a library. I am worried that this will implicate me because of imagery copyrights – but this is an issue I will have to face regardless when submitting my thesis (as once it is published it is no longer exempt of copyright because it is no longer classed as a piece of work produced for an examination).
However, the main problem for me, as a researcher, isn’t whether or not I, as an individual, am supportive of Open Access journals or the use of web-based data within my research, it’s the fact that I’m unsure as to whether the generation preceding mine will be quite so receptive. I’m lucky to work within a department (and university) that is technologically forward-thinking – but is this the same for the academic world at large? Within the report, Education for Change asked:
“Are the mechanisms of establishing authority and legitimacy in research resources (such as peer review, citation, publisher/origin etc) still valid and adequate to help doctoral students make choices, and might these be widened to include, for example, the allowable citation of web-based datasets?”
“Can the key influencers in higher education institutions, such as doctoral supervisors, library and information support staff, become more effective in providing models of best practice and legitimacy?”
Firstly, I would agree that widening acceptable research resources would undoubtedly strengthen the breadth of research, and the need for ‘models of best practice’ would definitely be a welcomed relief to me. I would, however, suggest that such models may still be hard to come by from doctoral supervisors, alone (after all preferred methods of supervising, and referencing/citation varies greatly between institutions/publications, already). It seems to my like we (Generation Y) are in a strange situation: with one foot held in the older style of PhD research, and the other foot in the digital age. A successful balance needs to be ascertained in order to avoid producing unworthy research.