I was interested to read this article yesterday morning about an archivist seeking to collect one of every book written. The bibliophile in me loves the idea; imagine a copy of every single book ever printed! The digital side of me questions the value of collecting a physical copy of information that could be held in a much more compact and enduring format, while the online educator wonders at the enormity of the task. How can he possibly do it? Is he seriously going to obtain and catalogue a copy of every soppy Mills & Boon or sickly teenage fiction title along with all the literary greats? The task is as admirable as it is epic.
I’m sure he will uncover many treasures during his quest and ‘rescue’ many wonderful artefacts that might have otherwise been lost. I also wonder what he will discover that he wishes in hindsight he hadn’t bothered with?
We are in the process of creating a digital repository for all our resources. It is a huge project and one I have embarked on in other institutions. After much discussion around platforms, functionality, formats and compatibility, the underlying questions remain remarkably similar:
- What will we store? Photos, text, images, animations, graphics, videos, whole courses and programmes?
- Why will we store it? What purpose or need might the item fulfil? (Is there one?)
- How will we find what we have stored? How can we future-proof our systems and metadata?
- How will we use what we have found? Or are we keeping it ‘just in case’ it might be useful in the future?
Nostalgia is a fine thing, but do we really need to keep every resource from a course or programme simply because we spent a lot of time working on it? Just because I think I have developed something worthwhile, that does not mean someone else will find it equally valuable. There is even less likelihood that they will be astounded by my act of brilliance which has, naturally, resulted in a reusable learning object of such high quality that it can be repurposed for any learning experience … yes, nostalgia certainly is a fine thing. As much as we can learn from what others before us might have already grappled with, it doesn’t mean we should hoard everything ‘just in case’.
So where is the fine line between babies and bath water? Other questions to consider when setting up a repository could include:
- What is a reusable learning object? What is a reusable information object? Can the same item be both?
- How do we measure quality? What criteria determines whether an item qualifies for archiving in the repository? Should value be measured by the number of times an object is used/reused or some other metrics?
- When do we begin archiving materials from? Five years ago? Ten? Last year? From here on in, or from some point in the future?
- Should we archive everything we create from now on or just some things? What would we include in these two categories? Why?
- Who approves objects for archiving? Is this an automatic process, a job for one designated person or is a committee required? What policies and guidelines should they follow when making their decisions (and what measures are in place to support these decisions if challenged)?
- When and how will we reassess the value of archived items to ensure they still meet our requirements in the future?