On “My Old Sweethearts: On Digitization and the Future of the Print Record,” by Andrew Stauffer

On “My Old Sweethearts: On Digitization and the Future of the Print Record,” by Andrew Stauffer

In “My Old Sweethearts: On Digitization and the Future of the Print Record,” Andrew Stauffer hits on a key tension in universities: the digitization of print volumes. In many ways, digitization has been a boon to university libraries, as it has freed up precious real estate in the stacks and has created electronic versions of print holdings that can be accessed from anywhere. With the amount of off-campus (and even affiliated but out of country) academic work that occurs, digitization can appear to be a slick solution to the sticky problems of space, budget, deterioration, and access. Stauffer, however, is concerned that “academic libraries are now questioning the value of maintaining extensive print collections of non-rare materials that have been scanned and are freely available online” (218).

Stauffer suggests that mass digitization of print volumes does a serious disservice to humanities-based work. He argues that having access to print materials– and especially to various versions of a work– is key for bibliographic study, or as he puns, “bibliodiversity” (221). He points out that although different editions of a book may appear the same, at first glance, there are often material and informational variations that go unremarked on without careful study and comparison.

Stauffer is quite right to suggest that diversity in print materials is key to bibliographic study. I’m not entirely convinced that this means that every library must maintain every item of their print record, but Stauffer’s arguments against the flattening and reifying effects of digitization are well taken nonetheless. I do think a counterargument could be made against the diametric opposition that Stauffer puts the digital and print into. He calls the print record “the real books” (219), where digitized material is referred to as “surrogates” (218), “copies” (219), or a “model” (219). I’m not sure that the relation between print and digital is as cut and dry as this, as the print record is chalk full of copies and replicas, and born digital material is being produced at an exponential rate, even as I type. Regardless, Stauffer highlights crucial issues of preservation and priority in the increasingly digital turn of the university.

 

Work cited

Stauffer, Andrew. 2016. “My Old Sweethearts: On Digitization and the Future of the Print Record.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016, edited by Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein, 218-29. Minneapolis: U Minnesota P. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/70

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