Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Oxymoron of the day

OK, this is not a word of the day. However, those familiar with my collecting directions know that I collect oxymorons, and this is a borderline oxymoron. It is the definition of "digital heritage collections" developed by the Collections Council of Australia (sorry, Margaret) for its Australian Framework and Action Plan For Digital Heritage Collections.

The definition is "Collections of digital materials that, individually or collectively, represent significant (often unique) resources of human knowledge and expression." The bolded words are oxymoronic, to my mind. How can something digital be unique? I am advised that it can be rare (if no-one ever looks at it) but the terms digital and unique just sit at odds.

I have had questions about the nation's digital heritage collections ever since the Australian library world refused to match the term "born digital" (meaning created originally in digital format) with my own coinage, "born again digital" (meaning created originally in analog format, and digitised). The reality is that the idea of unique digital works or materials (in the sense of only one of them) misses the point, semantically and practically. There is no limit to the number of copies we can all have. Leaving aside copyright, of course.

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